Rafael Furcal has arguably been the best Dodger shortstop of the last 30 years, but where does he rank in team history?
If there’s one position in Dodgers history that has been the least glamorous the last 30 years, it’s shortstop.
Since I became a Dodgers fan growing up in the 1990s, I’ve seen stars at nearly every position except shortstop. As that decade saw the rise of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and more, the team was stuck with the likes of Greg Gagne, Alex Cora and Jose Offerman.
Between Bill Russell’s last season in 1983 and Rafael Furcal’s arrival in 2006, the team only had two All-Star shortstop selections. It’s easy for most Dodger fans to believe that Furcal has been a revelation, and Dee Gordon became a quick fan favorite when you consider what came before him.
Gordon’s promise over the past month has given fans and the organization high hopes that he’ll be the Dodger shortstop of the future.
Here are the five best shortstops in Dodger history, starting with the best of the post-Russell, pre-Furcal era.
From 2002-2006, Izturis inspired mixed emotions at the six spot. On the one hand, Izturis was a great defender who won a Gold Glove in 2004. On the other, he had little pop and a poor on-base percentage aside from his career-best year in 2004.
Nevertheless, he made the All-Star team in 2005 after a hot start. His power was also comparable to his position, as he finished second among NL shortstops in home runs.
Izturis makes it at No. 5 despite never hitting above .257 or showing much else at the plate. That’s what happens when you have a great glove (led all NL shortstops in assists in 2003 and finished second in 2004) and a knack for getting hits where you can.
Over the last six years, Furcal has been one of the most important bats in the Dodgers lineup. He’s served as the offensive catalyst batting leadoff or second, and his .352 on-base percentage is a great indicator of that.
He’s played the third-most games at the six spot in LA Dodgers history, and when healthy, he’s dependable for 100-plus hits, batting .285 and being a threat on the basepaths.
Health has been his downfall, as he missed most of the 2008 and 2010 seasons, as well as the current campaign, but despite the injuries, he made last year’s All-Star team.
One can hope that Furcal will have a strong second half to recover from his injuries and remind Dodgers fans why they’ve been so appreciative of his play since he arrived in 2006.
Russell became the Dodgers’ starting shortstop in 1972 and held that position for the next 12 seasons. He was a three-time All-Star who hit .263 in his career while helping the team win four National League pennants and the 1981 World Series.
He’s best remembered for being one-fourth of the most consistent infield in major league history. For eight-and-a-half years, Russell held his own playing alongside Davey Lopes, Ron Cey and Steve Garvey.
Russell retired in 1986 after playing in the most games in LA Dodger history (2,181 games, 1,747 at shortstop). He later became the third manager in team history when he replaced Tommy Lasorda in 1996.
I had a hard time figuring out if I should place Wills at No. 1 or 2. I’m a full believer that Wills is one of the most controversial Hall of Fame snubs in history, and I’ll lay out why Wills remains so beloved by the Dodger faithful.
First, Wills’ accomplishments are noteworthy: Seven-time All-Star. Two-time Gold Glove Award winner. Three-time World Series champion. Most importantly, he won both the 1962 All-Star Game MVP and regular season MVP.
Second, Wills revolutionized baseball by making the stolen base trendy and an effective strategy. He led the league in stolen bases in his first full season and never looked back. In his MVP season, he stole 104 bases to set a new record and out-steal every team in baseball. It became an integral part of a Dodgers offense that relied on pitching and low scoring.
All of this said, Wills spent 12 years with the Dodgers as one of the greatest position players in team history. The reason he’s not No. 1 is because the best shortstop in team history did more than just play well on the field.
To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with having Wills as the best shortstop in Dodger history. But here’s my reasoning for why the “Little Colonel” and former team captain earns the No. 1 spot.
Reese was a 10-time All-Star who missed three years of his prime due to serving in the Navy. He helped the Dodgers win seven National League pennants in his 16 seasons, and near the end of his career, he finally won that long-coveted World Series championship in 1955.
He remains the Dodgers’ all-time leader in runs scored and walks and hit .269 for his career. He was a top-10 MVP finisher eight times and a superb defender in his day.
More importantly, Reese reached out to and mentored a rookie second baseman named Jackie Robinson and let him know he was wanted on the Dodgers. He famously put his arm around Robinson during infield practice in Cincinnati, a gesture that spoke volumes to baseball fans and African-Americans who watched Robinson’s every game.
Reese’s role in befriending Robinson as he broke baseball’s color barrier was just as important as his Hall of Fame career on the field. It's all a compelling argument for why he’s the greatest shortstop in team history.