Tommy's seen 'em all in LA.
"Putting together an all-time team is hard."
I wrote that over two years ago, when I pieced together the finest players of the Dodgers' Brooklyn era, and promised to be back soon with an article doing the same for the Los Angeles era.
Well, I was half right—I'm back, I finally constructed the team but it wasn't quite as soon as I thought it would be. Either way, after countless evenings of debate with fellow Dodgers fans and hours on end of research, it's done, and the results are below. For the sake of argument, consistency and sanity, I'm going to stick to the same criteria I used to select the Brooklyn squad:
"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, just as with the last article, we must start with the skipper for the ballclub, and in LA there's only two choices: Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda.
At first glance, these two men have little in common. Alston makes me think of managers like Joe Torre: understated, private, efficient and very baseball-smart; noted particularly for his studious approach to the game, Alston even taught school in the offseason for a time. Lasorda was a different class of individual altogether—a fiery, quotable motivator who referred to God as "the Big Dodger in the Sky," and was as much the face of the team as any of his players.
But these men are similar where it counts: in the dugout. Alston and Lasorda were the first two managers the Dodgers had after their move to LA and, between them, took the helm for 39 years (Alston 18, Lasorda 21). They rank first and second among Dodgers skippers in most categories by which managers are measured: games, wins, years and World Series (Alston four, Lasorda two)—the only two managers in Dodgers history to accomplish the latter, and two of five Dodgers Hall of Fame managers.
However, there's always more than just the numbers to consider. Lasorda has said often that he "bleeds Dodger Blue," and had already been a part of the Dodgers organization for more than 25 years when he was named manager at the end of 1976, a career during which he'd pitched, managed in the minor leagues and been Alston's third-base coach. He retired in midseason 1996 after a minor heart attack, and has since taken on the role of still-extremely quotable team president for the Dodgers.
Sixty-plus years of loyalty to the organization, entire books' worth of quotes and a case of Slim-Fast all point to Tommy taking the helm for the LA squad, but certainly with no knock on Walter Alston. We still love you, Walt!
And now, the players on this exalted squad...
Catcher: Mike Piazza
[726 G, 2,707 AB, 443 R, .331 AB/.394 OBP/.572 SLG, 115 2B, 3 3B, 177 HR, 563 RBI, 10 SB]
You can't look at the Dodgers catchers of the last 50 years and try and pick one without some debate. In this case, five catchers qualified, and four were considered: John Roseboro, Steve Yeager, Mike Scoscia and Mike Piazza (I laughed Paul Lo Duca off the list).
The only thing that can't be debated here is that Piazza carried by far the biggest bat, though possibly the weakest defense. Piazza outhit his closest Dodgers peers behind the plate by more than 80 points (his .331 average is actual fourth on the club all time), and leads all L.A. Dodgers catchers in runs scored, home runs and RBI; however, runners would steal with reckless abandon whenever he was behind the plate, as he only threw out about a quarter of all runners.
What makes this call particularly tough is that, while there's no arguing that in the mid-'90s he was the face of the team, Piazza played over 500 games less than Yeager (1,219) and Roseboro (1,289) in Blue, and about half what Scoscia played (1,441), and in that time put up better numbers than any of them. Yes, he was a Dodger for less time, but man, look what he did.
Roseboro was probably the best overall hitter behind Piazza for the Dodgers, and certainly had an arm to match. Runners rarely went with Roseboro behind the plate: only about 60 runners a year went on Roseboro and his pitchers, and Johnny nailed an astonishing 42 percent of those who dared try during his career. Now, that number needs to be adjusted a little bit for the era, as Maury Wills’ base-swiping prowess was the mark of the Dodgers, not the league at the time.
Roseboro’s cannon helped him win two Gold Gloves and aided his selection to two All-Star games, and helped lead the Dodgers to three World Series titles during his career. However, Piazza’s bat is just too big to ignore.
Honorable Mention: Roseboro/Scoscia (tie).
First Base: Steve Garvey
[1,727 G, 6,543 AB, 852 R, .301/.337/.459, 333 2B, 35 3B, 211 HR, 992 RBI, 77 SB]
Garvey was a fairly easy choice at first base, with his only real competition coming from Eric Karros. Karros carried more pop in his bat and is the all-time LA leader in home runs, but Garvey has much to his credit that Karros, as solid a ballplayer as any the Dodgers have seen, simply can't match.
Garvey, among other things, was perhaps the most consistent sight on the field in the 1970s and '80s for L.A., appearing in 1,207 consecutive games from 1975 to 1983; the streak is still an NL record, though it obviously pales in comparison to the streaks of Cal Ripken Jr. or Lou Gehrig. As such, he was part of the most enduring infield in baseball history; for over eight seasons, Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey comprised the infield for L.A.
Nor did Garvey exactly lack for hardware; he went to four World Series with the Dodgers, finally picking up a ring in his fourth trip in 1981. He also won the NL MVP award in 1974, and was elected to represent the Dodgers in eight All-Star games.
Honorable Mention: Karros.
Second Base: Davey Lopes
[1,207 G, 4,590 AB, 759 R, .262/.349/.380, 165 2B, 39 3B, 99 HR, 384 RBI, 418 SB]
Lopes is the present-day leader in games played at second base for the Dodgers, and being part of the sturdy infield mentioned earlier would do that to you. Lopes was a four-time All-Star in his playing days, and a skilled base thief near the top of the lineup.
Lopes' only real competition here comes from 1982 Rookie of the Year Steve Sax. But Lopes never had the home fans ducking when he'd throw to first as Sax did at the beginning of the '83 season, and Lopes, while he did leave L.A. in free agency, sure didn't sign with the Yankees. Lopes wins.
Honorable Mention: Sax.
Third Base: Ron Cey
[1,481 G, 5,216 AB, 715 R, .264/.359/.445, 223 2B, 18 3B, 228 HR, 842 RBI, 20 SB]
Cey held the L.A. record for homers until Karros broke it during the 2000 season. The Penguin was one of a handful of perennial All-Stars for the Dodgers in the 1970s, and was selected to six straight Midsummer Classics from 1974 to 1979. He was also a key postseason performer, often stepping up with key hits during the Dodgers' more successful playoff runs.
As if the evidence weren’t already overwhelming, Cey was an above-average fielder, though not a Gold Glover; he had the misfortune of manning the same position as Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt during his prime.
This was an absolute runaway. For years before and after Cey, third base was a revolving door for the Dodgers, with no one holding down the starting job at the hot corner for more than about three years at a time. When you compare the batting and fielding statistics from across the years, you find that the runner-up in most categories to Cey, defying all logic, is...Adrian Beltre?
Shows you just how far in front Cey is.
Honorable Mention: Jim Gilliam, the versatile infielder for the Dodgers in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Ranking third in franchise history in games at second base and fourth in games at third, Gilliam is the one player who was a vital cog in the Dodgers machine for extensive periods in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles. He gets this slot because:
- He deserves to be mentioned on ONE of these lists
- I refuse to sully the good names of ANY of these players by including Beltre in their midst.
Shortstop: Maury Wills
[1,593 G, 6,156 AB, 876 R, .281/.331/.332, 150 2B, 56 3B, 17 HR, 374 RBI, 490 SB]
Two shortstops patrolled the Dodgers infield for a combined 26 years between 1960 and 1986: Maury Wills and Bill Russell. Whereas Russell actually wore the uniform longer and played more games than anyone else in Dodgers history, he did so in a solid but not extraordinary fashion. Maury Wills, however, helped reintroduce baseball to a strategy it had all but forgotten in the shadow of the long ball: the stolen base.
Wills was a talented, switch-hitting leadoff batter for the Dodgers of the 1960s, and a constant threat to steal second. He helped a lineup light on home run hitters score enough runs to support its stellar pitching on a nightly basis. Wills is perhaps best remembered for his MVP season of 1962, in which he batted .299 in a major league-record 165 games, swiped 104 bases to become the first man to triple digits and was caught just 13 times in the process.
Honorable Mention: Bill Russell.
This might be the category that’s caused this two-plus-year delay in the writing of this article. The LA incarnation of the Dodgers haven’t really had long-term, no-doubt standout outfielders the way Brooklyn did, largely due to the onset of free agency. A lot of names were disqualified just on the statistical minimums I set; among the really controversial guys who fell short of 2000 AB were Gary Sheffield (1866 AB, 160 OPS+ in Blue), Reggie Smith (despite six years in LA, only 1,740 AB) and Kirk Gibson (1,110 AB, so really, not close, but I wanted to at least mention him).
Complicating matters, a couple current Dodgers, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, are trending towards some of the best numbers the Dodgers have ever gotten from their outfield. Should current Dodgers be considered? For the sake of making this a little easier, not this time around; if they keep it up, their time in this conversation will come.
Then there were fan favorites and team mainstays whose numbers just didn’t quite merit inclusion and who broke my heart to leave out (Ron Fairly, Willie Davis, Brett Butler). The men left standing are:
[1,036 G, 3,602 AB, 561 R, .309/.381/.512, 169 2B, 24 3B, 171 HR, 585 RBI, 86 SB]
Guerrero played six different positions in his 11 seasons with the Dodgers, so it was difficult to nail him down at first; however, two-thirds of his Dodgers career was spent in the expansive grass of the outfield, so this was the logical place to include him. No matter where you put him, though, it’s the wrong position; Guerrero’s real position is "hitter."
Throughout the '80s, Pedro Guerrero was not just an All-Star, he was a perennial MVP candidate—when he was on the field. Early in his career the future star, a native corner infielder, was mired behind Garvey and Cey, and played only occasionally. It wasn’t until 1980 that he found a regular spot in the Dodgers lineup, usually in right or center field, and once he began playing full-time, little but injury could stop him (he played only 31 games in 86, and 59 in ’88 before he was traded to the Cardinals). Three 30-homer seasons and three top-10 MVP finishes cement him as one of the better bats the Dodgers have ever planted in the outfield.
[916 G, 3,487 AB, 543 R, .288/.334/.504, 190 2B, 37 3B, 163 HR, 518 RBI, 140 SB]
In the mid-1990s, the Dodgers farm system produced a gem a year, leading to five straight NL Rookies of the Year, (four of whom went on to earn mentions in this article). The third in the run, debuting in the ill-fated 1994 campaign, was one Raul Mondesi, who holds the distinction of being the only Dodger to ever put together a 30-30 season—not once, but twice. Raul was a force to be reckoned with—a power bat with tremendous speed, who helped Piazza and Karros anchor the heart of the Dodgers lineup from late 1993 to 1998.
Perhaps even more memorable than Raul’s flair and free swing at the plate was his play in right field. Mondesi prowled the Chavez Ravine grass, using his tremendous speed to chase down a pair of Gold Gloves and daring runners to test “El Canon”—his nickname for the gun welded to his right shoulder. And try they did, often with disastrous results. Mondesi earned at least 10 outfield assists every year from 1994 to 1998, and is still remembered as one of the best outfield arms of the last 25 years.
The only knock on the five-tool powerhouse was his attitude and tendency to lean on his talent and attempts to hog the spotlight. After the 1999 season, the Dodgers had had enough, and shipped his tremendous talent to the Toronto Blue Jays…
[798 G, 3,012 AB, 505 R, .280/.366/.510, 183 2B, 12 3B, 162 HR, 509 RBI, 63 SB]
…for Shawn Green. Green was everything in attitude that Mondy was not—he was a hardworking, unassuming community man and clubhouse leader—a local boy whose star had gone supernova in Toronto. As the Dodgers’ new Jewish superstar (we’ll get to the first one soon enough), Green had some big cleats to fill—and he did so admirably. He stepped very ably into Raul’s right field tracks, and roamed the outfield with quiet grace and efficiency in place of Raul’s brilliant flair, though again with a tremendous rifle of an arm.
Yet despite the league change and Dodger Stadium’s reputation as a hitter’s park, Green’s bat had an almost immediate impact, slugging 40 homers in back-to-back years in 2001 and 2002. Early in the ’02 season, he put on one of the greatest displays of individual hitting the majors have ever seen. From May 21-23 at Miller Park, Green went ballistic, beginning the series 3-for-8 with two HR and a triple before capping it with a 6-for-6 crushing that included four homers (13th time in MLB history), a single and a double.
Honorable Mentions: Rick Monday, Dusty Baker, Tommy Davis.
Right-Handed Starter: Kevin Brown
Wait, what? That’s not him…Hang on, let me dig through the years here…Hideo Nomo? No. Orel Hershiser? Not bad, but no. Fernando Valenzuela! No, that’s not him either.
Ah, here he is: Don Drysdale
[518 G, 465 GS, 3,432 IP, 209-166, 2.95 ERA, 1.148 WHIP, 167 CG, 49 SHO, 34 SV, 2,486 K, 855 BB]
Let’s be honest: despite the names listed above—all great arms, in their times—this is a two-horse race between the Dons, Drysdale and Sutton. And to compare them side by side, you’d think they were the same pitcher. Sutton won 24 more games, threw three more shutouts and 400 more innings, struck out 200 more guys and had a lower WHIP (by 0.03) and a higher ERA (by 0.14) as a Dodger in two more seasons and 32 more games. Both have even had their numbers retired by the club—Sutton’s No. 20 and Drysdale’s No. 53 both hang at Dodger Stadium, and both are Hall of Famers. You could almost be forgiven for calling this one a tie. Why, then, is Drysdale our winner?
Well, for one, Drysdale was more intimidating. He hit 154 batters in his career as a Dodger, while Sutton hit 64, and let me remind you, that’s with two extra years and 400 extra innings for Sutton. Drysdale was a famed headhunter, a feared competitor with a nasty fastball, and his hometown roots (he grew up in Van Nuys) that made him beloved by Dodgers faithful from his debut in 1956 to his final, painful pitch in 1969. Drysdale was even a renowned hitter; he hit .228 career, respectable for a pitcher, and slugged a surprising 29 homers. On his off days, Walter Alston even used to use him as a pinch hitter.
Drysdale’s got something else Sutton doesn’t: hardware, and in spades. Sutton was a four-time All-Star with the Dodgers, while Drysdale was selected to the Midsummer Classic eight times. Sutton had three top-five Cy Young finishes when each league had its own award; Drysdale won the award in 1962, when there was just one for everybody. And while each went to four World Series, Drysdale walked away with three rings, while Sutton’s fingers remained bare.
Overwhelming advantage: Drysdale.
But the real capper, the final nail in the coffin, was Drysdale’s 1968 summer, in which he threw six shutouts in a row en route to 58.2 scoreless innings, a major league record that would be broken by one Orel Hershiser 20 years later, and which broke a record held by no less of a pitcher than the Big Train himself, Walter Johnson. As good as Sutton was, Drysdale was the Dodgers’ best. Well, the best right-hander, at least.
Honorable Mention: Sutton
Left-Handed Pitcher: Sandy Koufax
[397 G, 314 GS, 2,324.1 IP, 165-87, 2.76 ERA, 1.106 WHIP, 137 CG, 44 SHO, 9 SV, 2396 K, 817 BB]
Like you didn’t know this was coming. Few lefties have been as dominant as Koufax was from 1961-66. If Koufax hadn’t had his seasons cut short by injuries in 1962 and ’64, the Dodgers might've hung five straight pennants, powered primarily by "Big D" Drysdale and Koufax's “Left Hand of God.”
There’s little to say about Koufax that hasn’t been repeated dozens of times before. In the 11 years the Cy Young was bestowed upon just one pitcher from each league, only Koufax won it multiple times—and he won it three times in four years, a record until Steve Carlton nabbed his fourth. Koufax also allowed less than a runner per inning in his prime, notching a WHIP of 0.97 (and in ‘65, of 0.855!) from ’61 to ’66.
He also dropped four no-hitters, one a year, from ‘63 to ‘66. In that same period, he won the pitching Triple Crown (wins, Ks and ERA) three times in four years—and those numbers weren't just the best in the NL, but in all of Major League Baseball. No other pitcher's done that more than twice.
After his career was sadly cut short by arthritis in his unreal left arm, Sandy vanished, preferring to live in privacy than continue to dwell in the bright LA lights that had followed him so closely at the end of his career. Yet to this day, Sandy can be found in Dodgers spring training, sharing his tremendous wisdom with the younger arms (most notably, recent stud lefty Clayton Kershaw).
Honorable Mention: With all due respect to longtime Blue boys Johnny Podres and Claude Osteen, no other Dodgers lefty has been in the same solar system as Koufax, though if Kershaw keeps improving...well, check back in 10 years.
Relief Pitcher: Ron Perranoski
[457 G, 1 GS, 766.2 IP, 54-41, 2.56 ERA, 1.302 WHIP, 273 GF, 101 SV, 461 K, 290 BB]
Once, there was an era before the closer. Before Eric Gagne and Jonathan Broxton (well, pre-2010 All-Star break Jonathan Broxton) made hitters shudder in the ninth, and before Mike Marchall redefined rubber arms by appearing in over 100 games as a pitcher (and topped 90 in two other seasons), there was the ultimate '60s fireman. Perranoski was the guy Walter Alston called to get the Boys in Blue out of a jam when Drysdale or Koufax or Osteen just wasn't enough. From '61 to '67, Perranoski put out fire after fire, amassing 101 saves when the statistic was unknown.
After his career on the mound ended in 1973, Perranoski joined the Dodgers coaching staff, first as minor league pitching coordinator, then as Tommy Lasorda's pitching coach from 1981 to 1994. Needless to say, Perranoski oversaw the development of a number of Dodger pitching legends, notably among them Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser and the Martinez brothers. His pitching staff in 1988 was the hallmark of the hitless wonders who managed to somehow shut down the mighty Oakland A's in just five games.
Honorable Mentions: Marshall, Jim Brewer, and Gagne.
I know this should finish the list, but there's someone we just can't leave out...
Voice: Vin Scully
You can't ever talk about the Los Angeles Dodgers without bringing up broadcasting deity Vin Scully. Widely accepted as not just the best current announcer, but often as the best period, Scully has more than defined the team—he's defined an entire city. Scully joined the Dodgers broadcast booth in 1950, hand-picked for the booth by Red Barber, the legendary voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers for so many years.
The list of Scully's great calls would take an awfully long time to recount; particular names and moments include Kirk Gibson, Bill Buckner, Sandy Koufax, Hank Aaron and many more.
His list of awards is ridiculous. He was inducted into Cooperstown in 1982—barely halfway into his career. He's been named California Sportscaster of the Year 29 times by his peers, won the National Award three times and has received numerous lifetime achievement awards—among them an Emmy and one from his alma mater, Fordham University, which has been named in his honor. He even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
But more importantly than these awards, Scully is the voice and sound of baseball and the coming of spring to millions of fans the world over. He is, without doubt, the face and voice of Dodgers baseball, and has been for 62 seasons.
Whew! Thoughts, Dodgers faithful? Who've I missed?