It was the summer of 1982. Between the brutal Chicago winters and the recent death of my father, I was worn down. I needed a change. I moved to the Los Angeles area. It was off to the land of swimming pools and movie stars.
I didn’t know many people that first summer, so I spent many nights at the homes of the Dodgers and the Angels. Baseball has always been my first and main sports love. Being at the ballpark helped in getting me acclimated to new surroundings and a new life. I never minded being there by myself. It actually makes it easier to get involved in the game. I had done that plenty of times in Chicago. All I was doing was changing the location.
One of the first things I noticed about SoCal baseball was it looked liked the teams were trying to win. What a concept. Both teams were loaded with all-star players. The Dodgers were the defending World Series champions. Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and Fernando Valenzuela starred in L.A. Reggie Jackson, Fred Lynn and Rod Carew in Anaheim. Hmmm…so this is what major league baseball should look like? So different than what I grew up with in Chicago.
That first year, the Angels made the playoffs. Although they lost their series in agonizing fashion to the Milwaukee Brewers, it was great being able to witness playoff baseball for the first time. It was a good start. It was a tease as to what was going to happen a few years down the road.
It’s now six years later, the summer of 1988. I’m still living in California and it’s a lot less lonely than six years earlier. Work is good, I’ve met the woman who would become my wife and the mother of our two daughters, and I’m still going to ballgames. Both the Dodgers and Angels have had close calls in those six years, but neither has broken through the make it to the World Series. Maybe it’s me? Maybe I brought the Chicago baseball jinx to Los Angeles?
However, this baseball season has a different feel. The Dodgers have signed Kirk Gibson and the team now has an edge to them. The Hollywood style of baseball is over. These guys, while not as talented as their predecessors, are baseball grinders. It helps that they have a starting pitcher, Orel Hershiser, who seems to throw a shutout every time he gets on the mound. The Dodgers win the West Division title. They’re huge underdogs in the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets, but they defeat them in seven games. I was at that final game where Bulldog Hershiser pitched another shutout. Hmmm…maybe that Chicago baseball jinx is broken?
The date is October 15, 1988. I’m in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium looking for World Series tickets. It’s getting close to game time for the first game of the series. Dodgers vs the heavily favored Oakland A’s. I run into one of my cousins…a guy who I grew up with in Chicago, but haven’t seen in close to a decade. He doesn’t have any extra tickets, but we do a quick catching up on our lives. A few minutes later, we find two tickets. Fifty bucks each! Sounds like a bargain now, doesn’t it. I’m finally going to a World Series game. As Vin Scully would say, “It’s time for Dodger baseball.”
The game isn’t going so great. Jose Canseco hit a monster grand slam home run. It was hit so far that it landed on a television camera in straight away center field. The A’s look like they’re heading to an easy win, but the Dodgers keep pecking away. A run here…another one there. It’s almost exactly like their season played out. The team that wouldn’t quit. The team that would take offense to the thought that anyone was better than them.
It’s the bottom of the ninth inning. The Dodgers trail by a run. Future Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley is pitching for Oakland. Things are not looking good for L.A. But Eckersley walks a man…something he rarely does. There are two outs and hobbling to the batter’s box is Kirk Gibson. The man has two bad legs and can barely walk, much less hit. The early swings in his at bat look painful. But in the final pitch of the game, Gibby lifts a fly ball to right field. The ball carries deep into the outfield. It clears the wall as Jose Canseco looks up in despair. Dodger Stadium explodes in shock and joy. As Gibson limps around the bases, his teammates greet him at home plate. The Dodgers have won the game 5-4. It’s one of the greatest moments in baseball and sports history. As Vin Scully said, “In a year that has been so improbable… the impossible has happened!”
The next day, I get a call from a friend asking if I want to try to go to that night’s Series game two. I told him thanks, but I was there last night. How can anything top that?
A few days later, the Dodgers won the World Series. Yeah, the impossible really did happen. Gibson, Hershiser and the others were champions. There was nothing unusual about the Dodgers winning the championship. They had done that fairly regularly since they moved to California. This was their fifth title in Los Angeles. There was no reason it wouldn’t happen again soon. But, there’s nothing guaranteed in baseball or in life….and a lot of living takes place while you’re waiting for the next championship.
It was more than a decade later when I saw my cousin from the parking lot again. I reminded him that we last saw each other at the Gibson home run game. He laughed and said, “Howie, you know those people who left early and were in their cars when he hit the home run? You know the ones with the red parking lights as they listened in their cars? I was one of them.”
We both laughed and I called him an asshole…and we laughed some more. Oh yeah, he died three years ago. Damn, but that’s life.
I left California in 1995 and moved back to Chicago. Back to the brutal winters. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted. But this move was made with a wife, two young daughters and a small dog. The marriage ended and the dog died in 2006…within days of each other. Damn, but that’s also life. The young daughters are now adults…one has her own small child. Oh yeah, that’s life, too!
At almost the same time that we moved back to Chicago, Kirk Gibson was ending his baseball career. He had left L.A. a few years earlier and played his final game with the Detroit Tigers in August of 1995. We also have another thing in common. In 2015, Kirk Gibson announced that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. I was diagnosed three years earlier. It seems as both of us are doing okay so far. I’m thrilled to have that in common with him!
As for baseball, the Dodgers finally won that next championship last night. Their fairly regular title took thirty-two years. Even the Cubs, White Sox and the Angels have won the World Series during that time. Hell, the Red Sox have won four of them. Teams that were never winning titles became champions. Who would have guessed that? Hmmm….maybe the jinx wasn’t my moving to California, but my leaving?
I can’t tell you when the Dodgers will win their next title. It may be as early as next season, although history shows us that repeating as champion is unlikely. Hell, it could be another thirty-two years or even longer. No one knows. We just deal with it on a day to day and season to season basis.
That’s baseball. That’s life!
Related Post: Kirk Gibson Has Parkinson’s Disease
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