Remembering Mike Sharperson, 1961-1996

Sharperson pic

By Jon Weisman

At 5:05 a.m., 20 years ago today, former Dodger All-Star infielder Mike Sharperson died at the age of 34, following a one-car accident near the junction of Interstate 15 and 215 in Nevada.

All-Star infielder. When Sharperson made the National League All-Star team in 1992, he and the Dodgers got a lot of grief. It was a year of grief. Los Angeles was in turmoil after the riots of late April. The Dodgers were on their way to their worst season in 87 years. Their best hitter was a 30-year-old who had never played a full season in the Major Leagues, whose career high in home runs was three.

The right-handed Sharperson was best known as a platoon partner of lefty-hitting Lenny Harris. A good contact hitter who batted twice for the Dodgers in the 1988 playoffs, Sharperson hit .297 with a .376 on-base percentage and more walks than strikeouts in 415 plate appearances in 1990. He played and hit a bit less in 1991, when the Dodgers lost the National League West title by one game.

Then in the spring and early summer of 1992, as Darryl Strawberry faded and before Mike Piazza arrived, Sharperson — still alternating at second and third base with Harris, Juan Samuel, Dave Hansen and Dave Anderson — somehow emerged as the Dodgers’ best hitter.

Come July, the Dodgers needed an All-Star representative, and Sharperson was it.

Sharperson yearbookHe started only 48 of the Dodgers’ 88 games before the All-Star break. In an era when batting average resonated more than it does today, Sharperson was hitting .328, when no one else on the team was above .280.  In an era when pitcher win-loss records resonated more than they do today, the best on the team was Bob Ojeda’s 5-4, with a 3.01 ERA — which was nice, but not exactly powerful stuff alongside arms like Atlanta’s Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz.

So Sharperson went to the site of this year’s All-Star Game, San Diego, and walked into Jack Murphy Stadium on July 14, 1992 as one of the backups to starters Ryne Sandberg and Terry Pendleton. In the American League dugout was Juan Guzman, whom the Dodgers had traded for Sharperson five years earlier. Guzman was the first player Sharperson sought out to say hello to.

“I remember the excitement of the All-Star Game and how he brought a small camera to record everything,” Dodger team historian Mark Langill recalled this week. “You’d never know he was playing in the game, because he seemed to be watching all the events around him on the field. He was really a nice person.”

Not surprisingly, Sharperson had to wait to get in the action. In the top of the eighth inning, he replaced third baseman Gary Sheffield (yes, that’s right) defensively. He didn’t have much to do, other than watch Charles Nagy, Ruben Sierra and Travis Fryman round third base and score the last of the American League’s 13 runs that night.

In the bottom of the ninth, Sharperson came up to bat with Dennis Eckersley on the mound. He spoke to the Times afterward:

Sharperson, the Dodgers’ lone All-Star, was booed worse than any other player, struck out on three pitches by Eckersley and played only two innings at third base.

But perhaps nobody had more fun.

“I struck out on a high fastball, I think, but I was up there hacking,” Sharperson said with a smile. “I didn’t come to the All-Star Game to do any walking.”

Sharperson even seemed amused by the boos, as he responded during the pregame introductions by doffing his cap and waving to the crowd.

“I didn’t know I would get booed that much,” he said. “Maybe they remember some of the big hits I’ve gotten against the Padres. Or most likely, they would have booed any Dodger, no matter who it was.

“But no matter what happened, it was great. I’ll never forget this.”

Sharperson media guide

Sharperson finished 1992 with a batting average of .29968, which rounds nicely to a milestone .300 season. He came to the plate only 104 more times in the Majors after that. His last big-league hit — his only big-league hit of 1995 — was a two-run double for Atlanta on May 16.

Fifty-four weeks later, Sharperson was playing for the Padres’ Triple-A team in Las Vegas when he got the call from general manager Kevin Towers to meet the Major League team in Montreal. According to the Times, Sharperson was driving home in the rain, southbound on I-15, at 2:45 a.m., when he apparently missed the turn onto I-215, lost control of his car, went into a dirt median and, not wearing a seat belt, was ejected through the sun roof. He was pronounced dead less than 2 1/2 hours later.

Mike SharpersonBob Nightengale of the Times captured the shock and sadness.

Jerry Royster, a former Dodger infielder who was Sharperson’s manager at triple-A Las Vegas, notified Dodger manager Tom Lasorda of Sharperson’s death by telephone.

Lasorda moaned and then buried his head in his hands and said, “Oh no. God no. No! No!

“God almighty, what a good guy, what a great guy. He’s like a Milt Thompson, great for a ballclub. Everybody loved him. He never showed one minute of disrespect, never did anything to embarrass the team. Just a wonderful young man.

“I never heard anybody say a bad word about him.”

Charlie Strasser, Dodger trainer, broke the news to the team during its stretching exercises. First baseman Eric Karros tried to fight off the tears, but gave up and headed into the clubhouse. He never came out for batting practice.

“He’s a great guy, one of the nicest guys ever,” Karros said. “That’s the way it’s been since ’93 {when Don Drysdale died in Montreal}. This organization has gone through one thing after another, and it all started here.” …

… “I’m glad he had the news that he was coming up to the big leagues,” said Fred Claire, Dodger executive vice president, “because Sharpy was a big-league player. He was a tremendous team player, a tremendous individual.

“He loved the game.”

Lasorda addressed the team again before their game against the Expos and had a team prayer for Sharperson.

“I remember how much he helped me when I came up,” Dodger catcher Mike Piazza said. “He was always pulling for everyone. He didn’t have a vindictive bone in his body.

“You’ll never forget the guy. I know I won’t.”

He definitely is a Dodger worth remembering, All-Star or not, and I hope people continue to do so.

2 Comments

Sorry to read this. I remember Sharperson, may he rest in peace. I’ll never forget 1992, the worst Dodger season, the Dodgers ever had since I’ve been a fan and that includes when the team was here in Brooklyn.

I remember. As Karros stated, that period was really rough. Campy and Drysdale died within days of each other in 93. Tim Crews killed in Spring Training of 94, and then this.

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