The Way to Win: The Antithesis of Murder’s Row

Walter Alson while the team was in Brooklyn

In the 1960s baseball changed, going back to something like the Deadball Era. Now the home run didn’t disappear, but it went from being the primary element of the game to a supporting role. The starring role went to Deadball staples speed and pitching. No team epitomized that more than the 1962-1966 Los Angeles Dodgers. 

I admit to being a Dodgers fan, but I also acknowledge that this team, particularly the 1965 version was one of the weaker teams to ever dominate an era. The ’65 Dodgers were dead last in home runs with 78 and seventh (in a 10 team league) in hitting. Of course they could pitch and run. They also played defense pretty well. They were the antithesis of the great Yankees dynasties, but they were built, personnelwise, very much like those Bronx teams. In the period they won two World Series’, lost one, lost a three game playoff and finished sixth (1964). 

Walter Alston was the manager. He’d gotten into one game for the Cardinals back in the 1930s, then took up managing. He joined the Dodgers when they were in Brooklyn and was the manager when they won their first World Series in 1955. He went with them to Los Angeles and led them to another Series win in 1959. By the 1960s he was well established, considered knowledgable, and was well liked my most of the clubhouse. The “most” is key. Apparently there was some question about how well he’d handled integrating the team as more and more black players arrived in the late 1950s an early 1960s (he came on board well after 1947 so was not there for the initial arrival of black players). There’s no evidence of overt racism that I can find, but a number of black players didn’t like him. And he didn’t particularly like Sandy Koufax (bad move, Jack) although he recognized the talent. 

The team had two stars, both, as you would expect, pitchers. Don Drysdale won the 1962 Cy Young award and Sandy Koufax won the same award in 1963, 1965, and 1966.  Back then there was only one Cy Young awarded (not one in both leagues) which should tell you just how dominant the two Dodgers stars were. BTW Koufax is still the only pitcher to win three Cy Young’s unanimously (with Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, and Drysdale in the same league no less). He also won the 1963 MVP award. 

The Dodgers had some really good players to go along with their stars. Maury Wills led off, played shortstop, led the league in stolen bases, won the 1962 MVP, and gets sporadic support for the Hall of Fame (although not from this quarter). Willie Davis was a good fielding (except for one inning in 1966-ouch) center fielder, Tommy Davis won back-to-back batting titles (before getting hurt), and Frank Howard was a monster who provided what little power the Dodgers had. After going to Washington he won a couple of home run titles. 

The team went through a number of role players in the five-year period. Johnny Roseboro was an excellent catcher who hit a little, Ron Fairly could handle both first base and the outfield (after Howard went to Washington), Lou Johnson took Howard’s place as the power hitter (such as it was), Jim Lefebrve won the 1965 Rookie of the Year Award, and Wes Parker was a slick fielding first baseman who took Fairly’s place. The third pitcher was originally Johnny Podres, who had by this time become something of a role player. Claude Osteen replaced him late in the run, and Don Sutton was a rookie in 1966 going 12-12 at the start of a Hall of Fame career. Then there was Jim Gilliam, maybe the ultimate role player. Put him at second, put him at third, stick him in the outfield. It didn’t matter, he performed well in each. 

There was a one-year wonder also. Phil Regan replaced Ron Perranoski as the closer in 1966. He went 14-1 with 21 saves. He never had another year even vaguely approaching that season. Perranoski is sort of a one-year wonder. His 1963 was by far his greatest year, but his other years weren’t the drop off that I associate with one-year wonders. 

On the surface this team is absolutely unlike the great Yankees dynasties. If you look at the types of players, even they look different. But if you look at a more generalized view of the team, you find it’s made up in the same style as the other teams mentioned in previous posts. I’ll wrap this up in the next post.

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4 Responses to “The Way to Win: The Antithesis of Murder’s Row”

  1. William Miller Says:

    I wonder how these Dodgers teams did overall in on-base percentage? Also, even though they didn’t hit a lot of homers, I’m wondering if they managed a high number of doubles and triples, compared to other teams of the same era? In a low-scoring era, these kinds of advantages could make a big difference when playing lots of 2-1 or 3-2 ballgames.
    Enjoying this series, Bill

  2. verdun2 Says:

    Got out the old stat book again and have some answers for you. The numbers will be in order 1962-66. Remember the Dodgers are in a playoff in 1962, in the World Series in 1963, 1965, and 1966, and finish in the second division in 1964. Each number represents where they finished in a 10 team league, not the actual number (or percentage).
    OBP: 2nd, tie for 5th, 9th, 6th, and 5th
    BB: 3rd, 7th, 7th, 5th, and 6th
    2B: 8th, 8th, 9th, 8th, and 7th
    3B: 1st, 10th, 6th, 8th, and 10th
    Now sometimes the difference between two positions in the standings is small. For instance OBP in 1965 the difference between 3rd and 7th in miniscule. So frequently they’re not exactly out of line for the league.

    No Dodgers player led the league in any of the above categories during the period, although Wally Moon led the league in OBP in 1961 (Wally Moon? Who knew?). They did win 2 batting titles (T. Davis in 62 and 63) and Wills regularly led the league in steals. Only Frank Howard had a slugging percentage above .500 (62 and 63).
    FYI and thanks for the kind words.
    v

  3. sportsphd Says:

    Interestingly, if you use OPS+, which adjusts for park factors, they are 2nd in the NL in 1962, drop to a tie for 3rd, collapse to 8th, crawl back to 7th, then climb back to a tie for 4th. The Dodgers will never be considered a great hitting team, but Dodger Stadium exaggerated their weak hitting, making it look putrid rather than simply anemic.

  4. verdun2 Says:

    Bill James in his “Historical Baseball Abstract” does a long article on Willie Davis in which he argues much of your point. He indicates that in any other era and any other park, Davis would be someone considered for the Hall of Fame.
    v
    welcome back

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