During Thanksgiving I got an early Christmas present when my sister gave me this autographed ball of Orel Hershiser. My sister works in the financial industry and she met Hershiser at a conference. Turns out he is involved with a company whose main line of business is providing – of all things – bridge loans of 90 to 120 days.
Of course anyone who has followed the Mets is all too familiar with the concept of bridge loans, as the club took one out last year. Regardless, Hershiser is more than just an ex-jock putting a highly visible face on a product. It turns out that he is one of the movers and shakers for the company. During this particular conference, my sister said that he got there at the crack of dawn and stayed the entire day.
When it was finally his company’s turn to present, Hershiser delivered a strong performance. My sister said he was either well-versed or well-coached. I told her that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was both. Hershiser always had a reputation of being an intelligent pitcher, one who succeeded at least as much with “smarts” as with “stuff.” And of course it’s easy to imagine that with his television work that he’s used to receiving coaching on how to present material verbally to an audience.
I have a pretty nice-sized baseball card collection but I never got much into autographs – basically for two reasons. My brother and I used to write to the ballplayers and request autographs through the mail with a SASE. We got a handful this way but we stopped this practice after we received a reply from Tom Seaver and compared it to the signature that was in the team’s yearbook. The signatures didn’t match up and it wasn’t even particularly close.
While that soured me on the process of collecting autographs through the mail, I would still try to get them at the ballpark. Generally this consisted of getting to the park early and then going down to the edge of the field and yelling obnoxiously at everyone in a uniform who walked by to come over and sign. And it’s not like it was just me – there were a bunch of kids right there with me doing the same exact thing.
I couldn’t put into words at the time what this phenomenon was all about – it’s just what we did. Looking back on it, for me it was never about the signature but instead it was about being next to the players. I’d so much rather have a picture of me next to Duffy Dyer than have a scribble of his on a piece of paper. Perhaps if it was a famous author – then you could pretend that you held a piece of his writing. But for a ballplayer?
The final nail in the coffin came several years later. The team’s program at this time contained a very nice picture of manager Joe Torre and coach Bob Gibson. Two former teammates were going to help turn things around as coaches of a particularly decrepit team. If memory serves, Gibson was not officially the pitching coach for Torre. Rather he was listed as the attitude coach. And as I can attest, Mr. Gibson certainly had an attitude.
I got Torre to sign my program before the game but Gibson would not come anywhere near the horde of us yelling for him. Undeterred, I stayed after the game, convinced that I could get Gibson’s autograph. There weren’t nearly as many people then and I was sure that once he saw that I was a diehard that he would be glad to oblige.
Back then, only a handful of people would stay after a game trying to catch signatures and you could stake out your own territory, at least until the point when you convinced someone to come over, at which point a crowd would develop. So, I had my space and continued the game.
I did succeed in getting Gibson’s attention and I even got a reaction. However, it was not a smile and an outstretched hand to take my pen. Rather it was a terse invitation to perform an impossible solo sexual act.
You could say I was surprised. If in the afterlife we get the chance to review moments of our just-completed life, I no doubt will go to this time to see if I cried or not. While I certainly heard the phrase before, I never heard it uttered by a grown man towards me. I’ve never asked anyone for an autograph since.
I’m glad to have this Hershiser autograph. It’s the first signed ball in my memorabilia collection and I think it’s a pretty nice display piece. It also prompted me to go back and review Hershisher’s tenure with the Mets. He only played a single season in Queens, but he gave the team everything it needed from a back-end starter, as he won 13 games and posted an ERA+ of 97 in 179 IP as a 40 year old.
That was the magical 1999 season, the one which while it ended with a playoff loss to the hated Braves, that nearly every fan remembers fondly. The 2000 team went further but it did so thanks to the mercenary Mike Hampton. The ’99 team seemed to be more fun. And Hershiser was part of the reason why.
Hershiser was not on the 2000 team that went to the World Series. Instead he left after 1999 to finish his career where it started, in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. It worked out good for the Mets, because in 10 games in LA, Hershiser went 1-5 with a 13.14 ERA before he retired in late June.
Now I’ll try to remember Hershiser fondly for his exploits with the Mets in 1999, rather than the pitcher who dominated them in the playoffs in 1988. That performance was so dominating that both of my parents – neither one a sports fan – recognized his name and asked if he was a Hall of Famer.
Hershiser also has a tie to the current Mets. After his playing career, he served as a pitching coach for the Texas Rangers, where he was one of the people responsible for turning R.A. Dickey into a knuckleball pitcher.
Addendum – My sister sends along the following information: “Hershiser Wealth Management Group. He was selling the Hershiser income fund, a first mortgage/trust deed fund.”