06/10/2002 01:31 am ET
Sarah's Take: Dave Hansen
By Sarah Morris / Dodgers.Com
Fans often overlook pinch-hitting, but the importance of it to the success of
a team cannot be measured.
An exciting moment in baseball is when a pinch hitter comes off the bench to get
the game-winning hit.
Though many fans view pinch-hitting as easy, this is a misconception. Baseball
people consider pinch-hitting as the hardest job in baseball. Coming off the
bench to do anything is hard and has a greater risk of injury.
Usually, pinch hitters are veterans because being a pinch hitter takes much
confidence in oneself. Even the most successful hitter makes an out seven out of
ten at-bats. Pinch hitters get one at-bat a game, usually when the game is on
the line. Thus, when they succeed, they are heroes, but when they fail like most
hitters usually do, they are open to criticism. Without a great amount of
confidence in their ability, they could not do the highly stressful job.
Every Dodger fan can remember two of the most famous pinch hits in major league
history. On a snowy October Monday in 1981 Rick Monday hit a game-winning home
run against the Montreal Expos to allow the Dodgers to go to the World Series
and beat the New York Yankees.
On a cool Saturday night in October, 1988, Kirk Gibson, the heart and soul of
the 1988 Dodgers, had leg injuries that prevented him from starting the first
game of the World Series. The Dodgers quickly fell behind the Oakland Athletics,
who were favored to win the series, but the Dodgers chipped away at their lead.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and the game-tying run at first
base, Tommy Lasorda sent the gimpy Kirk Gibson to pinch hit against Dennis
Eckersley, who was the best closer in the major leagues that season. Gibson
worked the count full. Eckersley for some reason threw Gibson a curveball
instead of a fastball that Gibson had already shown that he couldn't hit. Gibson
put the hanging slider into the right field stands for the game-winning home
Though the Dodgers had to win three more games to become world champions,
Gibson's home run was a Cinderella ending to a storybook season. No Dodger fan
will forget where they were when Gibson hit arguably the most dramatic home run
in baseball history.
Over the years, the Dodgers have had some of the best pinch hitters in the game.
This has been part of their success. Lee Lacy had six pinch-hit home runs in
1977. Manny Mota had 150 pinch hits, the most in major league history, until
Lenny Harris, a former Dodger, broke the record this past year. Now Dave Hansen
is doing his thing in a Dodger uniform.
Dave Hansen, a native of Long Beach, California, enjoys playing for the Dodgers.
He came up through their minor league system and played for them from 1990 to
1996. In 1993, he had eighteen pinch hits, and this established his role with
the Dodgers and the rest of the major leagues.
Hansen was forced to go somewhere else for the 1997 and 1998 seasons. He played
for the Chicago Cubs in 1997, and he spent a year in Japan. He came back to the
Dodgers in 1999 and has played for them ever since. The decision of coming back
to the Dodgers was good for him and his family.
I thought being a good pinch hitter required much luck, but I was wrong.
Hansen says, "Homework." He spends time studying scouting reports and learning
how the opposition likes to get him out.
Hansen says, "Mental preparation I do the most. Visualizing. Controlling
breathing. Mental preparation and rhythm are the most important."
Hansen likes to hit off a tee often and have a pitcher throw softly to him. He
says this helps him get his rhythm. A periodic start also helps.
Though Hansen established the major league mark for pinch-hit home runs with
seven in 1999, he usually is a line drive hitter, rarely striking out.
The life of a pinch hitter is a "roller coaster" according to Hansen. Probably
when he feels comfortable at the plate, he will not get hits, but when he
doesn't feel comfortable, he is likely to get five straight hits.
The unassuming Hansen does not receive much attention, but he plays a vital role in
the Dodgers' success. As fans, many of us overlook the contributions from the
bench, but the Dodgers cannot go to the playoffs without them.
Sarah Morris is the editor of Dodger
Place. She lives in Anderson, Texas.