In this series, Banished to the Pen turns the clock back to a particular year in baseball from the ’80s and ’90s. Our first entry starts with 1988, the year of one of the most iconic plays in the history of the game, as well as some iconic movies. In Part 2, we showcase baseball from a gaming and collecting standpoint.
There were 26 teams in four divisions, with Atlanta in the NL West, the California Angels in the AL West, and Milwaukee in the AL East. No stadium was yet named after a corporate sponsor (unless you loosely count Busch). Here are some of the more notables events of the year that was:
- Willie Stargell is the only player voted in to the Hall of Fame.
- A. Bartlett Giamatti is elected to replace outgoing commission Peter Ueberroth.
- The White Sox are granted a new stadium to replace Comiskey Field, then the oldest MLB park (opened in 1910).
- Billy Martin is fired from the Yankees, ending his 5th stint with the team.
- Baltimore starts the season with 21 consecutive losses.
- Jose Canseco is the first player in history to reach the 40 HR/40 SB club.
- Boston wins the AL East in MLB’s tightest race (the 5th-place Yankees finish 3.5 back).
- In each of his final two starts, Dave Stieb falls one out short of a no-hitter.
- Orel Hershiser pitches 10 shutout innings on the last day of the regular season, breaking Don Drysdale’s consecutive scoreless innings streak with 59.
- In his only World Series at-bat, a hobbled Kirk Gibson hits a dramatic pinch-hit home run to win Game One for the underdog Dodgers.
ALCS: Oakland (104-58) def Boston (89-73), 4-0
NLCS: LA (94-67) def NY (100-60), 4-3
World Series: LA def Oakland, 4-1
When the Lights Went Up at Wrigley
by Brandon Lee
DID YOU KNOW – Wrigley Field didn’t have lights until 1988? Yes, this is a True Fact. Did you also know that the first attempt at a night game at Wrigley Field was rained out? That is also a True Fact, perhaps caused by something Supernatural such as billy goats, meant to be taken as A Sign that night games at Wrigley should not happen, we’ll never really know for sure.
At the time, though, not everyone thought night baseball at Wrigley Field would truly change the game, or team, or neighborhood for the better. A group, Citizens United for Baseball in Sunshine (appropriately, C.U.B.S.) mobilized to stop night games at Wrigley, or at least prevent them from growing to a number that they deemed to be too high. However, by 1988, C.U.B.S. lacked the momentum that the pro-Lights crowd had on their side, as the Tribune Company (which owned the team) had swayed the City Council and state legislature with threats of relocating the Cubs to *gasp* the suburbs, and MLB would have required any future World Series games to be played at a different park, with lights, because of TV contracts requiring prime time broadcasts. The Illinois General Assembly voted to allow night games in 1985, while the City Council voted to repeal the ordinance prohibiting night games at Wrigley in 1987, and the lights finally went on at Wrigley for the later rained-out August 8, 1988 game against the Phillies. The first official night game at Wrigley was a win the next night against the Mets.
Since 1988, the Cubs have played night playoff games at home in five postseasons, and hosted the All Star Game in 1990. Today, the now-completely-gentrified Wrigleyville remains home of the Cubs, an ever-evolving Wrigley Field, up to 46 night games, and an annual slate of concerts. However, the neighborhood is also home of some of the highest rent prices in the city, and is the public urination capital of Chicago. Maybe C.U.B.S. were on to something. (Bonus: Harry Caray and Bill Murray pregame.)
When the Impossible Happened
by Joseph Garcia
The 1988 Dodgers season was special to me in a couple of ways. I was 8 years old and it was the first year I played little league and also the first year I really started to follow the Dodgers and baseball. My favorite player back then was Steve Sax because we played the same position. I would watch the games and try to emulate his lead off first base and the jump he’d get when he would take off for second. Orel Hershiser was the greatest pitcher that ever lived in the eyes of this then-8-year-old. That season he was my sandlot version of the Great Bambino, the Sultan of Swat. Orel was the Bulldog, the Hershstriker. Dominating any team he faced when he took the mound.
Fast forward to game one of the 1988 World Series. My family was big into LA sports and we had invited relatives and friends (being of Mexican descent, it was a full house) to watch the games. I remember Kirk Gibson coming to the plate. Vin Scully making the call as the ball landed in the stands as the whole house erupted in cheers. I really think the drawback to being as young as I was is that I didn’t fully grasp the magic I saw, witnessing one of the most historic homeruns in history, till much, much later in life. I saw a team that wasn’t supposed to go to this grand stage at the beginning of the season just steal game one of the World Series right out from under the Oakland A’s.
But the game that to me was the most awe-inspiring at the time, though way less dramatic than game one, was game two (still my favorite game to watch from that series). Orel just blew the A’s away with a complete game shutout and proved he could still bring it even with the pressure of baseball’s spotlight shining right at him. This is my memory of the 1988 season and it’s the year that made me a baseball fan for life.
Awards, Leaders, and Lists
|WAR||Wade Boggs||8.3||Orel Hershiser||7.1|
|Avg||Wade Boggs||.366||Tony Gwynn||.313|
|HR||Jose Canseco||42||Darryl Strawberry||39|
|OPS+||Jose Canseco||170||Darryl Strawberry||165|
|SB||Rickey Henderson||93||Vince Coleman||81|
|ERA+||Allan Anderson||166||Joe Magrane||161|
|FIP||Roger Clemens||2.17||Bobby Ojeda||2.36|
|K/9||Roger Clemens||9.9||Nolan Ryan||9.3|
|MVP||1. Jose Canseco, 2, Mike Greenwell, 3. Kirby Puckett||1. Kirk Gibson, 2. Darryl Strawberry, 3. Kevin McReynolds|
|Cy Young||1. Frank Viola, 2. Dennis Eckersley, 3. Mark Gubicza||1. Orel Hershisher, 2. Danny Jackson, 3. David Cone|
|Rookie of the Year||1. Walt Weiss, 2. Bryan Harvey, 3. Jody Reed||1. Chris Sabo, 2. Mark Grace, 3. Tim Belcher|
|LCS MVP||Dennis Eckersley||Orel Hershisher|
|World Series MVP||Orel Hershisher|
Notable Draftees (round): Andy Benes (1, 1st overall), Jim Abbott (1), Robin Ventura (1), Tino Martinez (1), Luis Gonzalez (4), Jim Edmonds (7), Tim Wakefield (8), Kenny Lofton (17), Deion Sanders (30), Mike Piazza (62)
Rookies: Roberto Alomar, Mark Grace, Ron Gant, Randy Velarde, Jay Buhner, John Smoltz, David Wells, Al Leiter, Jack McDowell, Rob Dibble
Retirees: Graig Nettles, Jose Cruz, Ted Simmons, Dave Concepcion, Don Baylor, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Ron Guidry, Joe Niekro, Bruce Sutter
Born in 1988: Elvis Andrus, Mike Moustakas, Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel, Stephen Strasburg, Dallas Keuchel, Aroldis Chapman, Chris Archer, Jacob DeGrom, Masahiro Tanaka
Average player salary: $439K
Highest salaries: Ozzie Smith, $2.34M; George Brett, $2.31M; Mike Schmidt, $2.25M
Average team payroll: $12.4M
Highest team payroll: Yankees, $21.5M; Dodgers, $16.4M; Tigers, $15.9M (Lowest: Mariners, $6.5M)
Popular songs during the season: Never Gonna Give You Up, Man in the Mirror, Get Outta My Dreams Get into My Car, Where Do Broken Hearts Go, The Flame, Sweet Child O’ Mine, Don’t Worry Be Happy
Popular movies during the season: Beetlejuice, Friday the 13th Pt VII, Willow, Big, Coming to America, Die Hard, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Young Guns, A Fish Called Wanda
by AD (originally published on ALDLAND)
(trailer) I don’t watch enough movies to make for a legitimate writer of movie reviews – a sketchy draft writeup on Slap Shot has been gathering e-dust since my first viewing last fall – but I know enough to know an enjoyable movie when I see one, and Bull Durham is that. Though probably to a lesser extent, it, along with 1984’s The Natural, establishes the archetypal standard for the splurge of popular baseball movies that would follow. Most obviously influenced (although I don’t know if this is practically possible, given the time it probably takes to bring a feature film from conception to screen) was the Major League series, the first of which appeared the following year. Wild pitchers, grumpy managers, superstitious players, goofy mascots, chattering bench coaches, hopeless radio announcers, old players looking for one last chance, and women who try to control them all. Predating the rise of sports media supersaturation, the film nevertheless displays an overt consciousness of the way things were and were quickly going.
Somewhere between the Homeric epic that is The Natural and the full-on comedy that is Major League sits Bull Durham, which is a nice story that will make you laugh but also will make you smile, and, more so than any memorable images or acting performances, it’s the writing that really shines here. (Appropriately, it was nominated for an Oscar for best writing of a screenplay.) There are plenty of great movies – comedies and dramas – featuring other sports, but baseball seems to provide the most consistently viable vehicle for stories with broader appeal. If nothing else, Bull Durham answers that question asked by so many: What exactly goes on in those meetings on the pitcher’s mound?
Eight Men Out
by Ken Maeda
(trailer) After Bull Durham’s wry slice-of-life, and before Naked Gun’s broad comedy, summer’s end saw the earnest, somber period piece Eight Men Out hit theaters. Based on Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book about the still-infamous 1919 Black Sox scandal, it’s said to be a fairly faithful adaptation, perhaps at the cost of commercial appeal (its box office fell $1M short of its $7M budget). There’s several familiar faces in the film: Charlie Sheen, John Cusack, Christopher Lloyd, David Straitharn. John Mahoney (“the dad from Frasier“). Plus, DB Sweeney.
The young boy’s famous plea, “Say it ain’t so, Joe” may have been apocryphal, though the actual quote may have been close: the less poetic “It ain’t true, is it?”
Director John Sayles portrays a sportswriter along with Chicago icon Studs Terkel, while Asinof (initially dismayed that the movie rights had even been bought) plays one of the team owners.
Right-handed DB Sweeney was so committed to his role of the legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson that he traveled with an A-ball team while honing Jackson’s left-handed swing (a detail that Field of Dreams would notoriously get wrong a year later).
The movie took 11 years before finally starting production. Sayles’ initial wish list included Martin Sheen, who saw his son Charlie cast instead. Straitharn, a schoolmate of Sayles, was envisioned as Jackson, but instead played the elder pitcher Eddie Cicotte.
At Sayles’ request, Sweeney recruited Sheen, who was doing Wall Street at the time (and later starred in that other ’89 movie, Major League). A renowned baseball fan, he accepted without reading the script.
The baseball scenes were shot at Indianapolis’ Bush Stadium, which later became a dirt speedway, and then an apartment site only a few years ago.
Many of the ballplaying cast who took up chewing actual tobacco for realism eventually gave it up, with apricots serving as a substitute.
The Naked Gun: An Appreciation
by Alex Crisafulli
(trailer) The Naked Gun is not a baseball movie per se. Instead, it’s an 85-minute riot in which the creators (David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker) take the slapstick craft they perfected eight years earlier in Airplane! to as equal or greater heights, depending on who you’re asking. In 1988, I wasn’t sure it was possible for a movie to be funnier than this. Leslie Nielsen is a comic genius (though his breakthrough role was in the very unironic Forbidden Planet). The gags are so prolific you’ll still be laughing from a previous joke when it’s time to laugh at a new one. Oh, and former Hertz rental car pitchman OJ Simpson is in it. So again, this is not a baseball movie, but the memorable final act of the film takes place at Dodger Stadium – where the Seattle Mariners visit the California Angels, for some reason.
To understand everything that happens in the final act, the most important thing you need to know is that Lieutenant Frank Drebin (perfectly played by Nielsen) of the LAPD has been given actionable intelligence that one of the players at the game has been tasked with assassinating the visiting Queen of England during the 7th inning stretch. Local businessman and evil person Ricardo Montalban is behind the plot. To thwart the attack, Drebin has to somehow get on the field and search the players.
First, this involves assaulting, bounding, and gagging fictional opera singer Enrico Pallazzo, who was supposed to deliver the National Anthem. Drebin masquerades as Pallazzo and belts out the anthem instead. (To this day, any column, book, or blog post about horrible anthem renditions has to pay homage to this moment. If they don’t, they’re irreversibly flawed.) Simply put, it’s the worst rendition – fictional or otherwise – of the National Anthem ever captured on film. And it’s never not hilarious.
Then Drebin sneaks back into the clubhouse and clocks the home plate umpire over the head with a baseball bat so he can assume his identity. I’m sure some people would find this problematic, but if you can’t handle some minor collateral damage for the sake of saving the Queen, then the real world isn’t for you. And it’s at this point that Drebin begins umping, and holy hell does he do a terrible job. Here’s some of his transgressions:
- Calls a pitch a strike before it even crosses home plate because he really enjoys belting out that strike call;
- Knocks out a Mariners player with another over-animated strike call;
- Puts the punctuation on a strikeout with a dance routine complete with the splits (he does not ump “the right way”);
- Throws the other umpires out of the game (FUN FACT: One is Joe West!); and
- Sabotages a routine pop fly by throwing several other baseballs into the air rendering the catch impossible AND later in the same play makes the most egregious “SAFE” call ever seen in baseball.
He is a horrible, horrible umpire. And yet, even with his interference, the assassination plot is ultimately set into action. Here we learn that the assassin is the Angels RF: none other than Reggie Jackson (who had retired after the ’87 season, and last played for the Angels in ’86). Now, Jackson is mostly known for hitting a lot of home runs – especially the three he hit in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series — and for not always being that nice of a man, but his performance in this movie probably belongs in the opening paragraph of his Wikipedia entry. He’s great! He only has one line, mind you – “I must kill the Queen” – but it’s incredibly memorable. Under a hypnotic spell, Jackson repeats this line over and over in a monotone, robotic voice. (It’s the same voice I use anytime I’m really committed to a task. I must pretend I know how WAR is calculated.)
We love it when athletes who aren’t known as being funny are all of a sudden funny (Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker had earlier pulled this off with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Airplane!) and Mr. October is damn funny. (Side note: That you can’t buy an Angels t-shirt with Jackson saying “I must kill the Queen” anywhere on the internet is outrageous.) Jackson doesn’t kill the Queen, of course, but he gets pretty close! Before he pulls the trigger, Drebin tackles him and saves the day. And when it’s revealed that Drebin is, in fact, the hero behind the umpire’s mask, Francis from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure stands up in the crowd and points out, “Hey, it’s Enrico Pallazzo!” and the entire crowd joins in chanting his name. It’s hilarious. Any movie with an unmasking begs for this line. (I once shouted it out in a crowded theater during a pivotal scene in Shakespeare in Love and some jerk ratted me out to an usher.)
Other great/notable baseball moments from The Naked Gun:
- There’s a seven-person booth calling the game: Curt Gowdy, Jim Palmer, Tim McCarver, Dick Vitale, Mel Allen, Dick Enberg, and Dr. Joyce Brothers.
- The Queen participates in the wave (Full disclosure: I am pro-wave.)
- Well-known funny man Jay Johnstone is the only other major leaguer besides Reggie Jackson to appear in the film. He bats right-handed in the movie even though he batted left throughout his career.
- There’s a bloopers reel on the “Angel Vision” board. It has your garden-variety bloopers, but also some unique ones that must be seen to be believed. Mel Allen approves.
Thanks to Darius Austin for his assistance.Next post: ’88 Throwbacks, Pt 2: 8-Bit Ball & Action Figures
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