Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Dodgers’

The 50 Greatest Dodgers

November 27, 2012

Don Newcombe, the 8th Greatest Dodger

Back a year or so ago I did a post on the 50 Greatest Yankees ever (according to ESPN). Turns out that the network did an entire series of these lists. You’ll have to look around pretty hard (or type in “greatest Dodgers” or whichever team) to find their lists but they are interesting.

One of the lists is the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers list. The top 10 (in order) look like this: Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider, Zack Wheat, Roy Campanella, PeeWee Reese, Mike Piazza, Don Newcombe, Don Sutton, Dazzy Vance. And before anyone asks, Don Drysdale is 11th. Not a bad list actually, here’s a few comments on the list.

1. To create a full team you end up with Gil Hodges (16th on the list) at first, Robinson at second, Reese at short, and Roy Cey (14th on the list) at third. The outfield is Snider, Wheat, and Pedro Guerrero (15th on the list). Campanella catches and the first position player whose position is already covered is Piazza, making him the DH. The staff (four men for a World Series rotation, at least one being left-handed) is Koufax, Newcombe, Sutton, and Vance. Way down at 46th is Ron Perranoski, the only reliever on the list.

2. The list is a decent mix of both Brooklyn and Los Angeles, with LA being slightly favored in the higher parts of the list (see Guerrero over Babe Herman or Carl Furillo for example). There are, as you would expect with the Dodgers, an inordinate number of pitchers in the top 15.

3. They did put Dixie Walker on the list (he’s 25th). With the way he left the team (his opposition to Robinson) I half expected he’d be overlooked.

4. Wheat in the top 5 is inspired, as is Vance in the top 10. It’s unusual for guys who played that long ago to get much support when up against newer players that voters remember. However, Wheat over Campanella is questionable. Wheat and Vance are the only two players on the list who spent significant time with the Dodgers prior to 1940.

5. During their time together (most of the 1970s) Steve Garvey got a lot more press than Cey. This list placed Cey higher (14th to Garvey’s 17th). I think that’s probably right.

6. Jim Gilliam is at 43rd. That’s way too low. His versatility (second, third, center, and left) made him so much more valuable than his hitting stats (which aren’t bad either) made him appear.

7. Reggie Smith is at 26th. Again, I think that’s too low. I might slide him into the top 15. I know I’d put him in the top 20. I might even jump him over Guerrero. Smith is one of the more overlooked players in both Dodgers and Red Sox history.

8. The picking of  Newcombe over both Sutton and Drysdale is  interesting. Both ended up with more wins and Newk did have the drinking problem. I’m not sure the voters got it right. Maybe yes, maybe no.  Newcombe was the ace of the most famous (if not most successful) team in Dodgers history and that has to be worth something. Now, if he coulda just won a single World Series game (he went 0-4).

9. Now about first place. When I first became interested in baseball, Robinson was my hero. As he waned, Snider replaced him. Then as the Duke faltered, Koufax became my guy. That got me through high school and hero-worship of big leaguers. So I have no problem with those three being in the top positions. I’m not sure about the order. The ultimate problem is Robinson’s status as a civil rights icon. It so overshadows his on-field accomplishments that I’m not sure it didn’t get him first place more than his playing  ability did. Having said that, I recognize he was a heck of a player and when added to his late start (because of circumstances not of his making) and the abuse he suffered, maybe he is first. But Snider was as good, maybe better. And Koufax is simply the greatest pitcher I ever saw. I have my own order, but I have no real problem with the current order.

10. The location of a few more well-known names: Hershiser (12th), Valenzuela (13th), Wills (22nd), Reiser (31st), Podres (33rd), and Nomo (49th).

11. The most glaring omission? Carl Erskine.

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Multi-Purpose

April 24, 2012

You ever listen to baseball fans about how the Designated Hitter is the worst thing that ever happened to baseball because it changed the game? Or how about that interleague play is awful because it changed the game? I remember all the way back to when they argued that adding a round of playoffs would change the game. You know what? Baseball has never been static. It changes all the time and the notion that the game is set in stone and that nothing should ever change flies in the face of reality. Let me give you one real simple example.

In the beginning (catchy, right?) of baseball there were small rosters. Those made it absolutely necessary for players to be adept at playing more than one position. We call those guys utility players and in 19th Century baseball they were ubiquitous (didn’t think I knew a word that big, did you?). Then they began to die out as rosters expanded and free substitution was allowed. Those kinds of players are still around and still valuable, just not as common as 120 years ago. Two of the best played against each other in the 1950s.

Gil McDougald

Gil McDougald arrived in New York with the Yankees in 1951. He stayed through 1960, retiring rather than move to the expansion Los Angeles Angels. He was one of the Yankees’ finest players and most people never noticed. He regularly played 120 to 140 games (his low was 119 in 1960 and his high was 152 in 1952), usually hit in the 280s (he hit .300 twice and as low as .250 in 1958), popped an average of 14 home runs, and had an OPS+ above 100 all but two seasons (and one of those was 98). In other words he hit well and had he been a fulltime started might have hit even better. What he did was fill the infield hole, wherever it was. Over his career he played 599 games at second (come on, Casey, give him one more game at second), 508 at third, and 284 at shortstop. In 1952 and 1953 he spent more time at third than any other player while still logging a number of games at second. In 1954 he had more games at second than “regular” second baseman Joe Coleman. By 1956 he’d moved to shortstop where he settled in for that season and the next. In 1958 he went back to second base. No matter the infield position (except first, where I’ll bet he would have done well also), McDougald could be plugged in and you were set for the season. In his last two years he floated among all three of his former positions and solidified the infield. He was never flashy, never a star, but was a solid and important member of the 1950s Yankees dynasty.

Jim Gilliam

Throughout most of the 1950s into the mid-1960s, the Dodgers had a similar player, Jim Gilliam. “Junior” spent a short amount of time in the Negro Leagues before the Dodgers picked him up. His debut was 1953, when he won the National League Rookie of the Year. He was a switch hitter who could play anywhere. Over his career he hit .265, had about two and a half walks for every strikeout, scored over 1100 runs, and generally had an OPS+ in the 80s or 90s. Again, like McDougald, what he could do best was plug a hole. Over his career he played 1046 games at second, 761 at third, 203 in left field, 222 games in the outfield in which he switched positions during the game, and a smattering of games in right field, center field, and first base (never at shortstop). He came up to replace an aging Jackie Robinson at second and by 1955 was also spending a lot of time in left field. In 1958 (with the arrival of Charlie Neal) he was more or less the fulltime left fielder, although he put in 44 games at third. In 1959 and 1960 he was the regular third baseman. In 1961, ’62, and ’63 he was sliding between second and third. In 1964 and 1965 he was more or less the primary third baseman. His final year was 1966 and he spent most of his time at third.

Both McDougald and Gilliam were valuable assets to their teams, while falling below the level of stars. Both had difficult jobs having to fill in whatever position the team needed that year (or occasionally that week) and both did their job well. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that without these two men, the Stengel Yankees and the “Boys of Summer” would have been less successful.

A Magical Day

March 28, 2012

So today is actually Opening Day. Who knew? This begs two questions. One, if Opening Day occurs in Japan at three in the morning is it really Opening Day? And second, if Seattle plays Oakland on Opening Day are Major League teams actually involved in Opening Day? To me Opening Day should always occur at 1 pm in Cincinnati. Anything else is a false beginning. OK, I’m dating myself with that idea, but it was such a good idea that I’m sorry they’ve abandoned it. BTW in case you don’t know, Seattle won 3-1 in extra innings.

But it can’t be all bad, this Opening Day. Frank McCourt and his ditzy wife are finally giving up my Dodgers. They’ve sold the team, pending MLB and bankruptcy court approval, to a group that has Magic Johnson as its front man. That’s probably a good idea. Johnson is, in many ways, “Mr. LA” and having a share of Los Angeles’ first Major League team is appropriate. It seems he’s not going to really run the team, and that’s an even better idea. As far as I know, he has no knowledge how to run a baseball franchise or evaluate talent. Hopefully the new ownership will leave the running of the team to the baseball people and not demand the team pay for haircuts (Hello, Frank McCourt) or have more diversity in the front office (Hello, Mrs. M). The Dodgers have been through a rough patch under a variety of owners and I’ll be pleased (and a bit amazed) if this group gets them back to a premier spot in the National League. The last time they won was 1988 (25 years next season) and as a bit of trivia, the Dodgers have never won a World Series when owned by anyone other than the O’Malley family (1955, 59, 63, 65, 81, 88). Let’s see if Johnson can add some “magic” to the brew and finally have some other owner claim a title.

What have you done to my team?

June 29, 2011

As anybody who reads stuff here with any regularity knows, I’m a diehard Dodgers fan. I remember all the way back to when the letter on the cap was a “B” and I’ve been proud to admit my team loyalty. I’m not sure that last part is still true.

I saw an article on ESPN that listed the ten worst owners ever and put Frank McCourt second to Harry Frazzee, of sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees fame. They’re wrong. There are all those 19th Century owners who ran two franchises and gutted one to make the other a potential contender. Take a look at the 1899 Cleveland Spiders and tell me that guy wasn’t a first-rate jerk of an owner. But they aren’t wrong by much. McCourt is destroyed one of the true flagship franchises in baseball. I’d rank them second to the Cardinals in the National League (but not by much) and behind only the Yankees in the American League.

Of course McCourt has had a lot of help. His wife is a real jewel. She wants “diversity” in the front office, not competence. The scouting bureau isn’t anything to write home to mom about either. Those guys  they went out and drafted are the best they can do? God help my team. Jim Varney’s old “Ernest” character could have done better (at least “Ernest” would have been trying to do the right thing).  Bud Selig wanted Fox out so badly, he endorsed McCourt (at least tacitly) and now Selig wants to be  seen as acting in the best interest of the game?  Gimme a break. Actually I’m rooting for Selig in this one. The idea of taking the front money from the Fox deal and using it for a divorce (God, where’s Tammy Wynette when we need her?) instead of for players is so awful that I think Selig got this one right. And that’s how bad this situation has become, I’m now praising Selig.

I have no idea what’s going to ultimately happen in this mess (is “mess” too nice a word for this?), except that somebody new is going to take over my team. Hopefully, he (she–why not a woman?) will know what he’s doing. Frankly he/she can’t do any worse, at least I don’t think they can.

Trashing the Place

May 2, 2011

So I’m back after slogging through the trenches that can be the First World War. I asked people not to trash the place while I was gone and it seems they didn’t, at least not too bad. Of course MLB has decided that my team is being trashed, so maybe I got trashed after all.

I see that MLB decided to take over the Dodgers, arguing that it was in the best interest of baseball for Frank McCourt to go away and leave the team alone. So Bud Selig now is going to be the savior of the Dodgers, is he? Do you have any idea how hard it is to write “Selig” and “Savior” in the same sentence? It’s as bad as Maximilian Schell asking Montgomery Clift to form a sentence using the words “hare”, “hunter”, and “field” (see the 1960s flick “Judgment at Nuremberg”).  Anyway, McCourt’s crime seems to be that he was using Dodgers funds for this own personal use. He was using team money to, among other things, pay for a haircut. Hey, Frank, a haircut at the local barber around here is ten bucks. If you’re that short on cash, I’ll loan you a ten. Why do I know it wasn’t a 10 haircut?

I don’t really know what I think of this whole idea. McCourt hasn’t been a bad owner. The team got better. It’s been to the playoffs with some consistency and even won a round or two. But I keep looking  at the team and ask myself  “Self, why isn’t this team more impressive?” Think about it for a minute. The team is the premier baseball franchise in the second largest market in the USA. I don’t count the Angels who can’t seem to figure out if they are in Los Angeles or Anaheim. The Angels have nowhere near the Dodgers draw and there’s no professional football team in the immediate area (and, yes, I know there is USC, but it doesn’t count–they’re supposed to be amateurs) so the Dodgers have little real competition for the professional dollar outside the Lakers, whose season ends in June at the latest and starts in November at the earliest. So money shouldn’t be  a problem. The team has a certain amount of talent. OK, this isn’t the 1927 Yankees, but the 2010 Giants weren’t the ’27 Yankees either and they won the whole thing. So talent alone isn’t the problem. Having said that, the talent could be better. McCourt did bring in good talent in the front office and managed to marginalize his wife’s influence. I was horrified at her “we need more diversity in the front office” line. What “we” need is more people who know what they’re doing, diverse or otherwise, and McCourt seemed to be bringing them in. And I know the divorce is a problem and so was betting long-term on Manny Ramirez, who was an aging flake, but the team is solid, if not spectacular. I wish they had a real four hitter and never understood why Joe Torre kept putting James Loney there, but then how do you argue with Torre?

So, see my dilemma? I don’t know that McCourt was a bad owner, but I think he could have done better. I don’t know that MLB will be the best steward of a storied franchise, but at least the money should go back into the team. I hope they find a new owner who knows what he’s doing. I keep wondering if Nolan Ryan wants to move to LA.

Anyway, I’m back and at least this place didn’t get trashed too badly. Thanks, guys.

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

August 11, 2010

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.