To determine the greatest of anything you will first have to identify all of the potential contenders. This will be a difficult task in itself, regardless of what category you attempt to classify. The Dodgers franchise is no different and possibly more problematical than most due to the sheer number of possibilities. I used many criteria to accomplish this task including, but not limited to, interviews, scouring article after article, personal knowledge, opinions of friends and colleagues, and statistical references.
I’ve decided to break down some of the top contenders, with a little insight as to why they made the list, in the category for which they qualify. Here are those results.
Charles Ebbetts: Originally a bookkeeper for the Dodgers way back in 1883, Charles Ebbetts saved his money and made friends within management until he became a shareholder in 1890. As owner of the club Ebbetts influenced the National Leagues first player draft, he invented the idea of a rain check and even managed the team for one season. His most well known accomplishment however was seeing his dream of transforming a garbage dump known in Brooklyn as “Pig town” into a beautiful baseball shrine bearing his name, Ebbetts Field.
Walter O’Malley: The Brooklyn Trust Company held the 50% share in the Dodgers left by Charles Ebbetts upon his death. After years of association around the trust's president, George V. McLaughlin, O’Malley was appointed to be the attorney for the Dodgers. In 1940 he was brought into the financial arrangement of the Brooklyn club by McLaughlin and began to slowly accumulate shares of stock. Upon gaining a controlling share Walter began a long fight with the New York City manager, Robert Moses, to build the Dodgers a new home park in Brooklyn. Moses had a vision of a ballpark in Flushing but O’Malley would have none of that and in a behind the scenes powerplay moved the team to it’s current home in Los Angeles. A part of that move had the city giving the Dodgers a section of land known as Chavez Ravine where O’Malley built the current Dodger Stadium.
A long list of accomplished players made this conversation and the few here are only a small representation of that group. I will admit that that the players I mention here, and those I couldn’t, were due in part by my discretion and in part due to space constraints. Here is that list:
Jackie Robinson: Jackie Robinson has earned a place in baseball history as the man who successfully broke baseball’s color barrier but he was so much more. Jackie was a gentleman, a scholar and gifted athlete but more than anything Jackie was a fierce competitor. Jackie played the game with an anything it took mindset and would use all of the tools at his disposal to defeat his opponent.
Duke Snider: The “Duke of Flatbush” was one of the greatest centerfielders of his era. Along with the Giants’ Willie Mays and the Yankees’ Mickey Mantle, Snider made the city of New York the Mecca of the centerfield position. He hit 40 or more home runs in five consecutive seasons (1953–57), and averaged 42 home runs, 124 RBI, 123 runs and a .320 batting average between 1953-1956. He led the league in runs scored, home runs and RBIs in separate seasons and was an integral part of winning the Brooklyn Dodgers only World Series title in 1955.
Sandy Koufax: After being used only sparingly, due to lack of control, from 1955 through 1960, Sandy Koufax had the most dominant six year period of any pitcher in modern baseball history from 1961 through 1966. Over that time period, the legendary lefty compiled a 129-47 record. He also had a composite ERA of 2.19 and averaged 285 strikeouts per season. Sandy was very possibly the greatest pitcher of all time.
Pee Wee Reese: He was the on the field and clubhouse leader of the Dodgers during most of the 1940s and '50s. He made ten all-star teams and was generally considered the best shortstop of his era. As the backbone of the Brooklyn team he led them in becoming the best team in the National League while he never scored less than 75 runs from 1942 through 1956. While Reese never won an MVP Award he placed in the top ten in balloting an amazing 8 times.
Mike Piazza: Mike was the very last pick by the Dodgers in the 1988 players draft. The pick was partly a favor on the part of Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who is godfather to one of Piazza's brothers. Mike was the greatest hitting catcher in baseball history, and had his best years while playing for the Dodgers from 1993 through 1998. During that time, Piazza hit .334 with yearly averages of 33 home runs and 106 RBI. While he was a Dodger, Piazza won the Rookie of the Year award (1993), won six straight Silver Sluggers and made six consecutive All-Star teams.
Don Newcombe: Don is one of the few players in baseball history to win the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and MVP Awards during his career. As a 23-years old rookie in 1949, Newcomb went 17-8 with a 3.17 ERA and won top rookie honors. In 1956, Newcombe won 27 games and took home the first Major League Cy Young award and the National League’s Most Valuable Player award. Newcomb, in my opinion, is not remembered as the incredible pitcher he really was and without him the Brooklyn team could not have dominated the league as they eventually did.
Roy Campanella: Roy was not only an All Star in every season from 1949 until 1956 and National League MVP in 1951, 1953 and 1955 he was probably the greatest catcher baseball has ever known. In May of 1959 the Dodgers honored “Campy” with the Campy Campanella Night at the Los Angeles Coliseum in front of the largest crowd in the history of the game, 93,103 fans. His number 39 was retired that night and the New York Yankees made a special trip west to play the Dodgers that night in a heartfelt tribute to the man, Roy Campanella.
Walter Alston: Walt was known as Old Smokey for his easy going style. His quiet, behind the scenes approach to the game garnered much success. Alston won seven National League pennants in his 23 years as the teams manager. In 1955 he led Brooklyn to the pennant and its only World Series championship; the team repeated as National League Champions in 1956. After the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, Alston led the team to pennants in 1959, 1963, 1965, 1966 and 1974, and three more world championships (1959, 1963, 1965). He was the first Dodger manager to win a World Series and Walt was named Manager of the Year an incredible six times.
Tommy Lasorda: The term flamboyant could have been coined with Lasorda’s cheerleader style in mind. Always the ambassador of Dodgers baseball Tommy combined mindset and attitude into success on the field. He compiled a 1,599-1,439 record as Dodgers manager, won two World Series championships in (1981 and 1988), four National League pennants and eight division titles in his 20 year career as the Dodgers manager.
Red Barber: Red was responsible for millions of Americans becoming Dodger fans. His slow southern style was a perfect fit in Brooklyn and across America’s airwaves. His melodic descriptions brought new phrases into our everyday language that endure to this day. "Walkin' in the tall cotton", “Sittin in the Catbirds Seat”, “Can of Corn” and "Rhubarb" are just a sample of what made Red Barber an American institution.
Vin Scully: As I’ve written before, Vin Scully is the face of the Dodgers. Vin has won more awards and been elected into more Hall of Fames than I can mention here due to the sheer volumn it would require. A career in broadcasting like no other sets Mr. Scully apart and above all of the rest. That career has a centerpiece, that being an uninterupted 60 year stretch as the voice of Dodger Baseball. There will probably never be another like him.
So, who is the greatest Dodger of them all? I guess we all have our own opinions with regard to this question but since I took the time to write this I am going to stand up and count my vote for Vin Scully. Afterall, he was there to see all of it. From Ebbetts Field in “Pigtown”to Dodger Stadium in “Chavez Ravine”. I, for one, want to thank him for being the man who brought it all to us in our collective living rooms.