The Bulldog and the Bust.
Orel Leonard Hershiser IV arrived on planet Earth on September 16, 1958 in Buffalo, New York, courtesy of the glint in Orel Leonard Hershiser III’s eye and the sultry smile on Mildred Gillman’s lips. The Hershisers moved to Cherry Hill, New Jersey,where Orel became the star pitcher for the Cherry Hill East Cougars before heading to Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. There, as a Falcon, he would catch the attention of Chrysler New Yorker-driving, gas station sandwich-eating scouts who know a thing or two about building a baseball team.*
The Los Angeles Dodgers selected the gangly-framed hurler in the 17th round of the 1979 amateur draft. They assigned him to the aptly-named Clinton Dodgers of the Class A Midwest League. Hershiser would go 4-0 with two saves that season in 15 appearances, mainly out of the bullpen. Promoted to the Double-A San Antonio Dodgers, Hershiser would again pitch mostly in relief, appearing in 49 games with a 5-9 record and 3.55 ERA. He would spend a second season in San Antonio before heading to Triple-A Albuquerque for two more seasons, making only 21 more starts in 138 appearances. Hershiser’s numbers for the Dukes could aptly be described as pedestrian, but not bad for the offense-driven Pacific Coast League.
Orel made his major league Dodgers debut on September 1, 1983. The lanky 24-year old would appear in eight games, and earn one save in eight innings of work. The following season would see Hershiser move into the Dodgers’ starting rotation permanently, picking up 11 wins in 20 starts with a sterling 2.66 ERA and 150 punchouts in 189.2 innings of work. Hershiser would dominate in his second full season, going 19-3 with a 2.03 ERA in nearly 240 innings of work. He would finish 3rd in the National League Cy Young voting and 16th in MVP voting despite not being an All Star selection.
Nicknamed "Bulldog" by Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda for his competitive tenacity, Hershiser would win 30 games the next two seasons, and earn his first All Star apperance in 1987. He would also finish 4th in Cy Young voting.
Hershiser would compile one of the best seasons for a starting pitcher in 1988, with 23 wins, a 2.23 ERA, a 1.05 WHIP. He led the league with 15 complete games and eight shutouts. He also broke Don Drysdale’s record of 54 consecutive scoreless innings. From the sixth inning of his start versus the Montréal Expos on August 30 until the 10th inning of a scoreless tie against the San Diego Padres on September 28, Orel Hershiser did not give up a single run. The streak encompassed six straight complete games, and four innings of the first game — a total of 59 1/3 scoreless innings. The remarkable feat and season would earn Orel the Cy Young Award. He would also go on to win the National League Championship Series MVP and the World Series MVP as the Dodgers beat the Athletics in the 1988 World Series.
Hershiser would spend six more seasons in Los Angeles, never duplicating the success of his first five seasons with the team. Injuries would limit him to just 25 total starts in 1990 and 1991, and he would enjoy only one more winning season (7-2) in '91.
Hershiser entered free agency in late 1994, and finally inked a deal with the Cleveland Indians on April 8, 1995. Hershiser provided an instant impact on an improving team, making 26 starts in the strike-delayed season. Hershiser would finish 1995 with a 16-6 record, a 3.87 ERA, and a 121 ERA+. He would help the Indians reach their first World Series since 1954, and would be named the American League Championship Series MVP — the first player to win the award in both leagues. The 1995 postseason saw the Bulldog win four of five starts, and give up only six earned runs in 35.1 innings. In those appearances, Hershiser struck out 35 and only walked nine. He would split his 2 starts versus Atlanta in the World Series, losing game one and winning a decisive game five that kept the Indians alive for one more opportunity.
By 1996, the 37-year old Hershiser showed some signs of slowing down. He would win 15 more games and toss 206 innings despite a rising ERA and WHIP. In 1996 the Indians again won the American League Central title, only to fall to the Baltimore Orioles in the Divisional Series. Hershiser would be unable to repeat his command postseason performance, losing his only start in which he would last a mere five innings.
Hershiser’s final year with the Tribe would again see him win double-digit games with decent but not spectacular starts. The beneficiary of a high-octane offense, Hershiser would win 14 of his 20 decisions, but his ERA+ would slip to a slightly better than average 105. The Indians postseason run would continue, and Hershiser would again take the mound in October. Hershiser would experience mixed success in three no-decisions in the Divisional and Championship series before struggling against the Florida Marlins in the 1997 World Series. Hershiser would allow 13 earned runs in 10 innings in two losses — his last appearences for the Indians.
Hershiser signed with the San Francisco Giants in 1998 before spending two seasons with the New York Mets. He would again taste the postseason with the Mets, appearing out of the bullpen in the 1999 NLDS and NLCS.
Orel would return to the Los Angeles Dodgers for his final season in 2000 (1-5, 13.14 ERA, 10 G, 6 GS) before becoming the pitching coach for the Texas Rangers. Hershiser also worked as Executive Director of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers, and as a baseball analyst for ESPN.
During his tenure with the Tribe, Hershiser benefitted greatly from a league-class offense and solid bullpen. He won 45 of 66 decisions, with a 4.21 ERA and 113 ERA+ in 568.2 innings pitched. Only Charles Nagy won more games during 1995-1997 than Hershiser.
Although his most successful seasons were with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the 95th greatest Indian of all time was the best to wear #55.
Fernando Jose Cabrera was born on November 16, 1981 in the lovely seaside community of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico.
The Indians picked "La Maleta de Mano Derecha**" in the 10th round of the 1999 Major League draft, and signed him by August. Cabrera spent five seasons in the Indians minor leagues. His best season was 2003 for the Akron Aeros. He went 9-4 with a 2.97 ERA, and struck out 115 batters in 109 innings. By 2004, the Puerto Rican fireballer had earned the dreaded "Closer of the Future" tag, and was promoted to the show.
Cabrera would flash his potential the following season. In just 15 games, Cabrera would go 2-1 with a tidy 1.74 ERA and a small-sample size champion ERA+ of 289. In 30.2 innings, Cabrera would strike out 29 and walk 11. His 8.5 K/9 was fourth-best on the team.
It wasn’t until 2006 that Cabrera would get an extended look in the big leauges. In 51 appearances, he would go 3-3 with a 5.19 ERA. He would keep up his impressive K/9 rates (72 in 60.1 IP), but a 1.40 WHIP and 12 HR allowed would limit his success. The following year, Cabrera would last with the Indians until August, putting up unremarkable numbers. He was officially released on August 13 before being claimed by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Baltimore Orioles would sign Cabrera, where he would make nine mediocre outings. He would spend another season in Baltimore before being released again.
Subsequently, Cabrera has gone on to pitch for the Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics, and New York Mets major and minor league systems. He is currently in the bullpen for the current Mets and former Indians AAA affiliate Buffalo Bisons.
Cabrera has also appeared (albeit briefly) for the 1998 Oahu Volcano in the National BASEketball League, scoring four psyche-outs and three double-plays in 16 innings of play. ***
Sadly, Fernando Cabrera is the best Indian to ever wear uniform number 56. The "closer of the future" never fulfilled his potential, and only a brief run of solid performances make him remotely worthy of the title. Sandy Wihtol may even merit consideration, despite only tossing 46 innings in number 56.
Sincere thought was given to naming Eddie Taubensee the best, only because he was traded for Kenny Lofton.
* — Read more about this in "My Eyeballs Ain’t Lyin’: The Life and Times of Dusty Miles, Major League Scout" by Charles G. Hardy
**— Translates loosely to "The Right-Handed Suitcase" which may or may not be Fernando Cabrera’s nickname.
*** — Historical and statistical verification pending.
The One Year Wonders
Scott Stewart and Francisco Cruceta both wore uniform #55 for only one season. Bob Seeds, Rod Craig, Mike York, Eddie Taubensee, Bruce Aven, Angel Santos, Ricardo Rodriguez, Cliff Bartosh and Matt Ginter all wore uniform #56 for only one season.
The All-Time List - 55
Beau Allred PH, CF, RF, LF, DH (1989-1990) 225/295/400 94 OPS+, 44 PA; switched to #37 in 1991
Orel Hershiser SP (1995-1997) 45-21, 91 G, 91 GS, 4.21 ERA, 568.2 IP, 113 ERA+
Danys Baez RP, SP (2001-2003) 17-23, 155 G, 26 GS, 3.92 ERA, 291.1 IP, 113 ERA+
Roberto Hernandez "Fausto Carmona" SP, RP (2006-2012) 53-66, 181 G, 150 GS, 4.59 ERA, 934.2 IP, 91 ERA+; All-Star in 2010; 4th in Cy Young voting in 2007; 23rd in MVP voting in 2007 (2012 stats not included); Fausto wore #55 from 2006-2011, Roberto in 2012
The All-Time List - 56
Bob Seeds LF, CF, PH, RF (1930) 285/315/379 73 OPS+, 296 PA; switched to #31 in 1931
Sandy Wihtol RP (1979-1980) 1-0, 22 G, 0 GS, 3.52 ERA, 46 IP, 120 ERA+; also #42 in 1979; switched to #25 in 1982
Rod Craig PH, LF, PR, RF, CF, DH (1982) 231/275/262 49 OPS+, 71 PA; also #24 in 1982; traded by Mariners for Wayne Cage
Eddie Taubensee C (1991) 242/288/303 64 OPS+, 73 PA; claimed off waivers from Athletics; traded with Willie Blair to Astros for Kenny Lofton and Dave Rohde
Mike York RP, SP (1991) 1-4, 14 G, 4 GS, 6.75 ERA, 34.2 IP, 63 ERA+; traded by Prates for Mitch Webster
Bruce Aven LF, RF, PR (1997) 211/250/263 33 OPS+, 20 PA; also #36 in 1997; claimed on waivers by Marlins
Sean DePaula RP (1999-2000, 2002) 1-1, 29 G, 0 GS, 6.75 ERA, 34.2 IP, 74 ERA+
Ricardo Rodriguez SP (2003) 3-9, 15 G, 15 GS, 5.73 ERA, 81.2 IP, 77 ERA+; was #46 in 2002; traded with Shane Spencer to Rangers for Ryan Ludwick
Angel Santos 2B, 3B (2003) 224/253/408 74 OPS+, 80 PA; traded by Red Sox for Jamie Brown
Fernando Cabrera RP (2005-2007) 6-6, 90 G, 0 GS, 4.39 ERA, 125 IP, 135 ERA+; was #64 in 2004;claimed on waivers by Devil Rays
Matt Ginter SP (2008) 1-3, 4 G, 4 GS, 5.14 ERA, 21 IP, 84 ERA+
Rich Rundles RP (2008-2009) 0-0, 9 G, 0 GS, 1.50 ERA, 6 IP, 316 ERA+; also #61 in 2008
Frank Herrmann RP (2010-2012) 4-1, 80 G, 0 GS, 4.63 ERA, 101 IP, 85 ERA+ 2012 stats not included
Statistics and such
Other fun facts, the uniform #55 has been worn 17 times by 6 different players covering 16 seasons of a possible 84 seasons since 1929. Uniform #55 was shared in a season once, 2004.
Other fun facts, the uniform #56 has been worn 24 times by 15 different players covering 22 seasons of a possible 84 seasons since 1929. Uniform #56 was shared in a season three times, 1991, 2003 and 2008.