The End of a Dynasty: the 1963 Dodgers

Ron Perranoski

Ron Perranoski

There are a couple of misconceptions about the 1963 Dodgers. One is that they were never supposed to make the World Series. A second is that all they could do was pitch. In 1962 the Dodgers had taken eventual champion San Francisco to a three game playoff before losing the playoff in the third game. So reality is that Los Angeles was a formidable team a year early with both the MVP (Maury Wills) and the Cy Young Award  winner (Don Drysdale). Additionally Tommy Davis won the 1962 batting title and led the National League in RBIs. Allegations that the team could pitch but not hit fail when you understand that Davis repeated the batting title in 1963, the team finished first in stolen bases, and in the middle of the pack (in a 10 team league) in hitting, OBP, runs, hits, and even home runs (seventh). It wasn’t the 1927 Yankees, but the team could hit a little.

Walter Alston was in his 10th year managing the Dodgers. His record was 99-63 (almost a duplicate of 1962’s 101-61). He’d managed the Dodgers’ two previous World Series victories (1955 and 1959) and had supervised the move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958.

John Roseboro was the catcher. He’d replaced the legendary Roy Campanella in 1958 and maintained his job into 1963. He was solid, unspectacular, a good teammate and hit all of.236 with nine home runs and an OPS+ of 91 with 1.9 WAR (BBREF version).

The infield was also solid, and occasionally spectacular. Ron Fairly was at first. He hit .271 and had 12 home runs, good for third on the team. His 77 RBIs were second, while his OPS topped out at .735 (OPS+ 120) with 2.8 WAR. Jim Gilliam, a Brooklyn holdover, was at second. He hit .282, stole 19 bases, bunted well, was third on the team with 201 total bases, had 5.2 WAR (good for second on the team), played an excellent second base and did all those things managers wanted the two hitter to do. Maury Wills was the spectacular part of the infield. He hit .302, scored a team high 83 runs, stole 40 bases, and was credited with reestablishing the stolen base as an offensive weapon. It wasn’t really true but it was believed. Third base was in flux. Ken McMullen ended up playing more games there than anyone else, but hit all of .236 with neither power nor speed. By the time the World Series came around he was out of the lineup with Gilliam replacing him at third. That left second open and Dick Tracewski took over the position. He was a good fielder but hit .226 with one home run and 10 RBIs.

The outfield had two Davis’s and a Howard. The aforementioned Tommy Davis was in left field. He hit .326 to repeat as batting champion, and his home run total was second on the team at 16. His RBIs had fallen off to 88, but it still led the team. His OPS+ was 142 with a 3.9 WAR. The other Davis was center fielder Willie. He was generally a good fielder who could run. He hit only .245, but stole 25 bases and scored 60 runs, which equaled his RBI total. The power came from Frank Howard who was a genuinely huge man for the era. He played right field, hit .273, led the team with 28 home runs, had an OPS of .848 (easily first on the team), led all everyday players with and OPS+ of 150 and had 4.1 WAR.

The bench was long, if not overly good. Six players (including Tracewski mentioned above) were in 50 or more games and three more played at least 20 games. Wally Moon, at 122, played the most games. He hit .262 with eight home runs, 48 RBIs and 41 runs scored. Former Yankee Moose Skowron got into 89 games and had 19 runs scored, 19 RBIs, and four home runs. Doug Camilli was the primary backup catcher.

But no matter how much the Dodgers hitting was overlooked, the pitching dominated the team. Don Drysdale was the reigning Cy Young Award winner and went 19-17 with an ERA of 2.63 (ERA+ 114), 315 innings pitched, 251 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.091, and 4.7 WAR. But he’d ceded the ace title to Sandy Koufax. Koufax was 25-5 with an ERA of 1.88 (ERA+ 159), 11 shutouts, 306 strikeouts, 0.875 WHIP, and 9.9 WAR. All, except ERA+(which was second) were first among NL pitchers. All that got him the NL MVP Award and a unanimous Cy Young Award in an era when only a single Cy Young Award was given. The third pitcher was 1955 World Series MVP Johnny Podres. He went 14-12 with an ERA of 3.54, 1.311 WHIP, and 0.3 WAR. Pete Reichert and Bob Miller, neither of which figured in the World Series, were the other pitchers with double figure starts.

Ron Perranoski was the ace of the bullpen with a 16-3 record and 21 saves. His ERA was 1.67 (ERA+ 179) with 4.5 WAR. Larry Sherry (another World Series hero–this time in 1959), Dick Calmus, and Ed Roebuck were the other bullpen men with 20 or more appearances. Sherry had three saves.

The Los Angeles hitting was underrated in 1963, but the pitching was first rate. If the pitching did its job, and the hitting did much of anything at all, it was a team that could compete with the New York Yankees in the World Series.


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9 Responses to “The End of a Dynasty: the 1963 Dodgers”

  1. glenrussellslater Says:

    This is the first time I’ve ever seen the word “allegations” being used in a non-legal way!

    Anyway, I enjoyed this, and I’d enjoy it even more if I could figure out all that WAR and WHIP and all that other stuff. But you’re into sabermetrics and so are, I assume, most of the people reading this. I’m too lazy to go and find out what it all means.

    One more thing. Maury Wills should be in the Hall of Fame, in my opinion. He changed the game, almost singlehandedly, back to a running game. He was close to being MVP many seasons. (I think that he should have won it in 1962, for sure. I certainly think he has more business being in the Hall of Fame than Andre Dawson! To me, Andre Dawson is to the Baseball Hall of Fame analogous to the Dave Clark 5 being in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

    I also noticed something interesting while looking through Wills’ stats on Baseball Reference. He didn’t make it to the majors until he was 26, in 1961, and he didn’t become a regular until 1962, when he was 27. That’s relatively late.


    • verdun2 Says:

      A couple of comments on Wills. He was stuck behind Reese for a while which kept him in the minors. Frankly, I don’t know why they didn’t bring him up a bit earlier and shift him, or an aging Reese, to third. It’s not like they had George Brett or somebody at third. As to his returning a running game to baseball, you might want to look up Luis Aparicio. He was also a major factor in doing it (but you’re right that Wills really popularized it).

      • wkkortas Says:

        That’s an interesting take on Wills; I would note that

        1) His minor league numbers were not particularly impressive–his batting average in The Show was higher than his minor league average, and at that time that probably weighed heavily on his progress

        2) He was a speed guy in the 50s when speed wasn’t a huge part of the game–there weren’t a lot of running teams in the ’50s, although the Dodgers stole more bases than pretty much anyone else in the NL.

        3) If you read things about Wills the man as opposed to Wills the player… he was not exactly a really fine human being, to be generous.

        When you take into account that Wills was a guy without eye-popping minor league stats whose strengths didn’t fit how the game was played at the time…frankly, I’m surprised he got to LA as quickly as they did.

  2. William Miller Says:

    Sounds like a well-balanced team. Some power, some speed, good defense, excellent pitching. A team is only as good as its weakest link, so if you’re at least average all around, and above average in certain areas, the Baseball Gods will probably be with you.
    Nice re-cap of an interesting team.

  3. Gary Trujillo Says:

    I’m hoping the Dodgers win it all this year, but jeeeez that bullpen is terrible!!!

  4. wkkortas Says:

    Funny thing about the Dodgers…they had some awfully good teams between Billy Cox saying goodbye and Ron Cey saying hello (really, the ’58 club was the only downright stinker in the bunch) but they could not find a third baseman to save their lives–I mean, Gilliam was good when he played there, and they got a so-so seaon here and there out of guys like McMullen (who was pretty good in Washington) or Billy Sudakis, but generally they had dogs at the hot corner.

  5. keithosaunders Says:

    That 63 team was coming off one of the great playoff chokes of all time. I actually think that the 62 playoff loss to the Giants loss was worse than 51. They had a lead in the 9th at home and when they got into trouble all they needed to do was bring in Drysdale to get 2 outs!

    Was Claude Osteen on the 63 team?

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