A bevy of new faces and personalities populated the Dodgers spring training complex in Vero Beach as they prepared for the upcoming 1988 season. As the club prepared for their exhibition season opener, newly-acquired reliever Jesse Orosco decided that a prank was in order and he lined newly-acquired outfielder Kirk Gibson's cap with black shoe polish, inciting the now-famous incident of Gibson storming off the field in disgust (and embarrassment) and setting the tone that, on the field, baseball was going to be serious business for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Interestingly, that was not even the first time that day that Gibson was the butt of a practical joke, as he fell victim to shaving cream on a telephone receiver. This tomfoolery was not denounced by the outfielder, however, as he later told reporters "That one was OK, but on the field, people were laughing at me." The message was delivered - fun is fun, but the game is serious business.
Jesse Orosco's most significant moment of the season may have been to be the catalyst in a very unexpected way of a signature moment that became known as the point of ignition for the championship campaign to come.
How acquired: Dodgers General Manager Fred Claire had entered the offseason knowing he wanted to fill roster holes in the bullpen and at shortstop and he did so with one bold three-team deal on December 11, 1987.
The main cost the Dodgers paid was 31-year old starter Bob Welch, but they did acquire two important members of the back end of their bullpen and their starting shortstop in return.
Prior MLB experience: The Santa Barbara native (SB High School and SB City College) debuted with the Mets in 1979 and was in the majors to stay after making the 1981 opening day roster. As a Met he recorded 107 saves, appeared in 372 games (including his only four career starts), with a 2.73 ERA (133 ERA+), 1.2 WHIP, and 2.11 K/BB ratio. Orosco was a two-time National League All-Star for New York and finished third in the 1983 Cy Young balloting. He also had a World Series ring to flash in the Dodgers clubhouse, having pitched 5⅔ scoreless innings and recording two saves in the 1986 World Series. He notched the last out of that series, punctuating the victory with memorable skyward launching of his glove.
1988 age: 31
1988 stats: The left-handed reliever was used sometimes as a closer (nine saves), and sometimes as a left-handed specialist (13 appearances of two batters or less) and almost always in typical situations for the most valued members of the bullpen. Orosco wound up totaling 53 IP in 55 appearances, with a 1.34 WHIP thanks to 5.1 BB/9 offsetting a rate of 7.0 H/9.
Regular season game of the year: In a one-run game at home against the Phillies, Orosco entered the game with one out and two runners aboard thanks to a suddenly wild Jay Howell walking his last two batters and promptly walked Lance Parrish to load the bases. But he then recovered to induce Phil Bradley to ground into a force at home of speedy Steve Jeltz, before completing his eighth save by retiring pinch-hitter Bob Dernier on a fly ball. Orosco also, strangely enough, recorded a three-inning save that was not otherwise in a save situation when he entered, a game the Dodgers entered with an eight-game lead the NL West with nine games left to play.
NLCS performance: Overall Orosco scuffled against his former team. Over four appearances he faced fifteen batters and allowed eight of them to reach base. Three of those successful batters were part of the Dodger bullpen meltdown of Game Three, after the Jay Howell pine-tar incident. But he had a sparkling moment in Game Four when, after entering a one-run game in New York and walking Keith Hernandez to load the bases, he coaxed a pop up from Darryl Strawberry before turning the stage over to Orel Hershiser for the save.
World Series performance: Though on the roster, Orosco did not make an appearance against the A's. Apparently there was never a need to give Dave Parker the LOOGY treatment.
Post-1988 playing career: Orosco left as a free agent at the end of the 1988 season and went on to log fifteen more seasons in major league baseball racking up a major-league record of 1,252 pitching appearances, including a two-year return stint with the Dodgers from 2000 to 2001. He is one of only twelve men to have pitched in the majors at age 46 or older.
Where he is now: After retiring Orosco hit the links enough to be a scratch golfer (zero-handicap). He now coaches pitching at the San Diego branch of the Frozen Ropes baseball training centers.