Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book Review : Miracle Men by Josh Suchon

Started reading the "new" book Miracle Men by announcer Josh Suchon. He writes about the 1988 Dodger team that defied all odds and won the World Series with a team that had over 50% new players and low expectations from all around the league.

I met Josh back in May at Dodger Stadium when he did a public signing for the book prior to that night's game. He was a class act and was very personable. He stated he really enjoyed writing and researching for the book as seen HERE . I had other books to read prior to getting to this one but now it has my full attention. Unlike my one and only other book review I will be writing the review and recap chapter by chapter as I go through the book. Just thought I would do it that way as it would be fresher in my mind. Also when I get old I can just read the entry and not have to reread the book. With that said here we go.

Chapter 1 : Like a movie and a fiction book in the beginning this chapter is dedicated to the set up of the team prior to the 1988 season. More than half the roster is turned over from their disappointing 1987 season which could be blamed on injuries. Obviously the big "get" is Kirk Gibson as he is signed as a free agent from the Tigers due to him being included in the collusion lawsuit between MLB and MLBPA. With so many new players the question is how will they blend all the personalities together.

Chapter 2 : The off season is over and we are onto Spring Training were the infamous shoe polish joke was done to Kirk Gibson. While that has and always will be the main topic of discussion for the 1988 spring training team there was definitely more going behind the scenes that common fans may or may not know. With so many new players added and only so many spots on the field to play at some one's ego would have to be checked or someone would have to be traded to make room. Steve Sax and Mike Marshall are team players as I always expected they were with Pedro Guerrero being more of a prima donna than I thought. Great bat, weak mind. And that is with him being my favorite player in the mid 80's. What could have been if he had his head on straight.

Chapter 3 : The regular season baseball has arrived and with it the questions that were present in the off season and spring training are still there but now it counts. The month goes off without much of a hitch and they do well record wise as they are near the top of the division for the month. Kirk is pressing as a high priced free agent acquisition does a lot in his first month when he tries to do too much. Orel foreshadows the rest of his season with a great April when he compiles a 4-0 record with a 1.11 ERA. Seeing that and knowing it can only get better is crazy.

Chapter 4 : The "streak" begins in earnest. Though the previous game he finished with 4+ innings of scoreless baseball the game on Sept. 4 was the first where he pitched in a game without giving up a run. A September to remember officially started here. The chapter also talks about his upbringing and how baseball has been the love of his life even though he did dabble in hockey at one time.

Chapter 5 : It's May and even though the Dodgers are at or near the top of the standings their pitching corps are being spread thin whether its the high pitch count of Fernando or Orel not feeling it just yet not to mention Lasorda not trusting a lot of the relief pitchers. All this makes for a bend but not break month for the team. We learn what former overall number 2 pick Tim Leary had to overcome to have the year that he had in 1988. A lot of sacrifice and determination on his part. Also discussed is how Lasorda loved Sax from the first time he saw him and come hell or high water he was going to be on the team. And boy, does Sax and fellow teammates love some practical jokes done on Lasorda.

Chapter 6 : It's now Sept. 10 and Orel is on the mound again to add to his streak of scoreless innings. The hot Reds are in town and the Dodgers lead over the second place Astros is slim and they need to win. Touch and go but Orel throws yet another complete game of 9 innings of scoreless ball. Even though we are experiencing Orel being "perfect" right now we get a glimpse of not so perfect times back in college. Everyone is human.

Chapter 7 : The calendar page has turned to June and even though the Dodgers are on top and fighting off all comers the spotlight is not on them. Los Angeles has now become a Laker town and with them in the NBA Finals once again after three 7 game series they will once again become World Champions. The Dodgers play a distant second fiddle in the city even though they are much improved. Even with them in first the tinkering of the lineup has gone into full effect as non performers are being replaced with bench players and those with injuries are nursed along. The continued tight rope walking of the pitching staff continues with high pitch counts and countless innings for the relievers. Yet as June comes to an end the Dodgers still find themselves in first place.

Chapter 8 : The streak continues with the third shutout and the biggest threat to the streak so far with the Braves putting up a fight. With precision pitching a little luck thrown in Orel manages to make it through the game and continues on his improbable run. More insight is given to Orel's minor league career with him wanting to quit at times due to not being able to crack the major league rotation and his own up and downs on the mound in the minors. He finally gets his head clear and knuckles down and starts to straighten out his career path. Also at the same time he meets his future wife in San Antonio. Coincidence? I doubt it as women can do many things to a man's heart and head and obviously she is and was good for him at that time and continues to be.

Chapter 9 : Half way through the season and July is upon us. The All Star break is here and the Dodgers stumble a tad prior to it with a daunting 16 game in 14 days road trip right after it which includes two double headers in Chicago with a stop in the charging fast and hated rivals from up north, the Giants. The Giant series includes the infamous twilight double header with the second game ending way past midnight and with the actions during the game and how things would change around the league after that night. July ended with the Dodgers still in first but the main story was that for the first time in his career Fernando was put on the disabled list and was unsure when he would pitch again.

Chapter 10 : Between his last complete game shutout and this one a lot happened in the world but the most important thing to him was that Orel and his wife welcomed in their child into the world. The Dodgers were starting to really pull away from the pack and Orel's streak became the main focus now but even if he pitched complete game shutouts until the end of the season he would still fall short of Drysdale's record by 2/3 of an inning. History was being made but something special would have to really happen to break the record as the Giants were next in line and the question was would there be enough season left for him to break it.

Chapter 11 : Page turns and the dog days of August are upon the Dodgers. Their lead in the west has shrunk to just 1/2 a game with players trying to figure out how to turn it around. This is the month that two big moves happen as the Dodgers finally bring up rookie phenom Ramon Martinez but to do that they have to release Dodger legend Don Sutton. Hard move to make but something had to be done. The second move was trading big bat Pedro Guerrero to the Cardinals for big arm John Tudor. Mixed emotions run rampant in the clubhouse as Pedro tearfully said his goodbyes. As the month came to a close the team reasserted themselves atop the standings with the stretch run now upon them.

Chapter 12 : Shutout number five and its against Dodger arch rival the Giants. This game slots right in with classic Dodger/Giant contests as the streak continues only because of a controversial call made by an umpire. It was the third inning and Orel was in trouble with runners at first and third and needed a double play to get out of the jam. He got a grounder but the infield was not able to turn it and the run scored. Streak over. But not so fast as the umpire stated that there was runner interference and the run didn't count. Cue back to Don's streak and very similar things happened for him to continue his streak and we see how they match up with what happened on this day. Orel finishes up the game and lives for another day with history looking at him in the face in the next game that he pitches.

Chapter 13 : September has arrived and it did not go down as planned for the playoff bound Dodgers. They have basically sewn up the division and just need to make it to the end of the month healthy. We see an ineffective Fernando return to the mound and eventually not being placed on the playoff roster. The team endures a long rain delay and are then they are on the losing side of a perfect game as Tom Browning is lights out against them. All this leads to San Diego where on the first game of the series the Dodgers finally clinch their playoff berth while the second game will have Orel attempting to make history but for that to happen he needs a lot of luck and everything to fall just right to accomplish that.

Chapter 14 : 10 scoreless innings are needed to set the record which means that Orel would need to have the Dodgers not score as well as him putting up goose eggs on the scoreboard. 9 innings would tie the record and if it continued to the following season MLB would acknowledge the streak but with an asterisk ala Roger Maris and his home run record. So the baseball gods would need to intervene on this day for Orel to make history. With Don in the press box as an announcer he watched Orel  go out and pitch the game he had to. The Dodgers did their part by not scoring a single run in 9 innings to match their Padre counterparts. The question now was would Orel be allowed and did he even want to go out and pitch the 10th. With the whole stadium now firmly in Orel's corner he heads out to the mound and gets the job done. He is now officially done for the regular season and now the Mets are waiting in the wings primed and ready to continue their dominance of the Dodgers.

Chapter 15 : The National League Champion Series ( NLCS ) is upon us and most people have the Mets winning easily with only the presence of Orel being a slight possibility that the Dodgers might squeeze out a win. This series will and has gone down as one or the most tightly contested and multi layered drama series in baseball history. The overpowering Mets, the holders of a 10-1 regular season record against these same Dodgers probably felt and rightfully should have thought this series should have been a breeze with not as much of a blip on the radar for their return to the Fall Classic. The Dodgers had other plans.

Game 1 brought the Mets to town and in typical 1988 fashion between the two teams the Mets rallied again and won the game. Anytime during the year that the Dodgers held a lead against this team the Mets ended up winning in the end. This game was no different and this was with Orel on the mound so what could the Dodgers do the rest of the series if their best pitcher couldn't slow them down in the end?

Game 2 had the Dodger's back against the wall as they couldn't go to New York in a 0-2 hole. Well prior to the game Met pitcher David Cone made some snide remarks about the Dodgers particularly about Jay Howell and they made it to the newspapers. Well that just became the fire that lit up the Dodgers as they went out and actually put a hurting on Cone and his team as the Dodgers jumped out to a 6-0 lead and even though the Mets attempted another one of their patented come backs this one fell short 6-3. The teams headed back to New York tied and now the series was about to get really interesting.

Game 3 had the Dodgers up once again. This time it was 4-3 late in the game and the Dodgers looking for a series lead. The game was played under very cold and damp conditions with all the players suffering from it. The playing field was a joke. Jay was back on the mound to hopefully close out the game and take a 2-1 series lead when the Mets came out to protest about some type of back mark on Jay's glove. It was determined that it was tar and Jay was tossed from the game and from there the Dodgers unraveled. They gave up 5 runs and ended up losing 8-4. After the game Jay was suspended for 3 games (reduced to 2 later) by the commissioner's office. Now down 2 games to 1 they had to face Dwight Gooden in game four and hope they didn't lose anymore ground.

Game 4 arrived and even though still cold the field had recovered a tad from the last game's condition. Dwight was on the mound and ready to strangle the Dodger hopes. The backs of the Dodgers in the series and the game were against the wall and guess who comes out to attempt to save their season? Orel to the rescue once more. Even though he was the starting pitcher during game 3 the previous day there he was in the bullpen getting ready if his team needed him. Reluctantly they did and he was called upon to shut the door on the Mets and to get the last out of the game. No one could believe that he was on the mound and wondered what he had left. All he did was get the final out to tie up the series at 2 games a piece and make the series a best of 3.

Game 5 would be the see one of the two teams leave New York up in the series and with Kirk falling apart inning by inning and Orel once again up getting ready in the bullpen the Dodgers still managed to come back home to Los Angeles up in the series for the first time but they still had to get that last win to reach the Fall Classic.

Game 6 would have David Cone back on the mound since game 2 and the drubbing he received. The Dodgers had the opportunity to close the Met's season and had David on the ropes but they let him off the hook and they lived to see another day in the form of Game 7. But with that ray of light came the knowledge that Orel would be waiting for them and was ready to do battle one final time.

Game 7 is here. The series that most people didn't think would last 4 and no way past 5 had now reached a decisive game 7 for the right to face the A's in the World Series. No one knew what Orel would bring to the mound as he had pitched in 3 of the games already and warmed up in another. The game didn't start off well but he escaped without any damage. The Dodgers scored a run in the first but the real damage came in the second when the Mets totally fell apart and left that inning down 6-0. The rest of the game was anti climatic as Orel shut down the Mets with a complete game shutout with nothing but a whimper with the score of 6-0 holding until the end. The Dodgers had beaten the mighty Mets who had tortured them throughout the season but the Dodgers won when it counted the most and with that they had a date with an even "better" team in the form of the Oakland A's who had the Bash Brothers ( Canseco, McGwire ) and loads of other people who held grudges against them. And Orel could not and would not pitch Game 1.

Chapter 16 :

Game 1 Anyone who follows the Dodgers or even remotely interested in baseball probably knows all about game one of the 1988 World Series aka the Gibson game. Won't rehash and if some reason you don't know what happened read the book and enjoy. What this chapter does reveal is more of what happened behind the scenes and what people's opinion were after the game. For one the A's never thought the Dodgers should be on the same field as them and wanted the Mets all along as they were the "better" team. Many hurt feelings on their side towards the Dodgers and Tommy Lasorda. Also revealed is how Gibson came to the plate from his early morning pain issues to not even being on the field for pre-game introductions. It really was a Hollywood ending and as time has gone on the story has branched out to different opinions on the outcome and what and why something happened. The only thing that is without a doubt is that Kirk Gibson became a Los Angeles icon and that Orel was waiting in the wings for a game 2 start.

Chapter 17 :

Game 2 - Game 5 The series that was supposed to be over before it started turned on a dime in the first game and carried over to the rest of the series. The A's continually mounted rallies against the Dodgers but they were only able to scrounge up one win which was game 3. Game 4 turned out to be the real pivotal game as the Dodgers held a 2-1 series lead if they would lose game 4 the series would be tied. Not the end of the world but the Dodger players were dropping like flies due to injuries. Game 5 was the clinching game with Orel back on the mound and knowing he had to close it out even though if they lost it would still be a 3-2 series advantage the feeling was that sooner rather than later the injuries would catch up to them. Orel did what he needed to do and the Dodgers were the 1988 World Series Champions.

Chapter 18 :

The series is over and let the celebration begin. The Dodgers were on top of the world with Orel as their king. Public appearances were made, tours were taken. The Dodgers enjoyed what the world was offering though Orel became such a public focal point that he could not do normal day to day activities. But with fame also comes fortune as Orel was rewarded with the biggest contract in baseball but being who he is he continued to be unchanged by his new contract. A humble man prior, during and after all is said and done.

As 1988 became a memory the 1989 season was upon them and they could not recreate the magic and ended up with a losing record and watched the Giants return to the World Series and this time the A's did what they were "supposed" to do and swept away the Giants during another memorable World Series but this was due to it being interrupted by a 7.1 earthquake.

Chapter 19 : Members of the team and staff eventually all went their separate ways. Some stayed with the organization. Some passed away. Others went on to greener pastures while some just faded away. No matter what happened to them or where the road took them they could always look back and reflect on how special 1988 was and how it probably will never be duplicated again. For comparisons it would be like the Padres or Marlins winning the series this year. A rag tag team with one or two big bats, a good pitcher thrown in and then take on the mightiest of teams like the Tigers or Red Sox and even this year's version of the Dodgers and dominate them.

So with that I have finished "Miracle Men" and it was a great read. A lot of information to take in and occurrences and happenings that I forgot or never knew are revealed within the covers. This team did not have the talent that other teams had that season but what they lacked in that category they made up for it with heart and soul. You look on paper and there is no way they should have sniffed the playoffs let alone the World Series. But that is why you play the games. Since 1988 the Dodgers have not made a return trip to the Fall Classic but with all the similar streaks they have accomplished this year and it being the 25th anniversary of the 88 team it might just be their time once again. Until then take some time and read a great book with events from a different prospective that you might have not seen or heard before. In closing... What A Fucking Team !!!

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