TheBaseballPage.com

Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers

LA Dodgers Logo

Ballpark:
Dodger Stadium
Established:
1884
Affiliations:
AAA Albuquerque Isotopes, AA Chattanooga Lookouts,Advanced A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, A Great Lakes Loons
Retired Numbers:
1, 2, 4, 19, 20, 24, 32, 39, 42
Owners:
Frank McCourt
Manager:
General Manager:
Ned Colletti
Played As:
LAN, BRO

Los Angeles Dodgers

Introduction

Established in 1883, the team originated in Brooklyn, New York, where it was known by a number of nicknames before becoming the Dodgers definitively by 1932. The team moved to Los Angeles before the 1958 season. They played their first four seasons in Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before moving to their current home of Dodger Stadium, the third-oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball.

In the modern (post-1903) era, the team, then known as the Robins, won league pennants in 1916 and 1920, losing the World Series both times, first to Boston and then Cleveland. In 1941, as the Dodgers, they captured their third National League pennant, only to lose again to the New York Yankees. This marked the onset of the Yankees–Dodgers rivalry, as the Dodgers would face them in their next six World Series appearances. Led by Jackie Robinson, the first black Major League Baseball player of the modern era, and three-time National League Most Valuable Player Roy Campanella, also signed out of the Negro Leagues, the Dodgers captured their first World Series title in 1955 by defeating the Yankees for the first time.

Following the 1957 season, the team left Brooklyn. In just their second season in Los Angeles, the Dodgers won their second World Series title, beating the Chicago White Sox in six games in 1959. Spearheaded by the dominant pitching style of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, the Dodgers captured three pennants in the 1960s and won two more World Series titles in 1963, sweeping the Yankees in four games, and 1965, edging the Minnesota Twins in seven. The 1963 sweep represented their second victory against the Yankees and first against them as a Los Angeles team. The Dodgers won three more pennants in 1974, 1977 and 1978, but lost in each World Series appearance. They went on to win the World Series again in 1981, thanks to pitching sensation Fernando Valenzuela. The early 1980s were affectionately dubbed "Fernandomania." In 1988, another pitching hero, Orel Hershiser, again led them to a World Series victory, aided by one of the most memorable home runs of all time, by their injured star outfielder Kirk Gibson coming off the bench to pinch hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of game 1, in his only appearance of the series.

The Dodgers share a fierce rivalry with the San Francisco Giants, it being the oldest rivalry in baseball dating back to when the two franchises played in New York City. Both teams moved west for the 1958 season. The Dodgers and Giants are tied for the most National League pennants (21), the second most World Series appearances (18), and the number of World Series titles won (6). Although the two franchises have enjoyed near equal success, the city rivalries are rather lopsided and in both cases, a teams championships have predated to the other's only one in that particular location. When the two teams were based in New York, the Giants won five World Series championships, and the Dodgers 1. After the move to California, it has been the reverse—the Dodgers have won five in Los Angeles, the Giants won one in San Francisco.

It all started in Brooklyn

Brooklyn was home to numerous baseball clubs in the mid-1850s. Eight of 16 participants in the first convention were from Brooklyn, including the Atlantic, Eckford, and Excelsior clubs that combined to dominate play for most of the 1860s. Brooklyn helped make baseball commercial, as the locale of the first paid admission games, a series of three all star contests matching New York and Brooklyn in 1858. Brooklyn also featured the first two enclosed baseball grounds, the Union Grounds and the Capitoline Grounds; enclosed, dedicated ballparks accelerated the evolution from amateurism to professionalism.

Despite the success of Brooklyn clubs in the first Association, officially amateur until 1869, they fielded weak teams in the succeeding National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the first professional league formed in 1871. The Excelsiors no longer challenged for the amateur championship after the Civil War and never entered the professional NA. The Eckfords and Atlantics declined to join until 1872 and thereby lost their best players; Eckford survived only one season and Atlantic four, with losing teams.

The National League replaced the NA in 1876 and granted exclusive territories to its eight members, excluding the Atlantics in favor of the New York Mutuals, who had shared the same home grounds. When the Mutuals were expelled by the league, the Hartford Dark Blues club moved in, changed its name to The Brooklyn Hartfords and played its home games at Union Grounds in 1877 before disbanding.

The origin of the Dodgers

The team currently known as the Dodgers was formed (as the "Brooklyn Grays") in 1883 by real estate magnate and baseball enthusiast Charles Byrne, who convinced his brother-in-law Joseph Doyle and casino operator Ferdinand Abell to start the team with him. Byrne set up a grandstand on Fifth Avenue and named it Washington Park in honor of George Washington. The team played in the minor Inter-State Association of Professional Baseball Clubs that first season. Doyle became the first manager of the team, which drew 6,000 fans to its first home game on May 12, 1883 against the Trenton team. The team won the league title after the Camden Merritt club disbanded on July 20 and Brooklyn picked up some of its better players. The Grays were invited to join the American Association for the following season.

After winning the AA championship in 1889, the team moved to the National League and won the 1890 NL Championship, the first Major League team to win consecutive championships in two different leagues. Their success during this period was partly attributed to their absorbing the players of the defunct New York Metropolitans and Brooklyn Ward's Wonders. In 1899, the Dodgers merged with the Baltimore Orioles, as Baltimore manager Ned Hanlon became the club's new skipper and Charles Ebbets became the primary owner of the team.

 

The team's nickname

By 1890, New Yorkers (Brooklyn was a separate city until it became a borough in 1898) routinely called anyone from Brooklyn a "trolley dodger", due to the vast network of street car lines criss-crossing the borough as people dodged trains to cross the streets. When the second Washington Park burned down early in the 1891 season, the team moved to nearby Eastern Park, which was bordered on two sides by street car tracks. That's when the team was first called the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers. That was soon shortened to Brooklyn Dodgers. Possibly because of the "street character" nature of Jack Dawkins, the "Artful Dodger" in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, sportswriters in the early 20th Century began referring to the Dodgers as the "Bums".

Other team names used by the franchise which would finally be called the Dodgers were the Grays, the Grooms, the Bridegrooms, the Superbas and the Robins. All of these nicknames were used by fans and sportswriters to describe the team, but not in any official capacity. The team's legal name was the Brooklyn Base Ball Club. However, the Trolley Dodger nickname was used throughout this period, along with these other nicknames, by fans and sportswriters of the day. The team did not use the name in any formal sense until 1932, when the word "Dodgers" appeared on jerseys for the team. The "conclusive shift" came in 1933, when both home and road jerseys for the team bore the name "Dodgers".

Examples of how the many popularized names of the team were used interchangeably are available from newspaper articles from the period before 1932. A New York Times article describing a game the Dodgers played in 1916 starts out by referring to how "Jimmy Callahan, pilot of the Pirates, did his best to wreck the hopes the Dodgers have of gaining the National League pennant", but then goes on to comment "the only thing that saved the Superbas from being toppled from first place was that the Phillies lost one of the two games played". What is interesting about the use of these two nicknames is that most baseball statistics sites and baseball historians generally now refer to the pennant-winning 1916 Brooklyn team as the Robins. A 1918 New York Times article does use the nickname Robins in its title "Buccaneers Take Last From Robins", but the subtitle of the article reads "Subdue The Superbas By 11 To 4, Making Series An Even Break".

Another example of the interchangeability of the different nicknames is found on the program issued at Ebbetts Field for the 1920 World Series, which identifies the matchup in the series as "Dodgers vs. Indians", despite the fact that the Robins nickname had been in consistent usage at this point for around six years.

Rivalry with the Giants

The historic and heated rivalry between the Dodgers and the Giants is more than a century old. It began when both clubs played in New York City (the Dodgers in Brooklyn and the Giants in Manhattan). When both franchises moved to California after the 1957 season, the rivalry was easily transplanted, as the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco have long been rivals in economics, culture and politics.

"Uncle Robbie” and the "Daffiness Boys"

Manager Wilbert Robinson, another former Oriole, popularly known as “Uncle Robbie", restored the Brooklyn team to respectability. His "Brooklyn Robins" reached the 1916 and 1920 World Series, losing both, but contending perennially for several seasons. Charles Ebbetts and Ed McKeever died within a week of each other in 1925, and Robbie was named president while still field manager. Upon assuming the title of president, however, Robinson’s ability to focus on the field declined, and the teams of the late 1920s were often fondly referred to as the "Daffiness Boys" for their distracted, error-ridden style of play. Outfielder Babe Herman was the leader both in hitting and in zaniness. The signature Dodger play from this era occurred when Herman doubled into a double play, in which three players – Dazzy Vance, Chick Fewster, and Herman – all ended up at third base at the same time. After his removal as club president, Wilbert Robinson returned to managing, and the club’s performance rebounded somewhat.

When Robinson retired in 1931, he was replaced as manager by Max Carey. Although some suggested renaming the "Robins" the "Brooklyn Canaries", after Carey (whose last name was originally "Carnarius"), the name "Brooklyn Dodgers" returned to stay following Robinson's retirement. It was during this era that Willard Mullin, a noted sports cartoonist, fixed the Brooklyn team with the lovable nickname of "Dem Bums". After hearing his cab driver ask "So how did those bums do today?" Mullin decided to sketch an exaggerated version of famed circus clown Emmett Kelly to represent the Dodgers in his much-praised cartoons in the New York World-Telegram. Both the image and the nickname caught on, so much so that many a Dodger yearbook cover, from 1951 through 1957, featured a Willard Mullin illustration with the Brooklyn Bum.

Perhaps the highlight of the Daffiness Boys era came after Wilbert Robinson left the dugout. In 1934, Giants player/manager Bill Terry was asked about the Dodgers’ chances in the coming pennant race and cracked infamously, "Is Brooklyn still in the league?" Managed now by Casey Stengel (who played for the Dodgers in the 1910s and would go on to greatness managing the New York Yankees), the 1934 Dodgers were determined to make their presence felt. As it happened, the season entered its final games with the Giants tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for the pennant, with the Giants’ remaining games against the Dodgers. Stengel (along with a legion of angry Brooklyn fans) led his Bums to the Polo Grounds for the showdown, and they beat the Giants twice to knock them out of the pennant race. The "Gashouse Gang" Cardinals nailed the pennant by beating the Cincinnati Reds those same two days.

One key development during this era was the 1938 appointment of Leland Stanford MacPhail – better known as Larry MacPhail – as the Dodgers' general manager. MacPhail, who brought night baseball to MLB as general manager of the Reds, also introduced Brooklyn to night baseball and ordered the successful refurbishing of Ebbets Field. He also brought Reds voice Red Barber to Brooklyn as the Dodgers' lead announcer in 1939, just after MacPhail broke the New York baseball executives' agreement to ban live baseball broadcasts, enacted because of the fear of what effect the radio calls would have on the home teams' attendance.

MacPhail remained with the Dodgers until 1942, when he returned to the Armed Forces for World War II. (He later became one of the New York Yankees' co-owners, bidding unsuccessfully for Barber to join him in the Bronx as announcer.) MacPhail's son Leland Jr. (Lee MacPhail) and grandson Andy MacPhail also became MLB execs.

The first major-league baseball game to be televised was Brooklyn’s 6–1 victory over Cincinnati at Ebbets Field on August 26, 1939. Batting helmets were introduced to Major League Baseball by the Dodgers in 1941.

Breaking the color barrier - Jackie Robinson.

For most of the first half of the 20th century, no Major League Baseball team employed a black player. A parallel system of Negro Leagues developed, but most of the Negro League players were denied a chance to prove their skill before a national audience. Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play for a Major League Baseball team when he played his first major league game on April 15, 1947, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. It happened mainly due to General Manager Branch Rickey's efforts. The deeply religious Rickey's motivation appears to have been primarily moral, although business considerations were also present. Rickey was a member of The Methodist Church, the antecedent denomination to The United Methodist Church of today, which was a strong advocate for social justice and active later in the Civil Rights movement.

Rickey had also considered Robinson's outstanding personal character in his decision, since he knew that boos, taunts, and criticism would arrive when Robinson was promoted to the Major Leagues, and that Robinson would have to be tough enough to withstand this abuse. He was. Rickey also wanted the first African-American Major Leaguer to be a no-doubt-about-it star, and Robinson definitely came through on that account as well, helping to lead the Dodgers to their best-ever stretch of success.

The inclusion of Robinson on the team also led the Dodgers to move its spring training site. Prior to 1946, the Dodgers held their spring training in Jacksonville, Florida. However, the city's stadium refused to host an exhibition game with the Montreal Royals – the Dodgers’ own farm club – on whose roster Robinson appeared at the time, citing segregation laws. Nearby Sanford similarly declined. Ultimately, City Island Ballpark in Daytona Beach agreed to host the game with Robinson on the field. The team would return to Daytona Beach for spring training in 1947, this time with Robinson on the big club. Although the Dodgers ultimately built Dodgertown and its Holman Stadium further south in Vero Beach, and played there for 61 spring training seasons from 1948 through 2008, Daytona Beach would rename City Island Ballpark to Jackie Robinson Ballpark in his honor.

This event was the continuation of the integration of professional sports in the United States, with professional football having led the way in 1946, with the concomitant demise of the Negro Leagues, and is regarded as a key moment in the history of the American civil rights movement. Robinson was an exceptional player, a speedy runner who sparked the team with his intensity. He was the inaugural recipient of the Rookie of the Year award, which is now named the Jackie Robinson award in his honor. The Dodgers' willingness to integrate, when most other teams refused to, was a key factor in their 1947–1956 success. They won six pennants in those 10 years with the help of Robinson, three-time MVP Roy Campanella, Cy Young Award winner Don Newcombe, Jim Gilliam, and Joe Black. Robinson would eventually go on to become the first African-American elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

"Wait ’til next year!"

Team sloganAfter the wilderness years of the 1920s and 1930s, the Dodgers were rebuilt into a contending club first by general manager Larry MacPhail and then the legendary Branch Rickey. Led by Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson and Gil Hodges in the infield, Duke Snider in center field, Carl Furillo in right field, Roy Campanella behind the plate, and Don Newcombe on the pitcher's mound, the Dodgers won pennants in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, and 1953, only to fall to the New York Yankees in all five of the subsequent World Series. The annual ritual of building excitement, followed in the end by disappointment, became a common pattern to the long suffering fans, and "Wait ’til next year!" became an unofficial Dodger slogan.

While the Dodgers generally enjoyed success during this period, in 1951 they fell victim to one of the largest collapses in the history of baseball. On August 11, 1951, Brooklyn led the National League by an enormous 13½ games over their archrivals, the Giants. While the Dodgers went 26–22 from that time until the end of the season, the Giants went on an absolute tear, winning an amazing 37 of their last 44 games, including their last seven in a row. At the end of the season the Dodgers and the Giants were tied for first place, forcing a three-game playoff for the pennant. The Giants took Game 1 by a score of 3–1 before being shut out by the Dodgers' Clem Labine in Game 2, 10–0. It all came down to the final game, and Brooklyn seemed to have the pennant locked up, holding a 4–2 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning. Giants outfielder, Bobby Thomson, however, hit a stunning three-run walk-off home run off the Dodgers' Ralph Branca to secure the NL Championship for New York. To this day Thomson's home run is known as the Shot Heard 'Round The World.

In 1955 by which time the core of the Dodger team was beginning to age "next year" finally came. The fabled "Boys of Summer" shot down the "Bronx Bombers" in seven games, led by the first-class pitching of young left-hander Johnny Podres, whose key pitch was a changeup known as "pulling down the lampshade" because of the arm motion used right when the ball was released. Podres won two Series games, including the deciding seventh. The turning point of Game 7 was a spectacular double play that began with left fielder Sandy Amoros running down Yogi Berra’s long fly ball, then throwing to shortstop Pee Wee Reese, who doubled up a surprised Gil McDougald at first base to preserve the Dodger lead. The Dodgers won 2–0.

Although the Dodgers lost the World Series to the Yankees in 1956 (during which the Yankees pitcher Don Larsen pitched the only postseason perfect game in baseball history, and the only post-season no-hitter until Roy Halladay's no-hitter for the Phillies over the Reds on October 6, 2010), it hardly seemed to matter. Brooklyn fans had their memory of triumph, and soon that would be all they were left with – a victory that decades later would be remembered in the Billy Joel single "We Didn't Start the Fire", which included the line, "Brooklyn's got a winning team."

Move to California

Real estate businessman Walter O'Malley had acquired majority ownership of the Dodgers in 1950, when he bought the shares of his co-owners, Branch Rickey and the estate of the late John L. Smith. Before long he was working to buy new land in Brooklyn to build a more accessible and better arrayed ballpark than Ebbets Field. Beloved as it was, Ebbets Field had grown old and was not well served by infrastructure, to the point where the Dodgers could not sell the park out even in the heat of a pennant race (despite largely dominating the league from 1946 to 1957).

New York City Construction Coordinator Robert Moses, however, sought to force O'Malley into using a site in Flushing Meadows, Queens – the site for what eventually became Shea Stadium. Moses' vision involved a city-built, city-owned park, which was greatly at odds with O'Malley's real-estate savvy. When it became clear to O'Malley that he was not going to be allowed to buy any suitable land in Brooklyn, he began thinking elsewhere.

Walter O'Malley was free to purchase land of his own choosing but needed Robert Moses to condemn land along the Atlantic Railroad Yards (O'Malley's preferred choice) in downtown Brooklyn under Title I authority. Title I gave the city municipality power to condemn land for the purpose of building what it calls "public purpose" projects. Moses interpretation of "public purpose" was to build public parks, public housing and public highways/bridges. What O'Malley wanted was for Moses to use this authority rather than pay market value for the land. With Title I, the city, aka Robert Moses, could have sold the land to O'Malley at a below market price. Robert Moses refused to honor O'Malley's request and responded by saying, "If you want the land so bad, why don't you purchase it with your own money?"

Meanwhile, non-stop transcontinental air travel had become routine during the years since the Second World War, and teams were no longer bound by much slower railroad timetables. Because of these transportation advances, it became possible to locate teams further apart – as far west as California – while maintaining the same game schedules.

When Los Angeles officials attended the 1956 World Series looking to entice a team to move to the City of Angels, they were not even thinking of the Dodgers. Their original target had been the Washington Senators (who would in fact move to Bloomington, Minnesota to become the Minnesota Twins in 1961). At the same time, O'Malley was looking for a contingency in case Moses and other New York politicians refused to let him build the Brooklyn stadium he wanted, and sent word to the Los Angeles officials that he was interested in talking. Los Angeles offered him what New York would not: a chance to buy land suitable for building a ballpark, and own that ballpark, giving him complete control over all its revenue streams.

Meanwhile, Giants owner Horace Stoneham was having similar difficulty finding a replacement for his team's antiquated home stadium, the Polo Grounds. Stoneham was considering moving the Giants to Minneapolis, but was persuaded instead to move them to San Francisco, ensuring that the Dodgers would have a National League rival closer than St. Louis. So the two arch-rival teams, the Dodgers and Giants, moved out to the West Coast together after the 1957 season.

The Brooklyn Dodgers played their final game at Ebbets Field on September 24, 1957, Last Game at Ebbets Fieldwhich the Dodgers won 2–0 over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

On April 18, 1958, the Los Angeles Dodgers played their first game in LA, defeating the former New York and now new San Francisco Giants, 6–5, before 78,672 fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Sadly, catcher Roy Campanella, left partially paralyzed in an off-season accident, was never able to play for Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Alston years

On April 18, 1958, the Los Angeles Dodgers played their first game in LA, defeating the former New York and now new San Francisco Giants, 6–5, before 78,672 fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Sadly, catcher Roy Campanella, left partially paralyzed in an off-season accident, was never able to play for Los Angeles.

The process of building Walter O'Malley's dream stadium soon began in semi-rural Chavez Ravine, in the hills just north of downtown L.A. There was some political controversy, as the residents of the ravine, mostly Hispanic and mostly poor, resisted the eminent domain removal of their homes (land which had been previously condemned for a public housing project, Elysian Park Heights) and gained some public sympathy. Still, O'Malley and the city government were determined, and construction proceeded. The resistance of the residents against their removal was known as the Battle of Chavez Ravine.

In the meantime, the Dodgers played their home games from 1958 to 1961 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a gargantuan football and track-and-field stadium that had been built in 1923, and then expanded to host the 1932 Summer Olympics. The Coliseum's dimensions were not optimal for baseball, and the best way to fit a baseball diamond into the oval-shaped stadium was to lay the third-base line parallel to the short axis of the oval, and the first-base parallel to the long axis. This resulted in a left-field fence that was only about 250 feet from home plate. A 40-foot high screen was erected to prevent home runs from becoming too trivial to hit. Still, the 1958 season saw 182 home runs hit to left field in the home games, whereas just three were hit to center field, and only eight to right field. The Dodgers outfielder Wally Moon, newly acquired for the 1959 season, became adept at launching lazy fly balls over or onto the screen, which became known as "Moon shots." He led the National League with triples in 1959.

In 1959, the season ended in a tie between the Dodgers and the Milwaukee Braves. The Dodgers won the tie-breaking playoff. 1959 also saw a team other than the Yankees win the A.L. pennant, one of only two such years in the 16-year stretch from 1949 through 1964, and because of the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles, this resulted in the first World Series since 1948 to have no games in New York City. In a lively World Series, the Dodgers defeated the "Go-Go" White Sox in six games, thoroughly cementing the bond between the baseball team and its new Southern California fans.

Commemorating its 50th year in Los Angeles, the Dodgers team again played one more game in the Memorial Coliseum on March 29, 2008 - an exhibition game to benefit a cancer research charity. The crowd of 115,300, the largest in baseball history in any country, any league, saw the Dodgers lose to the Boston Red Sox by a score of 7–4. Due to intervening renovations, the Coliseum's left field corner was shortened to only 190 feet, calling for an even-taller left-field fence of 60 feet. Kevin Cash of the Red Sox and James Loney of the Dodgers did hit home runs over that fence, but there were unexpectedly few home runs in the game.

Despite the passage of 50 plus years since departing from Brooklyn, many in the borough, and the nation, continue efforts to encourage a move back east. Many of these efforts take the shape of letter writing campaigns, online petitions and nostalgic articles. Brooklyn Dodgers merchandise is still popular among fans as well. Major League Baseball estimates $9 million in sales every year. The Baseball Hall of Fame reports that Brooklyn photos and broadcasts are the museum's second biggest sellers behind the Yankees, Ebay lists close to 1,000 items a day relating to the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Library of Congress has over 100 books on Brooklyn Dodger teams, third only to the Yankees and Red Sox.

There were occasional attempts to move the Dodgers back to Brooklyn. State senator Tom Bartosiewicz tried hard to persuade them in the early 1980s, but was rebuffed. A stronger chance was in 1998, when the O'Malley family sold up to Rupert Murdoch's Fox company. In the course of bidding, a committee convened by the City and State of New York (including Roger Kahn, author of Boys of Summer) made an offer to the club which was turned down, despite being larger than the eventual sale price.
Former Dodger greats adorn the exterior of Dodger Stadium

Construction on Dodger Stadium was completed in time for Opening Day 1962. With its clean, simple lines and its picturesque setting amid hills and palm trees, the ballpark quickly became an icon of the Dodgers and their new California lifestyle, and it remains one of the most highly-regarded stadiums in baseball even today. Despite the fact that the Dodgers have played in Dodger Stadium longer than they had played in Ebbetts Field, the stadium remains surprisingly fresh. O'Malley was determined that there would not be a bad seat in the house, achieving this by cantilevered grandstands that have since been widely imitated. More importantly for the team, the stadium's spacious dimensions, along with other factors, gave defense an advantage over offense, and the Dodgers moved to take advantage of this by assembling a team that would excel with its pitching.
Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax

The core of the team's success in the 1960s was the dominant pitching tandem of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, who combined to win 4 of the 5 Cy Young Awards from 1962 to 1966, during a time in which only one award was given to the top pitcher from either of the two major leagues. Top pitching also came from Claude Osteen, an aging Johnny Podres, and reliever Ron Perranoski. The hitting attack, on the other hand, was not impressive, and much of the offensive spark came from the exploits of speedy shortstop Maury Wills, who led the league in stolen bases every year from 1960 to 1965, and set a modern record with 104 thefts in 1962. The Dodgers' strategy was once described as follows: "Wills hits a single, steals second, and takes third on a grounder. A sacrifice fly brings him home. Koufax or Drysdale pitches a shutout, and the Dodgers win 1-0." Although few games followed this model exactly, the Dodgers nevertheless tallied a high proportion of wins in a low-scoring manner that relied on their pitching and defense rather than their offense - with the exception of a few seasons. For example, in 1962, Tommy Davis led the Major Leagues with 153 RBI, and he led the National League in batting average and in hits. Seasons of over 150 RBI are quite rare by a player in modern-day pro baseball. Davis led the league in batting twice for the Dodgers.

The 1962 pennant race ended in a tie, and the Dodgers were defeated by the archrival Giants in the tie-breaking playoff, but the Dodgers proceeded to win the pennant in three of the next four years. The 1963 World Series was a four-game sweep of the Yankees, in which the Dodgers were so dominant that the vaunted Bronx Bombers never even took a lead against Koufax, Podres, and Drysdale. After an injury-plagued 1964, the Dodgers bounced back to win the 1965 World Series in a seven games against the Minnesota Twins. Game one happened to fall on the Yom Kippur holiday, and Koufax (who is Jewish) refused to pitch on that day, a decision for which he was widely praised. The Dodgers rebounded from losing the first two games, with Koufax pitching shutouts in Games five and seven (with only two days rest in between) to win the crown and the World Series MVP Award.

The Dodgers again won the pennant in 1966, but the team was running out of gas, and it was swept in the World Series by the upstart Baltimore Orioles. Koufax retired that winter, with his career cut short by arthritis in the elbow of his pitching arm, and Maury Wills was traded away. Don Drysdale continued to be effective, setting a record with six consecutive shutouts in 1968, but he finished with just a 14–12 record due to the Dodgers' poor hitting that year.

While the Dodgers were sub-par for several seasons thereafter, a new core of young talent was developing in their farm system. They won another pennant in 1974, and although they were quickly dismissed by the dynastic Oakland Athletics in the World Series, it was a sign of good things to come.

The late 1970s: The early Lasorda years

For 23 years, beginning in 1954, the Dodgers had been managed by Walter Alston, a quiet and unflappable man who commanded great respect from his players. Alston's tenure is the third-longest in baseball history for a manager with a single team, after Connie Mack and John McGraw. His retirement near the end of the 1976 season, after winning 7 pennants and 4 World Series titles over his career, cleared the way for an entirely different personality to take the helm of the Dodgers.

Tommy Lasorda was a 49-year-old former minor-league pitcher who had been the team's top coach under Alston, and before that had been manager of the Dodgers' top minor league team. He was colorful and gregarious, an enthusiastic cheerleader in contrast to Alston's taciturn demeanor. He quickly became a larger-than-life personality, associating with Frank Sinatra and other celebrities, with a penchant for eating Italian food in large volumes. He became well-known for sayings such as, "If you cut me, I bleed Dodger blue," and for referring to God as "the Great Dodger in the sky." Although some considered his persona to be a schtick and found it wearing, his enthusiasm won him a reputation as an "ambassador for baseball," and it is impossible to think of the Dodgers from the late '70s to the early '90s without thinking of Lasorda.

Another transition had recently occurred, higher up in the Dodgers management. Walter O'Malley passed control of the team to his son Peter, who would continue to oversee the Dodgers on his family's behalf through 1998.

New blood had also been injected into the team on the field. The core of the team was now the infield, composed of Steve Garvey (1B), Davey Lopes (2B), Bill Russell (SS), Ron Cey (3B), and Steve Yeager (C). These five remained in the starting lineup together from 1973 to 1981, longer than any other infield fivesome in baseball history. The pitching staff remained strong, anchored by Don Sutton and Tommy John. The Dodgers won NL West titles in both 1977 and 1978, and defeated the Philadelphia Phillies both years in the National League Championship Series, only to be defeated in the World Series both years by the Yankees. In 1980, they swept a three game series from the Houston Astros in the final weekend of the regular season (including Don Sutton's brilliant save) and were in a first place tie in the National League West, but lost to the Astros 7–1 in the one-game playoff.

The 1980s: Fernandomania and the Bulldog

The Opening Day starting pitcher for 1981 was a 20-year-old rookie from Mexico: Fernando Valenzuela. Pressed into service due to an injury to Jerry Reuss, Valenzuela pitched a shutout that day, and proceeded to win his first 8 decisions through mid-May. The youthful left-hander, speaking only Spanish but sporting a devastating screwball, became a sensation. “Fernandomania” gripped both Southern California, where huge crowds turned out to see him pitch, as well as in his home country of Mexico, where the number of radio stations that carried Dodger games increased that year from three stations to 17. Valenzuela became the only pitcher ever to be named Rookie of the Year and win the Cy Young Award in the same season. The Dodgers' torrid start assured them of a playoff berth in the strike-shortened split season. After defeating the Montreal Expos with the help of a ninth-inning two-out home run by Rick Monday in the fifth and deciding game of the National League Championship Series they proceeded to defeat the Yankees in the World Series in six games, with the World Series MVP award split three ways among Ron Cey, Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager.

The Dodgers won NL West titles in 1983 and 1985, but lost in the NLCS both those years (to the Phillies and Cardinals, respectively). The 1985 NLCS was particularly memorable for Game 6, in which the Dodgers were protecting a 5–4 lead in the ninth inning, hoping to force a deciding seventh game. With two runners on and first base open, Lasorda elected not to walk Cards slugger Jack Clark, who proceeded to hit a home run off Tom Niedenfuer and send St. Louis to the World Series.

After seven years of high strikeout totals, and a 21-win season in 1986, Valenzuela sat out for most of the 1988 season. Plagued by arm troubles that were widely blamed on his being overused by Lasorda, his effectiveness faded before he turned 30. The new anchor of the pitching staff was a right-hander named Orel Hershiser. He had been given the nickname "Bulldog" by Lasorda, more as a hopeful motivational tool than an objective description of his personality, but by 1988 he had matured into one of baseball's most effective pitchers. That year he won 23 games and the Cy Young Award, and broke Don Drysdale's major league record by tossing 59 consecutive scoreless innings, ending with a 10-inning shutout on his final start of the season.

1988 World Series Championship Team

The 1988 Championship won by the Dodgers is all the more magical for the fact that the Dodgers were not expected to compete. They enjoyed career years from several players, and were inspired by the fiery intensity of newcomer Kirk Gibson (the league's Most Valuable Player that year), as well as the quiet but steady Hershiser and the always ebullient Lasorda. Although they entered the NLCS as decided underdogs to the powerful New York Mets, against whom they were 1–10 during the regular season, the Dodgers prevailed in a back-and-forth series that went the entire seven games and saw Hershiser come on for the save in game 4 (preceded by a dramatic 9th inning home run by Mike Scioscia off Dwight Gooden). The World Series matched them with an even more powerful opponent, the Oakland Athletics, who owned baseball's best regular-season record with 104 wins against only 58 defeats. Featuring the "Bash Brothers" duo of Mark McGwire and José Canseco, the A's took an early lead in Game 1 on a grand slam by Canseco, and led 4–3 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. With two outs, pinch-hitter Mike Davis drew a base on balls from formidable closer Dennis Eckersley. During Davis' at-bat, Lasorda had the light-hitting infielder Dave Anderson on deck so the Athletics would pitch to Davis more carefully. Then, Gibson, hobbled by injuries to both his legs that included a strained MCL and a severely pulled hamstring, came in to pinch hit. After fighting off several pitches and working the count full, Gibson got the backdoor slider he was looking for and pulled it into the right field pavilion for a two-run, walk-off home run, winning the game for the Dodgers, 5–4. Widely considered one of the most memorable and improbable home runs in baseball history, Gibson's dramatic home run was his only appearance of the entire series, and it set the tone for the following four games.

Hershiser dominated the Athletics in Games 2 and 5, and was on the mound when the Dodgers completed their stunning 4 games to 1 upset of the A's, capping off an incredible personal season by being named the Series MVP. Few remember that the Dodgers were so injury riddled during their World Series appearance. They won the Series in Game 5 with lifetime reserves Danny Heep and Mickey Hatcher in the starting lineup.

Post-1988: Rookies and the Fox era

After 1988, the Dodgers did not win another postseason game until 2004, though they did reach the playoffs in 1995 and 1996, narrowly missed in 1991 and 1997, and led the NL West when the end of the 1994 season was cancelled by a strike. Hershiser, like Valenzuela before him, suffered an arm injury in 1990, and he never regained the production he had earlier in his career. From 1992 to 1996, five consecutive Dodgers were named Rookie of the Year: Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raúl Mondesí, Hideo Nomo, and Todd Hollandsworth, which is a record. After nearly 20 years at the helm, Lasorda retired in 1996, though he still remained with the Dodgers as an executive vice-president. He was replaced as manager by longtime Dodgers shortstop Bill Russell.

Nearly a half-century of unusual stability (only two managers 1954–1996, owned by a single family 1950–1998) finally came to an end. After L.A. city officials rejected a proposal to bring an NFL stadium and franchise to Chavez Ravine in 1998, the O'Malley family sold the Dodgers to Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, owner of the Fox network (which also owns broadcast rights to MLB games) and 20th Century Fox. Among the new ownership's early moves were trading away popular catcher Piazza, and replacing Russell with veteran manager Davey Johnson. Johnson's volatile tenure ended two years later, and he was followed as manager by Jim Tracy. Fox made the first changes to the home uniform since the club moved from Brooklyn and introduced the team's first alternate jersey and cap, adding silEric Gagnever to the team's official colors (although they have rarely been used since). The team became more steady on the field in the early 2000s, with four consecutive winning seasons under the leadership of manager Tracy, starting pitcher Chan Ho Park, slugger Shawn Green, third baseman Adrián Beltré, and catcher Paul Lo Duca. The 2002 season was marked by the emergence of Éric Gagné as one of baseball's top relief pitchers. Gagné later won the Cy Young Award in 2003, converting all 55 of his save opportunities that year, and holding the league to a 1.20 ERA and striking out 137 batters in 82⅓ innings. Gagné would later establish a new major league record for consecutive saves, with 84 saves spanning parts of the 2002, 2003 and 2004 seasons.

The McCourts and the Sabermetric experiment

In 2004, the Dodgers were returned to family ownership, as News Corp sold the team to Boston real estate developer Frank McCourt. McCourt immediately hired Paul DePodesta as his new general manager, replacing Dan Evans. As an assistant general manager in Oakland under Billy Beane, DePodesta favored a highly statistical approach to evaluating prospects and potential free-agents. This sabermetric approach, widely publicized in the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, led many to believe that new owner McCourt was unwilling to pay for high priced talent, and would thus reduce the Dodgers to a status similar to small-market teams such as Oakland. With a team largely assembled by DePodesta's predecessors, and augmented by some acquisitions of his own, DePodesta saw the Dodgers near the top of the standings through much of 2004. In an effort to put the team over the top that year, DePodesta pulled off a number of mid-season trades, including sending away three key players (including popular team leader LoDuca), while obtaining several new players. The Dodgers did manage to win the NL West in 2004, but bowed out quickly in four games in the Division Series to the eventual National League champion St. Louis Cardinals.

During the winter of 2004–05, the team parted ways with several more longtime players, including Beltré and Green. Their replacements included starting pitcher Derek Lowe, outfielder J. D. Drew, and the run-producing, but aging second baseman Jeff Kent. DePodesta's radical overhaul did not bear fruit in 2005, as the Dodgers suffered from clubhouse strife and stifling injuries, finishing with their second-worst record in Los Angeles history. The club also faced an overwhelming number of injuries that quickly scuttled the team's hopes of repeating as division champions. Among them were Drew's broken wrist, All-Star shortstop Cesar Izturis's injury that required Tommy John surgery, and closer Gagné's deteriorating elbow condition that would also require surgery and force him to miss much of the 2005 season. Manager Jim Tracy also parted ways with the team at the end of the 2005 season, citing irreconcilable differences with DePodesta. However, DePodesta himself was fired by McCourt less than a month later, with McCourt later citing DePodesta's lack of leadership and dissatisfaction over DePodesta's handling of the process of hiring a new manager. Ned Colletti was hired as the new Dodger GM on November 16, 2005.

Colletti and Little

Newly hired Colletti was responsible for a tangible change in attitude and guided the Dodgers' resurgence in the 2006 season. He hired former Red Sox manager Grady Little to lead the team and also traded oft-troubled Milton Bradley for Oakland Athletics prospect Andre Ethier. His off season acquisitions also included former Atlanta Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal and former Red Sox third baseman Bill Mueller. Coletti also signed former All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, even though the team already had two other former All-Star shortstops (Furcal and the then-injured Cesar Izturis). Garciaparra agreed to play first base and adjusted quite well in the field and remained productive at the plate, producing several key hits in Dodger victories.

Due to the crowded infield, untimely injuries and several players' lack of production, the team was rebuilt during the season. The flurry of trading saw Cesar Izturis go to the Chicago Cubs for Greg Maddux while Willy Aybar and Danys Baez went to Atlanta for Wilson Betemit. A series of rookies were called up and provided substantial everyday contributions. Among them were catcher Russell Martin, who won the starting catching job after being called up in May and starting pitcher Chad Billingsley, who had several quality starts in August and September. Andre Ethier led the team in batting with a .308 batting average as the team's everyday left fielder through much of the season. Rookie first baseman James Loney hit very well in his short time with the team, tying Gil Hodges’ 56-year-old Dodgers record with 9 RBI in one game on September 28. Another key move was handing the closer's role to rookie (but Japanese League veteran) Takashi Saito, where he flourished, notching 24 saves in 26 opportunities while posting a 2.07 ERA.

After a heated pennant race, in which the most memorable moment occurred when the Dodgers hit four consecutive home runs on September 18 to tie the score in the ninth inning and then won the game on a tenth-inning walk-off homer by Nomar Garciaparra, the Dodgers entered the 2006 playoffs in the National League's Wild Card spot, having tied the San Diego Padres for the division lead but having lost 13 of 18 head-to-head meetings with the Padres. They were eventually swept, 3–0, by the New York Mets in the 2006 National League Division Series.

In 2007, the Los Angeles Dodgers sent three players (Brad Penny, Takashi Saito, and Russell Martin) to the all-star game, and at one point, the Dodgers had a record of 54-41, which was then the best record in the National League. After a hitting slump, the Dodgers fell to 60–59, and seven games out of first place in the N.L. West. The Dodgers were able to rebound, however, and had a 79-69 record with three weeks left in the season. At this point, the Dodgers trailed the San Diego Padres by 1½ games in the wild card slot, and the Arizona Diamondbacks by 3½ games. However, the Dodgers lost 10 of their next 11 games, which eliminated the Dodgers from post season play, and would finish the season with a disappointing 82-80 record. The last few weeks of the season were disrupted further by public complaints in the media by some of the veteran ballplayers about the lack of respect afforded them by some of the younger players on the team. This led to a divided clubhouse, as younger players consistently got more playing time at the expense of the veterans. After the season and weeks of media speculation, Grady Little resigned as manager, citing personal reasons. A few days later the Dodgers announced the hiring of former New York Yankees skipper Joe Torre to be the team's new manager.

Welcome to Mannywood

At the start of the 2008 season, Joe Torre found himself with a whole new team, Mannywood!including new players Andruw Jones and Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. To add to his troubles, Don Mattingly was unable to perform his hitting coach duties, and third basemen Nomar Garciaparra and Andy LaRoche were out with injuries, leaving the starting third base position to rookie Blake DeWitt, who had never played above level A ball in the minor leagues. DeWitt stepped up early, when Nomar went down again with a calf injury. The team suffered a serious blow when star player Rafael Furcal was injured in the midst of the best start of his career. Many substitutions were used, including rookies Chin-Lung Hu and Luis Maza, but could not duplicate Furcal's offense. Staff ace Brad Penny and slugger Jones began to underperform, leading to trips to the DL for both. Despite the problems with the roster, as well as their record, the Dodgers were only behind first-place Arizona by one game at the All-Star break.

The season saw progress in the teams prospects, including a call-up for top prospect Clayton Kershaw, as well as comebacks from veteran pitchers, most notably Chan Ho Park. Chad Billingsley quickly grew to be the team's ace, being one of the leaders in strikeouts and ERA and being the first pitcher on the Dodgers to get double-digit wins. For the majority of the season, the club hovered around a .500 record. To bolster a lineup of mostly young players, Ned Colletti made trades for shortstop Angel Berroa, third-baseman Casey Blake, and on July 31, 2008 the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired outfielder Manny Ramirez from the Boston Red Sox in a 3-way deal that sent third baseman Andy LaRoche and single-A prospect pitcher Bryan Morris to the Pittsburgh Pirates and all-star outfielder Jason Bay to the Red Sox.

Ramirez brought an energy to the team that it had lacked previously and also energized the fanbase. After playing more than 140 games of catch-up, the Dodgers swept Arizona to take first place in the last series of the season for the two teams on September 7 after being 4 games behind the week before. The Dodgers clinched the 2008 National League Western Division title on September 25 as the Arizona Diamondbacks were eliminated by losing to the St. Louis Cardinals 12–3.

On October 4, 2008 they beat the Cubs 3-0 to sweep the 2008 NLDS and moved on to the NLCS, where they faced the Philadelphia Phillies and were eliminated, losing the series in five games.

In 2009, however, Manny was suspended for taking a performing enhancing substance. Despite the 50 game suspension, the Dodgers repeated as National League West Champions and once again faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series [NLCS] after sweeping [3-0] the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series [NLDS]. They once more lost to Philadelphia [4-1].

The following season, a procession of injuries caused the Dodgers to fall out of the race by late summer... Manny Ramirez was traded to the Chicago White Sox in August and in September Joe Torre announced his decision to retire as Dodgers manager, to be replaced by Don Mattingly.

 
 
 
Tagged:
Los Angeles Dodgers
This day in baseball history

December 26

  • 2011

    The Chicago Cubs sign pitcher Andy Sonnanstine. ...

  • 2010

    Having losing Cliff Lee, the Texas Rangers sign Brandon Webb ...

  • 2009

    The Washington Nationals sign veteran reliever Eddie Guardad ...

More Baseball History

Sponsored Links

Comments

Login or register to post comments
Share |

Poll of The Day

Will Red Sox Repeat in 2014: