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Pedro Guerrero’s incredible June 1985

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Guerrero joined Babe Ruth and Roger Maris with a 15-homer June, part of a red-hot summer for the Dodgers star

MLB Photos Archive Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images

“If I had a one-run lead, the bases were loaded and Guerrero was coming up to bat, I’d think about walking him,” former Dodgers reliever Terry Forster, then with the Braves, told Terry Johnson of the Daily Breeze (1).

That was how hot Pedro Guerrero was in June 1985, when he hit 15 home runs during the month. The hot streak extended into July, and fueled what was Guerrero’s best season, a year that saw the Dodgers win 95 games and their third division title in five years.

“There were very few guys you would stop and watch batting practice, and there were very few guys that if you were standing around the cage there was a different sound coming off their bat,” Orel Hershiser said in a phone interview last week. “Petey was that guy, on our team. He was the guy when he got in the cage, everybody stopped.

“He had a different sound, and a different kind of power in that generation.”

But at the end of May, the Dodgers were just 23-24, five games behind and in fourth place in the National League West.

They lost again on June 1 at home to the Expos, though Guerrero hit an 11th-inning home run to begin his month. Guerrero started in center field in this game, his first start in the outfield after playing nearly all of the first two months of the season at third base. This was a trend with Guerrero.

The Dodgers moved Guerrero around all over the field, knowing his best position was the batter’s box. His primary position in 1982, when he hit 32 home runs, was right field, though he also started 41 times in center field and 14 times at third base.

In 1983, he played third base all year, and did so for half of 1984 before getting moved to the outfield in the summer. He started the 1985 season at third base again, nudged by his manager.

From Gordon Verrell in The Sporting News (2):

When the Dodgers failed to acquire a third baseman during the winter, Lasorda went to the Dominican Republic to convince Guerrero the Dodgers needed him to play third base.

“I knew he was serious,” Guerrero said jokingly. “He even paid for the lunch.”

At the end of May, Guerrero was hitting just .268/.364/.393 with four home runs. By the end of the month he was hitting .295/.390/.559, and leading the National League with 19 home runs.

After eight games in center, Guerrero moved to left field, where he’d stay for the rest of the year. His iconic image from that season came in left field, when Guerrero slammed his glove down as Jack Clark’s season-ending home run dashed the Dodgers’ hopes in Game 6 of the NLCS.

Pedro Guerrero’s June 1985

June HR Date Opponent Pitcher RBI
June HR Date Opponent Pitcher RBI
1 Jun 1 Expos Jeff Reardon 1
2 Jun 4 Mets Dwight Gooden 1
3 Jun 7 Braves Dave Schuler 1
4 Jun 8 Braves Rick Mahler 2
5 Jun 10 Reds John Stuper 1
6 Jun 14 Astros Joe Niekro 1
7 Jun 14 Astros Julio Solano 1
8 Jun 15 Astros Bob Knepper 1
9 Jun 16 Astros Mike Scott 2
10 Jun 19 Padres Andy Hawkins 1
11 Jun 21 Astros Bill Dawley 1
12 Jun 23 Astros Ron Mathis 2
13 Jun 24 Astros Joe Niekro 1
14 Jun 26 Padres LaMarr Hoyt 1
15 Jun 30 Braves Bruce Sutter 2
Source: Baseball-Reference

But to get to that point, the Dodgers needed Guerrero to carry the offense, which he did for more than two months.

Guerrero took Dwight Gooden deep on June 4, the Dodgers’ only run that day against the 20-year-old who would post a ridiculous 1.53 ERA that season.

Things really heated up on a road trip, when Guerrero homered seven times in seven games. After two home runs in Atlanta, and a home run in the only game not rained out in Cincinnati, Guerrero unleashed hell in Houston.

Guerrero took both Joe Niekro and Julio Solano deep on Friday night against the Astros. On Saturday he homered against Bob Knepper. The Dodgers completed the sweep on Sunday thanks to a two-run shot by Guerrero against Mike Scott.

“The baseball doesn’t look any bigger to me, but I am making contact,” Guerrero told reporters (3). “If you make contact, you have the same chance to get a hit or make an out. That’s what we’re all doing — making contact.”

Back home, Guerrero took Andy Hawkins deep on June 19 to break a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning against the Padres, his 10th home run of the month.

But Guerrero still had more punishment to deliver to the Astros, hitting three home runs against Houston in four days — June 21 against Bill Dawley, June 23 against Ron Mathis, and June 24 against Niekro, the only pitcher he hit two home runs against during June.

That gave Guerrero 13 home runs in June, surpassing Frank Howard’s July 1962 for most home runs in a single month by a Los Angeles Dodger. Six games still remained to match or beat Duke Snider’s August 1953 for most home runs in a month in franchise history.

All of this power came while Guerrero played the outfield, and though the effects on his offense were downplayed, Guerrero offered the best and funniest explanation of why he preferred to play the outfield.

“I can practice my swing out there,” he told reporters (4). “I can’t do that at third base.”

On June 26 against the Padres in San Diego, Guerrero homered in the fifth against former Cy Young Award winner LaMarr Hoyt, who accused Guerrero of malfeasance.

“I’d love to check his bat,” Hoyt told reporters (5). “He didn’t swing. He just put his bat on the ball. There’s no way it should go that far with that swing.”

“Petey did not have the most conventional swing,” Hershiser recalled. “It was a very effective swing, but I think he has one of the shortest follow throughs for a guy who has that much power. I remember how short and quick to the ball he was, and how quickly he stopped the bat after hitting a home run.”

Guerrero had four games left to challenge the major league record of 15 home runs in June, a record shared by Babe Ruth (1930), Bob Johnson (1934), and Roger Maris (1961). It was later broken by Sammy Sosa, who clobbered 20 homers in June 1998 on his way to a 66-homer season.

But Guerrero was 0-for-12 with three walks in those final four games, until his final at-bat of the month. Down a run in the eighth inning with Ken Landreaux on first base, Guerrero took future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter deep, giving the Dodgers the win and capping Guerrero’s record June.

Los Angeles Dodgers
From June 1 to August 9, 1985, Pedro Guerrero hit 24 home runs in 51 games, driving in 51, scoring 58 times while hitting .391/.486/.872.
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

I vividly remember being in the car with my dad listening to this game, going wild as Guerrero hit his 15th home run of the month. This was my first full year being wholly immersed in baseball, and Guerrero that summer captured by nine-year-old heart, becoming my first favorite player.

Guerrero for the month hit .344/.436/.860 with those 15 home runs, scoring 27 times and driving in 26 runs in 25 games. If anything, it was amazing the RBI total was that high, given that only four of Guerrero’s homers with two-run shots.

Four of Guerrero’s June homers gave the Dodgers the lead, and another tied the game.

In July Guerrero missed about a week and hit only four home runs, but he was arguably even better at the plate, simply by avoiding outs at all cost. He hit .460/.563/.794 in July, including a stretch from July 23-26 that saw Guerrero reach base in a Dodgers-record 14 consecutive plate appearances.

Guerrero in June and July hit a combined .391/.489/.833 with 19 home runs in 45 games, a tidy 264 wRC+. The Dodgers went 35-17, and by the end of July were up five games in the division.

“I’ve seen him have streaks like this before. He hit 32 home runs two years in a row,” manager Tommy Lasorda said (6). “He’s inspiring. He’s the kind of guy who can carry a ball club, and that’s what he’s been doing.”

Guerrero finished the year with a career-best 33 home runs, his third season topping 30. Since moving to Los Angeles, no other Dodger did so more than once, and nobody would until Mike Piazza a decade later.

Guerrero in 1985 hit .320/.422/.577. He led the National League in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+ (182), and finished third in MVP voting, his third top-4 finish in four years.

But it was his June that was the stuff of legend.


References

  1. “June ended too soon for Pedro Guerrero,” by Terry Johnson. Daily Breeze, July 1, 1985.
  2. “Guerrero Is Pleased With Shift To Center,” by Gordon Verrell. The Sporting News, June 17, 1985.
  3. “Hershiser bounces back with win.” by Terry Johnson. Daily Breeze, June 16, 1985.
  4. “Guerrero Is Pleased With Shift To Center,” by Gordon Verrell. The Sporting News, June 17, 1985.
  5. “Garvey likens Padres to (old) Dodgers.” by Terry Johnson. Daily Breeze, June 27, 1985.
  6. “Guerrero Surge Ignites Dodgers,” by Gordon Verrell. The Sporting News, July 1, 1985.