Imagine you were chosen to select an all-time rotation and pitching staff for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Who would you select? Who would make your all-time pitching staff?
Your fantasy team would then have to compete against all of the other all-time rotations and teams selected. How would it fare?
The rules are simple. In order to be eligible, a starting pitcher must have pitched 1,000 innings for the team. They may have worked in any part of the team’s history, including the pre-modern era. Relief pitchers must have logged 250 games as a member of the Dodgers.
The Dodgers have an interesting and colorful history. They got their start in Brooklyn, NY as the Atlantics in 1884—for one year. They decided to adopt a different name the next year, the Grays. This name must have been significantly better, because it lasted for three years.
There must have been some important wrangling over the team name for the next 12 years, because it went back and forth between the Grooms (1891-1895), and Bridegrooms (1888-1890, 1896-1898). Maybe the team was going through a self-image problem?
The lack of self-identification continued on into the modern era. The Bridegrooms title must have been deemed not worthy, because it was changed to the Superbas in 1899. In 1911 and 1912 they were known as the Trolley Dodgers. 1913 saw the Superbas name return. Finally, in 1914 they settled on the Robins, after the name of their long time manager, Wilbert Robinson.
Actually, the official name of the team was “The Brooklyn Base Ball Club.” The practical name for the team was interchanged by different newspapers and accounts, sometimes referring to the team as the Superbas and Robins or Dodgers all within the same article during this period.
But the fans knew who the team was—they were the “bums” who always broke their hearts.
The name Dodgers, the most derogatory of names, referring to their character as well, was finally settled on by 1932, with uniforms showing the team name for the first time. By 1933, both the road and home version of the uniforms had the name Dodgers emblazoned across the front.
It seems that all this energy spent on finding a real team identity kept them from pursuing any sustained excellence. From 1890, the first year they moved from the American Association to the National League, until 1941, they won the pennant twice, in 1916 and 1920, but were mostly a second division ballclub.
From 1941 until present, they have appeared in 16 World Series, four NLCS, and four NLDS. They are the current NL Western division champions.
The pitching history for the club includes many significant characters. The 1916 team, following the miracle of the Braves, was led by Jeff Pfefer and Rube Marquard. In his last year for the team was knuckleball pitcher, Nap Rucker, who had pitched several fine seasons for poor teams. By 1920 they had added HOF pitcher Burleigh Grimes.
In the outfield, on the 1916 and 1920 teams you could find Casey Stengel and Zack Wheat.
1924 saw the team just miss the pennant behind Grimes and Dazzy Vance. Vance had burst on the scene in 1922 as a 31-year-old rookie. He promptly led the league in strikeouts (and several other categories) for seven consecutive years.
Dazzy Vance at one point cut his sleeves in ribbons so as to confuse batters during his delivery. This led to rules about the wearing of the uniform. He became a storied character for the “bums.”
The teams of the Jackie Robinson Dodgers, from 1947-1957, featured a fine pitching staff which led them to six pennants, in 1947, ’49, ’52, ’53, ’55, and ’56, winning the World Series title in 1955 from their nemesis cross-town rivals, the Yankees.
The offense featured not only Jackie Robinson, but other all-time greats such as Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, and Carl Furillo. The pitching featured Carl Erskine, Preacher Roe, and Ralph Branca. The real star came along as the first great black pitcher, Don Newcombe, 1949-1958. Among the others, Roe was the best.
After the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, the team continued its success, largely due to their great pitching. Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale combined for 89 shutouts in their careers. The team won the NL pennant in ’59, ’63, ’65 and ’66. Koufax and Drysdale became one of the greatest pitching duos in baseball history.
But the Dodgers were not finished with producing great pitching. The team continued to sport one of the top pitching staffs all the way through the 70s, with Don Sutton, Claude Osteen, Tommy John, and Andy Messersmith.
Al Downing, Rick Rhoden, Bob Welch, and Fernando Valenzuela all continued the Dodger pitching excellence into the early 80s.
In ’88 Orel Hershiser broke the consecutive scoreless inning streak held by Don Drysdale, and led the team to their most recent World Series title to date.
Dodger stadium has helped foster the rich pitching tradition the team has established. The stadium of the late 60s and 70s seemed to absorb runs like Comiskey Park in Chicago did in the dead ball era. However, part of the reason for the low run scoring was obviously the fine pitching of the Dodgers.
There certainly is precedent, as discovered above, for sportswriters and fans of opposing teams, in dealing with their frustration facing the Dodgers, to find new colorful names for the team, as in “those _____ Dodgers”, or “those Dodger _______ s”
For this team, I will divide the early and modern eras as Brooklyn Dodgers up through 1957, and Los Angeles Dodgers, 1958-present.
THE EARLY ROTATION
1: Dazzy Vance—1922-1935. 190W; ERA+ 129; 29 shutouts
2: Burleigh Grimes—1918-1926. 158W; ERA+ 105; 20 shutouts
3: Nap Rucker—1907-1916. 134W; ERA+ 119; 38 shutouts
4: Don Newcombe—1949-1958. 123W; ERA+ 116; 22 shutouts
5: Jeff Pfeffer—1913-1921. 113W; ERA+ 125; 25 shutouts
Spot starters: Whitt Wyatt (1939-’44), and Preacher Roe (1948-’54)
Both Vance and Grimes are in the HOF. Together they made a great face for the 20s teams. Vance flashy and gutsy, Grimes surly and more taciturn. Grimes was one of the pitchers sanctioned to continue throwing the spitball after it was outlawed around 1920. Later in his career he was the last remaining artisan of the pitch.
Rucker, later in his career depended primarily on the knuckleball. He was one of the first and best knuckleball craftsmen in baseball history. Newcombe became the first successful black pitcher in the major leagues. Jeff Pfeffer, Wyatt and Roe all led the team to pennants in their time.
THE MODERN ROTATION
1: Sandy Koufax—1955-1966. 165W; ERA+ 131; 40 shutouts
2: Don Drysdale—1956-1969. 209W; ERA+ 121; 49 shutouts
3: Don Sutton—1966-1988. 233W; ERA+ 110; 52 shutouts
4: Orel Hershiser—1983-2000. 135W; ERA+ 116; 24 shutouts
5: Claude Osteen—1965-1973. 147W; ERA+ 106; 34 shutouts
6: Fernando Valenzuela—1980-1990. 141W; ERA+ 107; 29 shutouts
Spot starters – Bob Welch (1978-’87), Tommy John (1972-’78), Johnny Podres (1953-’66), Burt Hooten (1975-’84), and Ramon Martinez (1988-’98) can all be considered and mentioned. This is a very deep staff at this level; each pitcher about as good as the next. I deemed Osteen and Valenzuela just a bit above the rest.
Sandy Koufax peak (1963-1966), will go down as one of the top five in history. His dominance during this period was thrilling for fans and sportswriters to behold. Drysdale was also a strikeout artist. (Koufax set the single season mark in ’65.) Sutton, a 300 game winner, was more of a finesse pitcher. His 52 shutouts lead the team all-time.
When Fernando Valenzuela burst on the scene in 1980, it signaled a new era of success and popularity for the team.
THE ALL-TIME DODGER ROTATION AND PITCHING STAFF
1: Sandy Koufax—One of the most dominant pitchers ever witnessed in modern times
2: Don Drysdale—completes great shut down duo
3: Don Sutton—the only epic career on the team (over 4,500 innings), and is 10 th all-time in shutouts
4: Dazzy Vance—the most dominant pitcher of the 20s
5: Orel Hershiser—for his scoreless innings record
Ready to go – Jeff Pfeffer, Nap Rucker, Don Newcombe, Burleigh Grimes
Relievers – Although probably with aid, Eric Gagne’s 161 saves, ERA+ 124 in 298 games tops the list of closers. Also, you can’t ignore Jim Brewer (125S, ERA+ 126, 474 games), or Ron Peranoski (101S, ERA+ 131, and 457 games).
This all-time rotation is a great one. From Koufax through Vance all are legitimate HOF pitchers, and some of the toughest to face in their eras. From Hershiser down through rank No. 13 or No. 14 among starting pitchers you have a very deep list of excellent pitchers who made great contributions to the team.
Most Dodger fans are aware of their team’s pitching rich heritage. I hope this article has clarified the contributions of some of the pitchers from the earlier eras as well.
The Dodger’s pitching heritage is not a closed book. If the team hopes to maintain its current success the pitching will have to step up. As always, the team will go where its pitching takes them!