By Amanda Rykoff
Where were you 25 years ago? What were you doing the night of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series? Baseball fans vividly remember the night of Oct. 15, 1988. It's an image that still resonates today: Kirk Gibson, visibly hobbled, coming off the bench for the Dodgers in the bottom of the ninth in Game 1 to pinch-hit against A's closer Dennis Eckersley. Gibson hit an improbable two-out, two-run, walk-off home run and Vin Scully delivered a memorable call saying, "In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!"
If you watched that game, you remember it like it was yesterday. Except it took place 25 years ago and the Dodgers haven't appeared in -- or won -- a World Series since.
On the 25th anniversary of the Dodgers' last World Series, as the team faces the Cardinals in the NLCS, I thought about where I was in 1988 (I will not divulge that information at the risk of self-incrimination) and where key players and personnel for this year's Dodgers team were then. Instead of the usual "Where Are They Now?" piece, this is a "Where Were They Then?" story. And what might they have been doing?
Consider that in this 25-year span, two teams that didn't even exist in 1988 -- the Marlins (1997, 2003) and Diamondbacks (2001) -- have won World Series titles, the Yankees added another five championship rings to their collection (1996, 1998-2000, 2009), the Cardinals notched two more championships in their belt, rival San Francisco snapped a 56-year title drought (2010 and 2012) and even the Red Sox broke through 86 years of futility to win the World Series in 2004 and 2007. Among major league franchises with at least one World Series title, only the Cubs (105 years), Indians (65 years), Pirates (34 years), O's (30 years), Tigers (29 years), Royals (28 years) and Mets (27 years) have longer title droughts. (Of course the Mariners, Padres, Brewers, Astros, Rays, Rangers, Nationals and Rockies have yet to win titles).
Before we get into the "Where Were They Then?" let's get some more information about what was happening in the U.S. 25 years ago when the Dodgers stunned the baseball world to upset the powerhouse A's.
Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1988:
President: Ronald W. Reagan
No. 1 song (October 20, 1988 -- the day the Dodgers' clinched the series): Red Red Wine by UB40. Check out the hair, skinny ties and multi-color jackets. Outstanding.
Gallon of gas (per 1980sflashback.com): $1.08
First-class stamp: 25 cents (Considering it's been 25 years, that the price of first-class mail hasn't even doubled is quite remarkable).
No. 1 movie (Oct. 23, 1988): Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (there have been six additional Halloween movies since then; no I haven't seen any of them).
Most popular television show: The Cosby Show. Season 5 premiered Oct. 6, 1988 and the show continued to dominate ratings throughout the 1988-89 television season.
Now that we've set the historical and pop-culture context, let's look at where the Dodgers' players, manager and executives were 25 years ago. Outfielder Yasiel Puig (Dec. 7, 1990), reliever Chris Withrow (April 1, 1989) and reliever Paco Rodriguez (April 16, 1991, not on the NLCS roster) weren't even born yet.
Magic Johnson, part-owner: The charismatic Los Angeles sports icon and businessman who led the team's $2 billion purchase in 2012 had won back-to-back NBA championships with the Lakers in 1987 and 1988. In his ninth season, Johnson was a five-time champion, three-time NBA Finals MVP, a league MVP (he would win two more in 1989 and 1990) and an All-Star during each of his seasons. Yeah, he was a pretty good basketball player.
Don Mattingly, Dodgers manager: "Donnie Baseball" had completed his fifth consecutive All-Star season in the Bronx, batting .311/.353/.462 with 18 home runs and 88 RBIs for the 85-76 Yankees, good for fifth place in the AL East (just 3.5 games behind first-place Boston). Mattingly's teammates included Willie Randolph, Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, 45-year-old Tommy John, Dave Righetti and other luminaries including Jay Buhner, Rick Rhoden, Rafael Santana and Don Slaught. Both Billy Martin and Lou Piniella managed the team that season. Good times in the Bronx.
Adrian Gonzalez, first baseman (born May 8, 1982): A-Gon was six years old and presumably getting ready to play baseball in Tijuana, Mexico, where he lived for more than 10 years. Gonzalez comes from a baseball family (his father played for the Mexican national team) and he and his brothers got started at an early age. He was only two years old when his hometown Padres lost the 1984 World Series to the Tigers so he doesn't remember the disappointment and heartbreak.
Mark Ellis, second baseman (June 6, 1977): Ellis was an 11-year-old, baseball-loving and playing kid in Rapid City, S.D. Check out this 2010 Q&A where Ellis answers questions from South Dakota Little League players, including some about his time playing Little League in his hometown. You're welcome. Ellis probably didn't foresee tripling with one out in the top of the 10th inning and being called out at the plate on a controversial play after a perfect throw from Carlos Beltran.
Hanley Ramirez, shortstop (Dec. 23, 1983): Ramirez was almost five years old and already a baseball star in his native Samana, Dominican Republic. According to the bio on Ramirez's official website, "People first began noticing he had talent when he led his Little League team in home runs at the age of 5." Note to Hanley's people: You might want to update the site -- the photo is Hanley in a Marlins uniform. Han-Ram couldn't have seen himself making his postseason debut with a bad back, a bad hamstring and being hit by a pitch in Game 1 of the NLCS.
Juan Uribe, third baseman (March 22, 1979): Uribe was a nine year old in Bani, Dominican Republic. Based on Uribe's Wikipedia page, Uri-bear became "interested in baseball partly due to Jose Uribe," Juan's second cousin. No mention of whether he showed off his sartorial savvy at a young age. Young Papi probably imagined he would have big hit after big hit in the postseason. I mean, look at that swag.
Yasiel Puig, right fielder (Dec. 7, 1990): Not alive in 1988. Moving on. (Here's hoping Puig moves on from his 0-for-6 night at the plate in Game 1).
Andre Ethier, outfielder (April 10, 1982): Ethier was a baseball-loving six-year-old growing up in Phoenix. According to this Los Angeles Times feature, Ethier used to go with his father to watch his favorite major league player, Ken Griffey Jr. during spring training in Arizona. To put this in perspective, Junior didn't make his major league debut until 1989, the year after the Dodgers won the World Series. Junior's been retired since 2010. While Ethier dreamed of playing centerfield in the big leagues; he probably had nightmares about his play on Beltran's deep fly in the third inning which scored two Cardinals runs.
A.J. Ellis, catcher (April 19, 1981): Even in Little League, as a seven-year-old, young A.J. was an on-base machine, refusing to swing the bat, much to his father's chagrin. Even his father couldn't have dreamed Ellis would be a key part of a championship-caliber Dodgers team, hitting the winning home run in the team's NL West-clinching win and delivering children in his car.
Matt Kemp, injured centerfielder (Sept. 23, 1984): Matt Kemp was four years old in October 1988. He grew up in Oklahoma as a basketball fan who loved the Lakers. Circle of life.
Michael Young, infielder/benchwarmer/professional (Oct. 19, 1976): Young master Young had just turned 12 on Oct. 19, 1988 and was playing Little League in nearby Covina, Calif. He had undoubtedly already developed a reputation as a true professional even among his 12-year-old peers. Though he rooted for the hometown Dodgers, Young admired Yankees first baseman Mattingly for not only his baseball talents but presumably for his professional attitude. His favorite basketball player was, of course, Johnson. It was foretold that 25 years later, Young would hit into two double plays in the critical Game 1 of the 2013 NLCS, a game won by the Cardinals 3-2 in 13 innings.
Clayton Kershaw, starting pitcher/Cy Young Award winner/pitching god (March 19, 1988): The future multiple Cy Young Award winner and generally awesome pitcher had been born in Dallas just seven months before the Dodgers' last championship. Will his devastating curveball deliver the Dodgers and their fans from this 25-year title-less hellscape? It starts with Game 2 of the 2013 NLCS on Saturday afternoon against upstart aspiring pitching god Michael Wacha. For the curious, a young Kershaw.
Zack Greinke, starting pitcher/Cy Young Award winner (Oct. 21, 1983): More than 2,000 miles away in Orlando, Fla., 5-year-old Greinke anxiously paced in his kitchen, worrying about whether his future baseball teams would be able to score runs in his starts. He couldn't possibly have foreseen a game in which he had a no decision after surrendering just two runs and four hits in eight brilliant innings, striking out 10 Cardinals in a devastating Game 1 NLCS defeat.
Kenley Jansen, closer (Sept. 30, 1987): Kenley Geronimo (yes, that's his middle name and it's awesome) Jansen could not know what his future would hold. How could he have known as a 1-year-old boy in Curacao that his future manager would forget about his existence until it was too late, bringing in the flamethrowing reliever with two on in the bottom of the 13th inning of the first game of the 2013 NLCS, to face postseason god Carlos Beltran of the St. Louis Cardinals, who would promptly lace a game-winning, walk-off RBI single down the right-field line? How could anybody have known that would happen?
Vin Scully, announcer (Nov. 29, 1927): The Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster was in the broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium and Oakland Coliseum calling the World Series for NBC. His surprised yet not overly dramatic call of Gibson's home run remains one of the iconic calls in baseball history. While Scully isn't calling this year's postseason nationally (as much as many of us wish he was), the 85 year old, who has been broadcasting for the team since 1950, has been doing the play by play for KLAC radio in Los Angeles during innings 1-3 and 7-9 of all Dodgers postseason games. He hasn't missed a beat.
Twenty-five years later, some things haven't changed.
Amanda Rykoff is a New York City-based writer. She's a sports fan, proud Penn alum, recovering attorney, devoted aunt and voracious consumer of media. She has contributed to ESPN.com, GuySpeed, ONE World Sports, The Outside Corner and previously co-hosted the ESPN podcast "Play Ball!" Follow her on Twitter @amandarykoff.