Reprinted with permission by College Baseball Insider. Article by Phil Stanton.
Tracy Woodson enters his sixth season as the head coach at Valparaiso. The fourth-seeded Crusaders reached the title game of the 2011 Horizon League Tournament, falling by one run to top-seeded Wright State in the title game.
Woodson coached in professional baseball for eight years after playing for 13 seasons. Woodson was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1987-89, contributing to a World Series title in 1988. He played for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1992 and 1993.
Woodson reflected on the Dodgers’ postseason run in 1988 and looked ahead at the Crusaders for 2012.
First Inning – In your first big league season in 1987, the Dodgers finished in fourth place in the West. How much fun was the pennant race during the 1988 season?
Wow, it was quite a bit different because in ’87 they brought up the full limit of 40 guys because they were tying to identify who was going to be with the organization, who they were going to give opportunities to. Then in ’88, we were in the pennant race the whole time so it wasn’t a tryout. Each game meant something toward the season. So it was quite a bit different.
Second Inning – The Mets won the East by 15 games. How thrilling was it to win the NL pennant in a tough seven-game series?
It was difficult. [Kirk] Gibson stood out in that series. He hit the big home run in extra innings to win one of the games and he had the play where he pulled his hamstring and hurt his knee, which led up to what happened in the World Series. It was tough, but once we got to Game 7 and [Orel] Hershiser pitching, we knew we had a very good chance of winning it.
Third Inning – Oakland was a heavy favorite in the World Series. Did you feel that the Dodgers were the underdogs against the A’s?
I don’t think we paid attention to that. When I look back, we were a heavy underdog to the Mets and the A’s. Everybody thought the Mets and the A’s were the two best teams with 100 or more wins and we had 90-some wins. Bob Costas made the comment that this might be the worst team ever put on the field for a World Series game because Gibson was hurt. If you go back and look, we weren’t the strongest team. We had good pitching, but we weren’t the best team by far. [Manager Tommy] Lasorda used that as leverage to our players, telling us “Listen to what this guy is saying. He doesn’t believe it.” That was Tommy’s strength. He could motivate a team of six-year-olds if he had to.
Fourth Inning – You have shared before some of your thoughts on Kirk Gibson’s famous two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to win the opening game. If you would, walk us through it again.
He didn’t come out for introductions. I honestly thought about this, “How can you not come out for introductions?” I wasn’t going to start, but my name was going to be announced and I was going to be in the introductions. He never showed up. NBC used it. They made a big deal that Gibson wasn’t in introductions, he’s not available. Tommy kept going back, starting about the sixth inning, “How do you feel, big guy?” He would always give him the thumbs down. I think I pinch-hit in the fifth inning and I was going in and out and he was continuously taking balls off the tee. You could hear the bat. They orchestrated it perfectly. Gibson said, “If you get somebody on, I’ll give you my best at-bat.” It was unreal. Dodger Stadium did not stop cheering for 15 or 20 minutes after the game. It was ridiculous.
Fifth Inning – Orel Hershiser shut out Oakland in Game 2 and went the distance in the finale in Game 5. How dominating was Hershiser in the 1988 postseason?
He broke [Don] Drysdale’s record toward the end of the regular season, so it was the last two months of the season. It was ridiculous. It’s not like he was 95 mph. He was 88 to 90 probably, but everything moved. He put everything where he wanted it. It was a clinic.
Sixth Inning – Tommy Lasorda was the manager of the ’88 Dodgers. Did you learn anything from his that has helped you as a Division I head coach?
He would use anything. He was the rah-rah. He would get the people above our dugout, people at Dodger Stadium, by just raising his arm and steps out of the dugout at times. He would yell at the other team, “You’re not intimidating me!” But they can’t hear you when there are 50,000 or 60,000 people. But he used it all, it didn’t matter. I always say I use his motivation and Joe Torre’s calmness when I was managing pro ball. Those were my two managers in the big leagues, and what they both accomplished is unbelievable.
Seventh Inning – Each October, do you still think back to the 1988 postseason run by the Dodgers?
Absolutely. Every year it comes, I think about it. They just put up a stat [Sunday] night during the Cardinals and Brewers game, talking about the last time the Brewers were in the Series. It showed a list of the longest and the Dodgers were one of them, hadn’t been to the World Series since ’88. I always think that it would be nice if they never got back, that way we would always be remembered. Eventually I think it’s got to happen with a team like the Dodgers.
Eighth Inning – Gibson and Mike Scioscia were your teammates in 1988. Did you think both had the ability to become managers in the major leagues?
I knew Scioscia did, being a catcher. He was very intelligent. I thought Hershiser may get into that area. They sat next to Tommy a lot and were hinting a lot of things. Gibson, I never saw him as being a manager. But it sounds like the players in Arizona love playing for him. If you’re a player’s manager and you do well, they’re going to love you.
Ninth Inning – How did fall practice go for the Crusaders and how do you feel about the team heading into the 2012 season?
We’re excited. We got to the finals last year for the first time in our conference in a number of years, the first time since I’ve been there. We started out 1-17. We went on a West Coast trip for two weeks and then came back here and lost 1-0 to Creighton. We played a great schedule early and it prepared us for later on. We finished 25-32 and lost in the championship game to Wright State 4-3. We brought in 17 new guys. We lost 15 from last year’s team. But we have the nucleus of our lineup back. We’ve got to replace a couple of our starters. We’ve got our closer back who was Second Team All-America two years ago, back from Tommy John [surgery]. We like our situation.