This week, Matt Kemp became one of the fastest players in Dodgers history to reach 100 career home runs. His performance at the plate has led many fans to believe that he’s turned the corner from his dismal 2010 and put all his gifts together.
With Kemp and Andre Ethier being the two best homegrown power hitters the team has seen since Adrian Beltre, it’s a good time to reflect on who the greatest all-around hitters are in Dodgers history.
To keep it easy, the focus here is on Los Angeles Dodgers, not Brooklyn Dodgers. Otherwise greats Duke Snider, who did most of his work in Brooklyn, and Jackie Robinson would be on this list, as would as several other great Dodger icons. Also, this list is not ranked in any order and tried to honor guys who hit for both average and power as well as got on base. In some cases, consistency and longevity played a role.
Here are the best all-around hitters in LA Dodgers history in one man’s opinion.
Career Stats (1959-1966): .304 batting average, 86 home runs, 465 RBI's
Tommy Davis was the first great Dodger hitter after the team moved from Brooklyn. To date, he's the only LA Dodger to win a batting title and he did so twice in 1962 and 1963.
His 1962 season is one of the best ever in Dodgers history. Davis led the majors in batting (.346), RBI's (153) and hits (230), the latter two still being team records. He followed that up batting .326 in 1963 with 181 hits and hit .400 during the 1963 World Series where the Dodgers beat the Yankees.
In a notorious pitcher's park, his batting feats remain even more incredible. Sandy Koufax once said that in 1962-63, Davis was the best hitter in baseball and it's hard to disagree when you look back at his work.
Career stats (1960-73): 2,091 hits, 154 home runs, 849 RBI
One of the greatest athletes to ever wear Dodger blue, Davis remains among the all-time team leaders in several categories, including the leader in hits, triples, runs and total bases.
In 1969, Davis hit a career-high .311, including a team-record 31-game hitting streak that was threatened by Andre Ethier earlier this year. While Davis may not have been a great power hitter, his numbers are too great to ignore his place on this list.
Career stats (1969-82): .301 batting average, 211 home runs, 992 RBI
For those who saw him in the '70s and '80s, Garvey remains one of the biggest Hall of Fame snubs of the past 30 years. Dodger fans will be the loudest in that chorus, as he’s one of the most beloved players in team history.
Check Garvey’s résumé. Over 200 hits in six seasons. Five seasons with 100 or more RBI and still the team record holder in that category. Seven seasons of hitting .304 or better. A team-record 333 doubles. The 1974 NL MVP and twice the All-Star Game MVP (1974, 1978)
Garvey gets a lot of heat for his low on-base percentage, but there’s no question that he was one of the most productive hitters of the 1970s—and his son is making quite a name for himself as well.
Career stats (1978-88): .309 batting average, 171 home runs, 585 RBI
Baseball historian Bill James once called Guerrero “the best hitter God has made in a long time,” and during his peak Guerrero lived up to that promise.
He shared the 1981 World Series MVP after his five-RBI performance in Game 6. He followed that up with two straight seasons of 30 home runs and 20 stolen bases, the first Dodger in history to do so.
Guerrero finished in the top 10 leaders of batting average four times, including second in 1985 (.320) and 1987 (.338). That 1985 season also saw him finish third in home runs and lead the majors in slugging and on-base percentage.
Career stats (1991-02): .268 batting average, 270 home runs, 976 RBI
Karros is still one of the most popular Dodgers in team history, and for fans who watched the '90s Dodgers, he remained a constant at first base with his great personality that has translated well into the Fox Sports booth.
During his playing days, he averaged 25 home runs and 95 RBI a season, and from 1995-2000 he only hit fewer than 30 home runs once. His best year came in 1999, when he hit .304 (his only .300-plus season) with 34 home runs and a career-high 112 RBI.
Even though he never managed to make an All-Star team, he was one of the top power-hitting first basemen of his era and probably would qualify as one of the more underrated first basemen of the 1990s. His career home run total stands as a team record.
Career stats (1992-98): .331 batting average, 177 home runs, 563 RBI
Piazza is arguably the greatest offensive catcher in history, and Los Angeles fans in the 1990s were forever grateful that Tommy Lasorda drafted him as a favor to Piazza’s father.
The 1993 Rookie of the Year never hit fewer than 24 home runs or had fewer than 92 runs batted in during his six years in L.A. and finished in the top 10 in batting average four of his five full seasons. He ended 1996 and 1997 as the National League MVP runner-up, and his 1996 season (.362 avg, 40 home runs, 124 RBI) is widely regarded as one of the greatest hitting seasons by a catcher in history.
While Piazza may not enter the Hall of Fame as a Dodger, he'll be fondly remembered as one of the greatest hitters in team history, and his trade to the Florida Marlins remains one of the saddest days for Dodger fans.
Career stats (1998-2001): .312 batting average, 129 home runs, 367 RBI
Dodger fans may have hated the Mike Piazza trade, but getting Gary Sheffield still in the prime of his career wasn’t a bad consolation prize. Sheff made the All-Star team three times and made pitchers fear his power and ability to get on base.
While his Dodger tenure ended badly with him demanding a trade, nobody can argue that he was one of the best hitters in baseball during his run.
Career Stats (2000-2004) .280 batting average, 162 home runs, 509 RBI
Green was another Dodgers acquisition that brightened the team’s hopes during the dark Rupert Murdoch era. For his first three seasons, Green was one of the best power hitters in the National League.
His best year was 2001, when he hit a team-record 49 home runs along with 31 doubles and 125 home runs while batting .297. He followed that up in 2002 with 42 home runs and 114 runs batted in.
Green’s greatest day as a Dodger came on May 18, 2002, as he tied a major league record with four home runs and racked up 19 total bases while scoring six runs, both still major-league records. He’s still one of two players in history to have six hits, five runs and four extra-base hits in a single game.
The debate among Dodger fans rages on who is the best pure hitter on the team between Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier since both joined the team in 2006. I give the edge to Ethier due to slightly higher numbers, but I won't begrudge anyone picking Kemp.
Ethier already sits among the top 10 leaders in batting average, and his power numbers are already etched in recent Dodger history. In 2009, he hit 33 home runs, and he also had 106 RBI that season, the highest total for a Dodgers player since 2004.
He hasn’t been able to find his power stroke this season yet, but one can only hope that like Kemp, he’ll catch fire soon enough to help save the Dodgers’ season.
Kemp has encountered his share of criticism from Dodger fans for his inconsistency and tendency to strike out, but if you throw out his 2010 season, he’s been among the team’s best hitters. He improved his home run and batting average in 2008 and 2009, and he’s on pace to have career highs in both this year.
He’s currently the team leader in home runs, runs batted in and batting average, and if the Bison can keep up his recent power surge, he’ll make 2010 even more of a distant memory to Dodger fans. By the way, he still hit 28 home runs that year, so if he surpasses that, that’s four consecutive seasons of improvement in that category.