Orel Hershiser speaks about the power of connections during visit to BGSU
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BGSU Athletics Hall of Famer returned to campus for a series of activities on Nov. 14
More than 40 years after he first stepped foot onto the campus of Bowling Green State University, Orel Hershiser can speak to the value of building a network.
Hershiser, the long-time Major League Baseball pitcher, broadcaster and BGSU Athletics Hall of Famer, returned to campus this week for a number of activities, including speaking to students, faculty and staff at the Schmidthorst College of Business.
Though Hershiser found success both on the diamond and in retirement with a series of business ventures – ranging from a stake in a pet food company to an auto dealership to an investment fund that bears his name – he said his inquisitiveness and willingness to connect with others became one of his greatest assets.
“I would say the biggest tool in business – and the biggest tool in my business of baseball – is relationships and communication,” he said. “Your talent drops down to about the fifth priority. If you’re a good person, you communicate, you’re on time, you have manners and you follow through, you go to the head of the class. You really do.”
Hershiser was one of the most reliable starters in baseball during 18 big-league seasons. A three-time All-Star, Hershiser won the Cy Young Award, the World Series, World Series Most Valuable Player and a Gold Glove for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988.
Though he began in the Major Leagues when starting pitchers rarely hung around past their early 30s, he pitched in the majors until age 41, finishing his career with more than 3,000 innings pitched, 204 wins and a career earned-run average of 3.48.
But Hershiser set himself up for continued success by being a lifelong learner, asking questions and making connections.
“Long before retiring, I was always thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up,” he said with a laugh. “Do you want to be a general manager? Do you want to be a manager, or a pitching coach or an announcer?
“Even when I was playing, I was semi-interviewing or at least talking to all these different people in all these different areas: anybody from Peter O’Malley, our owner, to our general manager, Fred Claire, to our manager, Tommy Lasorda.”
Though he was an accomplished pitcher, Hershiser kept trying new things.
Before he was an award-winning broadcaster, calling the Dodgers alongside Joe Davis on Spectrum SportsNet LA, he was practicing being an announcer during spring training games in which he was not pitching.
Additionally, he found his way into meetings with everyone from executives to management to public relations personnel to gain a sense of how the whole organization operated.
“Jerry Ruess, a veteran pitcher, and I would set up headsets and go on top of the roof of the pressbox during spring training and fake announce the game, just to see what it was like,” he said. “I would get in as many meetings as I could be in – and shouldn’t have overheard. I liked to hang out in Tommy’s office when they were talking about the roster or trades. He would look at me like, ‘You’re not supposed to be in here,’ and I would be like, ‘Don’t worry, I won’t say anything.’”
The value of trying – and sometimes failing – was something Hershiser learned at BGSU during a tough freshman year, during which he said he was initially intimidated by college.
“Looking back on it, I was scared of trying because I was scared of failure,” he said, noting that mistakes and discovering you were wrong often spurs growth.
“That brings knowledge. That’s how you learn,” he said. “When I was at Bowling Green my freshman year, I was a scared kid. I was a small fish in a big pond.”
During his return to BGSU after years away, Hershiser praised the many changes he saw on campus and the focus on student success infused in the programs he observed.
"I am so impressed. If you're in high school and you're in Ohio or somewhere nearby - think about Bowling Green. This is a campus you need to come visit because there's extra special stuff going on around here," he said in the ESPN broadcast booth during the Nov. 14 Battle of I-75 football game. "What's going on in Bowling Green is really big. It's a big-time place. The campus is unbelievable. Two-thirds of the buildings here were not here when I left in 1979. Everything they've built is complex and on the cutting edge."
When speaking to students about his business journey earlier in the day, Hershiser said that trying over and over again in the business world brought comfort, and eventually success.
“I got comfortable in the business world and believed that I could do anything because I was comfortable in my role,” he said. “I think that’s one of the biggest lessons you need to learn: What are you good at and what do you love?
“I failed in a title company startup and failed in a couple other things, but I was always trying. The reason I was involved with all of them and five of them are successful is because I tried.”
For students who often come to a similar crossroads while in college, Hershiser said building networks and creating lifelong habits will go a long way toward supporting success.
“Work on you, because those habits are going to be with you the rest of your life,” he said. “An organized person, a mannerly person, a communicative person, a person glad to be in the room, a storyteller – you can drop them into any industry and they will succeed, I promise you.”
Updated: 11/21/2023 12:35PM