Note: This post originally appeared on HardballTalk on October 21, 1988. In light of today’s rush to make instant history and draw instant lessons from the Kansas City Royals’ success, I reprint it here in order to show that the idea is not new.
OAKLAND — Sure, the Los Angeles Dodgers are an intriguing tale for the typical reasons. A team that hasn’t won even 75 games the past two years wins the World Series over a favored opponent. On Thursday evening, the Dodgers beat the Oakland Athletics 5-2, finishing them off in five games and winning their first World Series in seven years.
But the Dodgers are more than just an enchanting success story. They represent the changing game of baseball.
In the post-healthy era, the game is going through a remarkable transition. Functioning limbs are out. Horrible, hobbling knee injuries are in. Before 1988, strapping, vibrant players posted MVP seasons and led their teams to championships. Now, surly, limping veterans are the key to success.
Enter the Dodgers. The Dodgers had the fewest functioning knee ligaments among MVP candidates this postseason, with zero. But no team had more improbable pinch-hit home runs from players with no healthy ligaments than the Dodgers. The team has one. That one came in their wild 5-4 win over the Oakland A’s in Game 1 of the World Series.
The last big-league club to win the World Series with a slow, hobbled MVP candidate was the 1979 Pirates, led by a waddling Willie Stargell. Those Pirates teams played an exciting brand of “cripple ball” throughout the decade: the ’71 Pirates featured Richie Hebner, a grave-digger in the offseason, suffering from trench foot during the Fall Classic. In 1975 they lost — albeit valiantly — in the NLCS even though Richie Zisk posted a line of .500/.583/.600 while suffering from an attack of the gout.
For the Dodgers, leg injuries pay off in the field too. Because of Kirk Gibson’s destroyed lower body, Mickey Hatcher was around to cover for him in left field, hitting .368 in the World Series, thereby providing a two-pronged attack. This versatility has baseball analysts raving. “Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here,” wrote Peter Gammons of the Boston Globe. “We’re not just talking about a hurt knee, or a badly hurt knee. We’re talking about what one might decide to argue is the most hurt knee of a walkoff-home-run-hitting sonofabitch of all time.”
The Dodgers have found a winning formula. These days, if you have two healthy knees, you’re more likely than ever to get caught stealing. So just step awkwardly off a curb – Dodgers hitters are the least likely to go all the way to a crosswalk – and take your chances with your legs. Hurt your knees to make that ninth inning home run all the more dramatic.
Let the high-payroll Mets and A’s overpay for healthy young sluggers who will inevitably tire out from all of that running around the outfield (Daryl Strawberry, Jose Canseco, Lenny Dykstra). Maimed-ball is inspirational, and effective. This is where the game is heading. The Dodgers just do it best.