When former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda makes his annual pilgrimage to AT&T Field, as he did this past weekend, it's a special time for baseball fans young and old.
Chattanooga Lookouts hitting coach Franklin Stubbs thinks it's special, too. Stubbs played on Lasorda's 1984-89 teams and was the first baseman for the '88 World Series champions.
"I was fortunate enough to play for him and to win a World Series, so it's always good to see him," Stubbs said. "We had some tough memories, too, but the good ones always outweigh the bad ones."
The '88 Dodgers went 94-67 and won the National League West by seven games over Cincinnati, yet they have been listed among the least imposing champions of the past generation. The two indelible memories from the '88 champs are Orel Hershiser's dominance on the mound and Kirk Gibson's home run to win the World Series opener against Oakland.
Little else has stood the test of time from a roster that included Mike Scioscia at catcher, Stubbs at first, Steve Sax at second, Alfredo Griffin at shortstop, Jeff Hamilton at third, Gibson in left field, John Shelby in center and Mike Marshall in right.
"Bob Costas came out publicly and said this is the worst team ever to be put on the field in a World Series in the history of baseball," Lasorda said. "I told my players, 'Are you going to let that son of a [gun] talk like that to you? You've got to show him he's wrong.'
"He might have been telling the truth, but you don't play the game on paper. You play it on the field."
Gibson hit .290 that season and was the only Dodgers starter to hit over .280. The primary rotation was Hershiser, Tim Leary, Tim Belcher, Fernando Valenzuela and Don Sutton.
The Dodgers were underdogs in the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets, who went 100-60 during the regular season, but they prevailed in seven games.
"The Mets probably had the best team in the major leagues that year," Stubbs said. "They beat us pretty solid in the regular season, and we got them at the right time in the playoffs. Kirk came up with some big hits and Hershiser pitched well and our other pitchers pitched well. We had some timely hits, played great defense and beat them.
"I thought they were better than Oakland, which had some powerful hitters, but I thought our pitchers matched up well against their hitters."
The A's went 104-58 during the season and swept Boston in the ALCS, but they won just once in the series. Hershiser won Games 2 and 5 to earn Series MVP honors, and his three hits were more than Oakland sluggers Jose Canseco (1-for-19) and Mark McGwire (1-for-17) had combined.
"I had so many teams talent-wise that were better than that '88 team, but they were a bunch of guys I will never forget," Lasorda said. "They had so much togetherness and so much respect for each other."
Said Stubbs: "I don't really care what people say about that team, because every time they look back, there was only one team that got that World Series ring, and that was us.