Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and Dem Bums (Pt. I of II)
Putting together an all-time team is hard.
Every fan in every sport has tried to sew together a crowd of all-time greats, and we all know how hard it can be to narrow it down. Hell, we have raging debates every year over who made the All-Star Games versus who deserved to go. So there's never a doubt that any all-timer list is going to inspire controversy, argument, and of course, questions.
Now, as a lifelong, diehard Los Angeles Dodger fan, I feel I am totally qualified to put together such a team (don't we all?). But my fingers pause over my keyboard when I remember that the Dodgers had not one, but two eras: Brooklyn and L.A.
And it makes life so much easier by just letting me create a team from each city, and seeing where this magical franchise roster takes me.
Then, of course, there's the issue of criteria. Would Manny Ramirez qualify as one of the all-time greatest outfielders to don a Dodger uniform? Talent wise and career numbers wise, sure—at least in LA. But when four of 514 HR come with the team, does it really count?
Or should we be using what the players did in uniform? What if their finest moments came wearing ANOTHER uniform, even if they spent most of their career with the Dodgers?
So, in the end, I settled on a team-wide standard for the two teams, Brooklyn and L.A.: five years or 2,000 ABs in a Dodger uniform in order to be considered for position players, at least 150 starts for a starting pitcher, and at least 300 appearances from a reliever.
Each team gets a standard starting lineup, a righty starter, a lefty starter, and a reliever. Yes, I should probably have a full rotation; No, there's not enough space in the column or time in my day for that.
And so, I began scouring.
For this article, we're talking about Brooklyn. 67 years of baseball, which concluded 30 years before I was even a Dodger fan, and I had to try and pick out a team.
The manager's tough, too. You've gotta pick from Leo Durocher, Walter Alston, and Wilbur Robinson, among others. I think, though, that a manager for whom the team renames itself for almost 20 years (1914-1932 they were the Brooklyn Robins) usually would be considered a winner, so Brooklyn's manager would be Wilbur Robinson, by a hair over Leo.
Walt spent too much time in L.A. to be considered Brooklyn's man at the helm, and Leo eventually left to manage the Giants. No REAL Dodger leaves for the Giants voluntarily (though by trade is certainly an exception).
And so begins the list, in order of position.
MANAGER: Wilbur Robinson
CATCHER: Roy Campanella
[1,215 G, 4,205 AB, .276 BA/.359 OBP/.500 SLG; 178 2B, 18 3B, 242 HR, 856 RBI, 25 SB]
I'm begging you to argue with me. Come on. There's only one Brooklyn catcher within 200 homers of Campy (Babe Phelps had 43, 199 less), and most didn't play HALF as long as he did in a Brooklyn uniform.
Plus, Roy's in The Hall, and his brilliant career would have continued in L.A. were it not for the tragic car accident that left him a paraplegic.
HONORABLE MENTION: All honorable, none worth mentioning.
FIRST BASE: Gil Hodges
[1,502 G, 5,502 AB, .281/.365/.503; 1544 H, 245 2B, 43 3B, 297 HR, 1,042 RBI, 48 SB]
This is where it starts getting tough. As the dead-ball era wound down, the Dodgers had a first baseman named Jake Daubert—a fine hitter by all accounts, knocking pitchers around at a .309 clip while with Dem Bums, but no comparable power to Gil's (33 HR to Gil's 297 in Blue), though he could certainly have outrun him (179 SB to Gil's 48 and 87 3Bs to Gil's 43).
You can also make a case for Dolph Camili, but Gil still out-slugs and out-hits him. And these numbers don't even include the four years Gil played in L.A.
HONORABLE MENTION: Camili.
SECOND BASE: Jackie Robinson
[749 G, 2,743 AB, .323/.412/.495; 885 H, 165 2B, 34 3B, 80 HR, 453 RBI, 120 SB]
Oh, please. Like you thought another name would go here. Jackie didn't just break the color barrier, he outplayed any opposition he EVER had at second base in Brooklyn. Several other players played a similar numbers of games: Eddie Stanky, Junior Gilliam, Babe Herman... I could add several more, but the fact is this: Only Jackie (1947-1957) and Tom Daly (1890-1901) hit at over a .300 clip, and Jackie was the better there, at .323 to Daly's .311.
And check it out—his slugging percentage was almost equal to that of bigger bats Campanella and Hodges beside him. Hands-down, it's Jackie here.
HONORABLE MENTION: Herman (for both his 2B and OF efforts)
THIRD BASE: Cookie Lavagetto
[669 G, 2,274 AB, .273 BA/.368/.380; 621 H, 117 2B, 22 3B, 27 HR, 325 RBI, 43 SB]
The Brooklyn Bums had their best three 3Bs one after the other: Joe Stripp (1932-37), Lavagetto (1938-1947), and Billy Cox (1948-1955). All played about 700 games, and none packed real power, as Cox led the way with 46 HRs.
Cox had that one '55 Series ring to his credit: Lavagetto has The Slide in the '41 Series against the Yankees. None batted .300 (Stripp was the closest at .295), but Lavagetto kept up numerically with the other two in about 100 games less time, so he wins by the same slide he's remembered for.
HONORABLE MENTION: Cox/Stripp (tie).
SHORTSTOP: Pee Wee Reese
[2,004 G, 7,581 AB, .272/.364/.383; 2,063 H, 320 2B, 77 3B, 121 HR, 839 RBI, 226 SB]
From 1940 to 1958, The Dodgers had ONE everyday shortstop. Pee Wee is second on the list of games played, and one of a select few Dodgers to so much as APPROACH 2,000 games in the uniform.
Remember, this was before Ernie Banks and Cal Ripken, Jr. redefined what you expected from your shortstop at the plate; Pee Wee ran the infield, played hard, functioned as the heart of the team, and would eventually be rewarded with a place in the Hall of Fame for it.
HONORABLE MENTION: Are you kidding?
Zach Wheat [2,322 G, 8,859 AB, .317/.344/.401; 2,804 H, 339 2B, 123 3B, 109 HR, 1,210 RBI, 203 SB]
Duke Snider [1,425 G, 5,317 AB, .303/.381/.560; 1,609 H, 288 2B, 66 3B, 316 HR, 1,003 RBI, 92 SB]
Carl Furillo [1,626 G, 5,864 AB, .300/.354/.459; 1,762 H, 301 2B, 52 3B, 174 HR, 961 RBI, 48 SB]
You may look at Zach Wheat's numbers and go, "How have I not heard of this guy? When was he FROM?"
Here's why: Wheat was with the Dodgers from 1909 to 1926. He spent nearly his entire career in blue, and is the closest any Dodger has gotten to 3,000 hits. The man's numbers speak for themselves. In many categories, he's still the all-time Dodger leader. His glove was good, too.
No list of great Brooklynite players would EVER be complete without the Duke of Flatbush. Duke is still the all-time leader in HRs in a Dodger uniform, at a hair under 400 (though only 316 of them came in Brooklyn). The man held his own for several years in the Great Centerfield Debate: "Willie, Mickey, or The Duke: Who's better?"
The man now lives in San Diego (and his granddaughter Jenny is a lovely young woman).
It's Carl Furillo where some old-time Brooklyn fans may cry foul. Furillo and Dixie Walker were both fan favorites in the 1940s and '50s—Walker in the earlier, Furillo in the latter. Their stats match up extremely well—both men hit very well, but not necessarily with great power.
There are two things here that earn Furillo the nod: his arm and a ring. Furillo was so renowned for his strong and accurate arm that he was tabbed "The Reading Rifle" when he was still on his way to the majors.
And to seal the deal by the barest of margins, the ONLY World Series ring the Brooklyn Dodgers ever won rests on Furillo's finger, not Walker's, though both had plenty of opportunities.
RIGHT-HANDED PITCHER: Dazzy Vance
[331 G, 304 GS, 2,531 IP 175-118 W-L, 3.08 ERA, 304 CG, 28 SHO, 4 SV, 691 BB, 1,787 K]
Listen, even I thought Don Newcombe's name was as good as engraved here as the best righty Brooklyn ever had. But Dazzy Vance was just that much better. To really get a grasp of the two men, you have to look at their first seven full years (which Vance began with Brooklyn)—or the whole time Newk was with Brooklyn.
Dazzy outdid Don in almost every major category: wins, ERA, strikeouts, innings pitched, and HR allowed all jump out at you. They were close to breaking even in complete games and shutouts, and Newk surrendered less walks and hit batters.
But let's face it—once Newcombe left Brooklyn, his career was a mess. Vance would pitch 11 seasons in Brooklyn, many of them on terrible teams, but only twice would end the year with a losing record (and each of those, he was only one game under .500). Dazzy's a pretty clear winner here.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Newcombe and Burleigh Grimes
LEFT-HANDED PITCHER: Nap Rucker
[199 G, 172 GS, 1,498.1 IP, 77-84 W-L, 2.35 ERA, 127 CG, 26 SHO, 5 SV, 457 BB, 789 K]
All right, so his reputation pales in comparison to L.A.'s best lefty, a fellow named Sanford Koufax, but that's mostly because none of us were alive when this guy pitched.
But Rucker was every bit as good back from 1907 to 1916. For 10 seasons during the dead-ball era, Nap Rucker was SCARY by the numbers. While his record in Brooklyn was only 134-134, his ERA was a tidy 2.35 while pitching an average of 237 innings a year.
His K-to-walk ratio wasn't stellar (in the range of 1.8:1), but anyone he got aboard sure had a hard time getting in. In his first eight seasons, he never twirled less than four shutouts (though he'd only throw one over parts of three seasons as his career wound down).
HONORABLE MENTION: Sherry Smith and Rube Marquard.
RELIEVER: Clem Labine
[304 G, 35 GS, 727.2 IP, 54-39 W-L, 3.46 ERA, 7 CG, 2 SHO, 59 SV, 275 BB, 378 K]
It wasn't until late in the Brooklyn era that the role of a reliever became specialized within an individual pitching staff. Most pitchers in the earlier third of the 20th century were considered iffy if you couldn't count on them for 7 or 8 good innings a day and about 20 complete games in an average year. So narrowing down an actual career reliever is tough, but Labine stands out in Brooklyn lore. Appearing in the third most games of any Brooklyn pitcher, Labine was also a terrific spot starter in the heyday of the Boys of Summer teams in the 1950s, making his versatility nearly invaluable to Brooklyn's success. He would transition from Brooklyn to LA when the team did, but wouldn't stay long; he was traded during the summer of 1960 as his career wound down.
HONORABLE MENTION: Hugh Casey.
I'll be back in a couple days with the L.A. all-timer list, so hang around. Until then, throw down some input! Let me hear who YOU think ruled Flatbush.
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