Los Angeles Dodgers: Ranking 20 Biggest Heroes in Franchise History

Evan Barnes@evan_bContributor IIIOctober 25, 2011

Los Angeles Dodgers: Ranking 20 Biggest Heroes in Franchise History

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    Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. That's the classic quote from The Sandlot, and it's true for any organization where somebody becomes immortalized for doing something great.

    The Dodgers are no different. Throughout the years, players have become heroes for either one big moment or endearing themselves to fans over time. It's a team that has one of the strongest fan bases in the country, because every generation has somebody to look up to.

    Here are my picks for the 20 greatest heroes in team history. Feel free to add on, because there are many Dodger heroes I'm sure I left out. 

20. Steve Finley

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    Finley was only a Dodger for three months, but he quickly made an impact and etched his name in Dodgers lore.

    October 2, 2004 – the last Saturday of the baseball season, and the Dodgers and Giants were battling for the NL West title. Finley stepped up with the bases loaded and hit a walk-off, division-clinching grand slam. Not only did it give the team its first division title in nine years, but it eliminated the Giants from the playoffs. 

19. Andre Ethier

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    Captain Comeback may have had a down year in 2011, but in 2009, Ethier provided more than his share of heroic moments.

    Ethier had six walk-off hits, the most by a player since 1974, and four of them were home runs. When he came up in the ninth inning, every at bat was a must see, because you waited for another walk-off performance.

    He’s one of the most popular players on the team and there are high hopes that he’ll rebound in 2012, despite some grumblings about possibly asking for a trade. 

18. Matt Kemp/Clayton Kershaw

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    Time will tell how much of a hero they become in their career but to current Dodgers fans, Kemp and Kershaw saved this season from being unwatchable and dominated by off-the-field issues. 

    Kemp had one of the greatest all-around offensive seasons in team history; as a leader, he inspired his teammates to keep fighting despite being way back in the standings. The fact the team finished in third place instead of dead last is a tribute to what he did at the plate.

    In the same vein, Clayton Kershaw turned into an ace pitcher who became must-see TV. Anybody who beats the hated Giants five times in one season is an automatic hero but that only hints at how great he was the whole year. He gave fans hope that every fifth day, their terrible season had a silver lining.

    Whether they both get awards this year or not is still up in the air for a month. But for fans who dealt with ownership blues and divorce proceedings, they’ll always remember what Kemp and Kershaw did in 2011.

17. Lou Johnson

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    For Dodgers fans, Sweet Lou Johnson not only has one of the best names in team history, he’s responsible for the 1965 World Series tilting in the Dodgers favor.

    Over the seven games, Johnson had eight hits and two home runs. His last home run, a fourth inning shot in Game 7, proved to be the difference as the Dodgers won on the road 2-0.  Legend has it that Sweet Lou told Sandy Koufax he’d get him all the run support he needed that day.

    Sweet Lou’s currently a community ambassador for the team and is still bringing joy to Dodger Stadium as he did during his playing days, as this picture with singer Chaka Khan shows.

16. Rick Monday

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    Monday is here for two reasons. The first is a heroic moment for baseball. He saved the American flag from being burned in the Dodger Stadium outfield while playing for the Cubs. Even though he wasn’t with the Dodgers, I don’t think anyone will contend with me giving him props for being heroic in their stadium.

    However, Monday also had a Dodgers moment that will be remembered fondly by fans. In the 1981 NLCS, his ninth-inning, two-out home run off Montreal Expos’ pitcher Steve Rogers in Game 5 clinched the series and sent the Dodgers on their way to the World Series championship.

    Monday remains a beloved Dodger icon as he remains a radio announcer for the team.

15. Johnny Podres

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    Every Dodgers fan should know Podres’ name. He was the last hero of the Brooklyn Dodgers and helped the team finally win that long awaited World Series in 1955.

    In Game 3, Podres pitched a seven-hit complete game on his 23rd birthday to give the Dodgers their first win of the series after the Yankees won Games 1 and 2. Then in Game 7, Podres did even better with a two-hit shutout at Yankee Stadium to bring the title to Brooklyn.

    For his efforts, Podres was named World Series MVP and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. Podres’ clutch performance set the stage for future October glory as he helped the team win two more World Series (he didn’t pitch in the 1965 World Series)

14. Roy Campanella

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    Campanella came to the Dodgers a year after Jackie Robinson, and it didn’t take long for him to establish himself. In 10 years, he was an  eight-time All-Star, three-time MVP and on track to become the greatest catcher in baseball history.

    Yet in 1958, he was injured in an automobile accident that paralyzed him from the shoulders down. It was a sad end to the most decorated African-American hitter up to that point, and yet he became an even bigger hero over the next 35 years.

    On May 7, 1959, the Dodgers held Roy Campanella Night at the LA Coliseum. With the Yankees in town, over 93,000 attended the game to support Campanella—the largest crowd to see a baseball game up to that point. That’s love and respect that will never be forgotten by anyone who loves the Dodger blue.

    His name bears an award given to the Dodger who best demonstrates his leadership and spirit. His heroic fight after being paralyzed has endeared him to many fans as much as he outstanding play did. 

13. Steve Garvey

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    Garvey was a part of the most beloved infield in Dodgers history. He, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes and Bill Russell started together for eight and a half years and you can’t mention one without the other three. But it’s not bad to say that Garvey was the most popular out of the four.

    Garvey was such a hero to Dodgers fans that they helped vote him as an All-Star starter as a write-in candidate. He rewarded their love by being named the 1974 All-Star Game MVP.

    He became an even more endearing hero to Dodger fans this year when he publicly tried to put up a bid to buy the Dodgers and also criticized Frank McCourt’s ownership. It cost him his job with the team but it earned him new fans for his bold stand.

12. Don Newcombe

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    The last of the trio of Black players to join the club, it didn’t take long for Newcombe to become a hero in Brooklyn. 

    He was the first Black pitcher to become an ace and in the 50s, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball who was as dominant at the plate as he was on the mound. He remains the only player to win the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP award.

    However, his heroism off the field is even greater. After becoming sober, he helped other players such as Maury Wills battle substance issues and he’s admitted that he’s more proud of that than anything he did on the mound.

    He still maintains a presence at Dodger Stadium and has been working in the organization since the 1970s. Big Newk is still a hero and as one of the last links to desegregating baseball, he continues to inspire Dodgers fans with his dignity and his love for the game.

11. Pee Wee Reese

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    One of the most popular players of the Brooklyn era, Reese was a great shortstop during his Dodgers career and was a 10-time All-Star. As captain of the club, he was respected and beloved by fans and teammates

    Yet his place as a Dodgers hero comes when he embraced Jackie Robinson on the club. He famously put his arm around Robinson on the infield during Robinson's first road trip and it was a symbolic gesture that showed public and private unity.

    He nurtured Robinson and the two became friends off the field and successful partners on it. It made Reese a hero to baseball and Black baseball players who watched Jackie's every move to see if he'd succeed. 

    It showed Reese as a first-class human being as well as a player. For that alone, he should be saluted 

10. Orel Hershiser

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    Hershiser’s role in the magical 1988 season made him a hero. The one number that defines him in 59.

    That’s the number of consecutive scoreless innings he pitched to end the season. He was already dubbed Bulldog by Tommy Lasorda for his grit but he embodied it the most during that streak. Then he took it up a notch in the playoffs.

    He won the NLCS MVP for earning a save and winning Game 7 with a shutout. Then in the World Series, he won Game 2 with another shutout before pitching a complete game to win Game 5 and the championship.

    It was a heroic season and Hershiser, who won the Cy Young Award, earned his name in Dodgers lore with his golden arm.

9. Mike Piazza

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    During the 1990’s, no player was a bigger star at the plate than Mike Piazza. Even though the Dodgers didn’t win a playoff game during his tenure, he was a hero for many who watched become the best offensive catcher in the game.

    He remains the last Dodger to win an All-Star Game MVP, which he did in 1997.  His 1996 and 1997 seasons rank among the best hitting seasons in baseball history. He was the soul of a team who’s personality fit the city like a perfect match.

    That’s why his trade to Florida remains one of the darkest days in team history. The Dodgers lost a beloved icon who later became one in New York but they’ll fondly remember the days when Tommy Lasorda’s decision to draft him as a favor to Piazza’s father paid dividends for five  seasons.

8. Duke Snider

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    The Duke of Flatbush swung a big bat and had a flashy nickname as he was part of a great trio of outfielders that ruled New York in the 1950’s.

    Along with Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, Snider was a hero to Dodgers fans as one of the last superstars from the Brooklyn era. He could be counted on 40 home runs and 100+ RBI’s in his prime and he finished second to teammate Roy Campanella in the 1955 MVP.

    Snider passed away this past February, but to a generation of fans, he was as big as anyone who wore the Brooklyn uniform. 

7. Fernando Valenzuela

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    Dodgers fans know 1981 means one thing. Fernandomania.

    The 20-year-old lefty from Mexico set Los Angeles on fire by winning his first eight starts with five shutouts. He finished the year with 11 shutouts, the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award.

    If I had to pick one heroic moment, I’d pick Game 3 of the 1981 World Series. Down 2-0 to the Yankees, Valenzuela pitched a gutsy complete game (nine hits, four runs, six strikeouts and seven walks) to help the Dodgers save their season. As Vin Scully said, “It wasn’t Fernando’s best performance, it was his finest.”

    But he meant more than just success on the mound. He invigorated the Dodgers’ Latino fan base and was a cultural icon to many in the city who felt overlooked. Each start was greeted with thunderous support and when he had his last Dodgers moment with a no-hitter in 1990, it was a full circle embrace for a pioneer on and off the mound.

    To this day, Valenzuela is as beloved as any Dodger of the last 30 years. 

6. Kirk Gibson

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    1988 was a heroic season and Gibson was the spark behind it. From Day One, he challenged the Dodgers to be more professional and his presence inspired the Dodgers on the road to champions.

    Gibson provided the most famous swing in Dodgers history. The 3-2, two-out home run off Dennis Eckersley to win Game 1 of the World Series. It immortalized Gibby as a Dodgers legend and showed why he deserved the 1988 MVP.

    But even before that, he showed his heroic side in the NLCS. In Games 3-5, he had a dramatic moment in each game that proved to be the difference. In a year of the improbable, Gibson’s knack for showing up in the clutch and his leadership will never be forgotten.

5. Don Drysdale

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    One half of the dynamic pitching duo from the 1960’s, Big D was as dominant as anyone in the 1960’s. He was a nine-time All-Star, a Cy Young Award winner, three-time World Series champion and had his famous streak of 58 consecutive scoreless innings.

    He and Sandy Koufax ruled the sports landscape and while Koufax was more reserved, Drysdale relished being the toast of the town. He made guest appearances on many shows, most memorably The Brady Bunch.

    He also married Ann Meyers, who was Los Angeles royalty from her days playing basketball at UCLA. Until his death in 1993, Drysdale was one of the most popular Dodgers and to this day, his name and personality remind fans of an era when the Dodgers brand was born and instilled in the hearts of many.

4. Tommy Lasorda

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    Besides Vin Scully, nobody embodies the Dodgers more than Tommy Lasorda. His six decades of service has made him one of the greatest ambassadors of not just baseball, but the Dodger legacy from Brooklyn to today.

    Lasorda’s love of the game may in fact overshadow how great he was as a manager. He could motivate with the best of them and in 20 years, he won 1,599 games and two World Series. His final years saw him oversee five consecutive Rookies of the Year.

    But it’s his passion that makes him who he is. He never gets tired of being at the stadium and no matter what, he makes fans smile with his words and energy. When you think of the Dodgers, Lasorda’s on the Mount Rushmore of legends and heroes

    It’s also a bonus that he’s an active user on Twitter to further endear himself to Dodgers fans. 

3. Vin Scully

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    The voice. The calm. The dignity. The stories. The way he makes you feel like he’s right next to you.

    All of this and more describes Vin Scully. For 62 seasons, he’s been the voice of the team on radio and television and he’s as admired as anybody who wore a uniform.  From his tales about players on both sides to his stories of eras past, he makes you feel comfortable as you watch the game.

    He does it all while remaining humble and never being bigger than the game. It’s that humility that endears him to generations of fans who have grown up with him.

    One of the bright spots of last season was when he told Dodger fans he would return for another year in the booth.  It will be a sad day when he does retire because he is a presence that can never be duplicated or imitated. 

2. Sandy Koufax

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    If you have to ask why Koufax is on this list, you aren’t a real Dodgers fan.

    All you need to know is this. At a time when the Dodgers were kings of the city along with UCLA basketball, Koufax was the brightest star. His six-year run (1961-1966) helped establish the team in its new surroundings and as the best pitcher in baseball, he was the toast of Los Angeles.

    His perfect game in 1965 remains one of the brightest sports moments in this city’s history yet it was also his dignity and respect to his Jewish faith  (not pitching on Yom Kippur in the 1965 World Series) that endeared him as well. 

1. Jackie Robinson

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    There is no surprise why Robinson is No. 1 on this list. His heroism transcended the Dodgers and as he broke baseball’s modern day color barrier, every step in the at-bat circle was a giant step for this country’s racial progress.

    But on the field, Robinson endeared himself with his brand new style of play. He made stealing home plate an art form. His aggressive base running and timely hitting injected life into the Dodgers’ lineup and won fans all over the country.

    Without question, though, he’s the greatest hero in franchise history because of what he did for baseball and America. There’s not enough words to state how his Dodgers career made people respect players for their game, not their skin color.

    Every April 15, baseball stops to remember the day Robinson entered baseball.  It’s important to keep his name alive and for Dodgers fans to remain proud that one of the game’s best ambassadors did so wearing Dodgers blue.