All-Time Greatest: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are one of the most storied franchises in baseball.  Their history dates back to 1883, when they were established as the Brooklyn Atlanticsbrooklynatlantics_csk-670x696 – a part of the American Association.  They joined the National League in 1890, and have been a force to be reckoned with ever since.  They won the National League pennant their first year in the NL, and have won 20 more since then (2nd all-time, by just 1, to their most hated rival – the Giants have won 22).  They’ve made 27 playoff appearances as a franchise, which is tied for 2nd in the NL (behind the 31 appearances by the Braves).  Since the World Series began officially in 1903, the Dodgers have made 18 appearances – 9 while in Brooklyn, and 9 while in Los Angeles.  But, they have only managed 6 World Series titles in those appearances (’55, ’59, ’63, ’65, ’81 & ’88) – due, in large part, to the fact that 11 of their appearances pit them against DiMaggio’s Yankees or Mantle’s Yankees or Reggie’s Yankees (only 3 of which, were they able to win).

The Brooklyn franchise’s nickname was scattered around for the first 50 seasons of their existence.  They were the Atlantics, the Grays, the Bridegrooms, the Grooms, the Superbas, the Dodgers, and the Robins from 1884-1931.  But, from 1932-1957, the team in Brooklyn settled on the name Dodgers (which was a reference to their fans often being called trolly-dodgers, as they had to cross several tracks to get to the stadium).  When Walter O’Malley bought the majority share of the team in 1950, he almost immediately began attempts to build a new stadium in Brooklyn.  Ebbets Field was in disarray, and he wanted to build a state-of-the-art stadium that was easier to get to for the fans.  But, New York politicians weren’t willing to help, and believed that O’Malley’s eventual threats to move the team out of New York City altogether were just empty threats.  Los Angeles officials attended the ’55 World Series, as they were attempting to woo the Washington Senators to move to the west coast.  But, when O’Malley heard they were in town, he sent word to them that he was interested.  When New York officials heard of the progress O’Malley was making toward a move, they made a meager attempt to keep the Dodgers (especially since the Giants were also considering moving out of their dilapidated Polo Grounds), but were unwilling to meet O’Malley’s terms – something Los Angeles was willing to do.  So, before the ’58 season, O’Malley moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles, and convinced Giants owner, Horace Stoneham, to move his team to San Francisco, rather than Minneapolis, in order to keep the Dodgers/Giants rivalry alive.

The Dodgers have had numerous successful players come through their organization.  Ten different Dodgers have won 12 MVP awards (2nd most in NL history).  Eight different pitchers have won 11 Cy Youngs (both MLB records).  And, 12 different players have won Rookie of the Year, including 4 consecutive from ’79-’82, and 5 consecutive from ’92-’96 (the two longest streaks in baseball history – in fact, only the Oakland A’s have a streak of even 3 in a row).  And, there are currently 11 players in the HOF whose primary team was the Dodgers.  So, you can see how this was an especially difficult task to choose just 5 for this list – some Hall of Famers will be left off!  But, here’s my best shot at it.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Pittsburgh Pirates5. Clayton Kershaw (’08-present) – I know what you’re thinking.  Aren’t Don Drysdale and Don Sutton HOFers that spent most of their careers with the Dodgers?  How can you possibly rank a 25-year-old ahead of those guys??  Well, part of my reasoning is just that – he’s only 25 years old!  Kershaw has accomplished more in the last three seasons than Drysdale or Sutton ever did in their best three seasons.  I’m not saying that Kershaw will necessarily end up with the better career, because he could fizzle fast, and be an also-ran. But, right now, he has to be considered one of the best to ever pitch for the Dodgers.  In the last three seasons, he has won two Cy Youngs (he & Koufax are the only Dodgers to win multiple), and finished 2nd the other year (to a guy who happened to have 20-wins, but a higher ERA, higher WHIP, and just one more strikeout).  He has led the league in ERA the last three consecutive years, WHIP the last three years, K’s two of the last three, appeared in 3 All-Star games, and won a Gold Glove (something neither Drysdale, Sutton OR Koufax ever accomplished).  He already ranks 3rd on the Dodgers’ all-time ERA list, among those with at least 1,000 innings (2.60), 7th in win pct. (.626), 1st in WHIP (1.09), 2nd in H/9 (6.83), 2nd in K/9 (9.2), 11th in K’s (1206 – and he’ll jump to 7th with even a below-average year in 2014, and everyone ahead of him will have at least 700 more innings pitched), 1st in K/BB ratio (3.07), and 1st in ERA+ (146 – including the 4th best ERA+ in a single season in Dodgers history with a 194 in 2013 – better than even Koufax’s best season).

D046337172.jpg4. Roy Campanella (’48-’57) – his MLB career was cut short due to segregation on the front end, and a career-ending car accident on the back end.  Campanella is often considered one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game.  He appeared in 8 consecutive All-Star games from ’49-’56.  His average season those years was a .281/.365/.516/.882 stat line with 28 HR and 94 RBI.  And, when you take into consideration he only averaged 129 games per season, those numbers are even more impressive.  He also was excellent behind the plate – throwing out an amazing 57% of baserunners in his career.  He led the league in CS% each of his first 5 seasons in the league.  Campy won an impressive 3 MVP awards in ’51, ’53, and ’55.  In his 10 seasons with the Dodgers, he helped them to 5 World Series appearances, though they only won 1.  He ranks 10th on the Dodgers’ all-time SLG list (.500 – including 3 of the top 18 seasons in Dodgers history the years he won MVPs), 11th in OPS (.860), 4th in HR (242 – with the 5th best AB/HR ratio at 17.4), 8th in RBI (856), and 12th in XBH (438).

jackie-robinson13. Jackie Robinson (’47-’56) – the problem with evaluating Robinson is that he was already 28 when he came into the league.  He had an immediate impact, leading the league in stolen bases 2 of the first 3 seasons he was in the league, winning the batting title in ’49, and winning Rookie of the Year in ’47 and MVP in ’49.  But, what might his career have looked like if he had come into the league at 23, instead of 28?  What if more of his prime athletic years would have been spent in the majors, rather than in the Negro Leagues and minors?  Who knows?  As it is, in just 10 seasons, he possesses 4 of the top 25 OBP seasons in Dodgers history (no one else has more than 2) – leading to a .409 career OBP (4th in Dodgers history – 11th best in baseball history for RH batter).  And, one of the most impressive things about that, is that he averaged just 29 strikeouts per season for his career!  He ranks 9th on the Dodgers’ All-Time OPS list (.883), 7th in runs scored (947), 12th in hits (1518 – but with far fewer PA’s than everyone ahead of him – his hits came at about the same rate as Snider), 11th in RBI (734), 6th in walks (740 – an especially impressive feat when you consider the pressure he was under), and 9th in runs created (951 – and everyone ahead of him has at least 1200 more PA’s – in fact, only Snider produced runs at a higher per-plate-appearance rate).

duke-snider-9175c36461fc6f982. Duke Snider (’47-’62) – because of where and when he played, Duke Snider is often overlooked as one of great players in baseball history.  Nearly his entire career he was playing 3rd-fiddle to the other two great centerfielders in New York – Mays & Mantle.  And, while he may rank behind them by comparison, he’s still one of the all-time greats in baseball, and is definitely the best position player to ever wear the Dodgers uniform.  He didn’t have Mays’ speed, so when Gold Gloves started being given out toward the end of his career (’57), he didn’t stand a chance – but, his .984 fielding percentage in CF is actually better than Mays’.  He may not have had Mantle’s raw power, but Snider still led the league in OPS twice, SLG twice, HR once, and total bases three times.  He may have never actually won the MVP, but he finished in the top 10 five times, including finishing runner-up to his own teammate in ’55 (Campy).  From ’49-’59 (his full seasons before injuries started limiting his playing time), Snider’s average stat line was .306/.387/.562/.949, with 32 HR and 102 RBI.  He owns 4 of the top 16 SLG seasons in Dodgers history (no one else has more than 2) – leading to a .553 career SLG (4th in Dodgers history).  He also possesses 3 of top 7 OPS seasons in franchise history – leading to a .936 career OPS (5th in Dodgers history).  He also ranks 3rd All-Time on the Dodgers’ runs scored list (1199), 4th in hits (1995), 2nd in total bases (3669 – just over 300 behind 1st place, in spite of having over 2100 fewer PA’s), 2nd in doubles (343), 6th in triples (82), 1st in HR (389), 1st in RBI (1271), 9th in OPS+ (142), and 2nd in runs created (1407).

sandy-koufax1. Sandy Koufax (’55-’66) – it’s a shame it took Koufax so long to get things figured out (he was a mediocre pitcher at best from ’55-’60, who couldn’t control his fastball, and nearly quit baseball after the ’60 season), and it was a real shame that arthritis in his pitching elbow ended his career at the young age of 30.  But, from ’61-’66, Koufax was the dominant pitcher of his era.  His average season was a 22-8 record (including a 14-7 injury-shortened ’62 season), 2.19 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 286 K’s, 9.4 K/9, and a 4.16 K/BB ratio.  He won 3 out of 4 Cy Young awards from ’63-’66, and probably would have won a 4th one, had the Cy Young been awarded one to each league, instead of one for all of baseball.  He led the league in ERA each of the last 5 seasons of his career, led the league in strikeouts 4 of his final 6 seasons (including setting the All-Time strikeout record in ’61, breaking it in ’63, and breaking it again in ’65, when he set the mark of 382 – still the 2nd most ever in a season), led the league in WHIP 4 of his final 5 seasons, led the league in wins 3 times, win pct. twice, K/9 six times, and K/BB ratio three times.  All in a six-year span.  Oh, and he also pitched 4 no-hitters, including a perfect game in September of ’65.  Among Dodger pitchers with at least 1000 IP, he ranks 4th in ERA (2.76), 5th in wins (165), 4th in win pct. (.655), 2nd in WHIP (1.11), 1st in H/9 (6.79), 1st in K/9 (9.28), 3rd in K’s (2396), 3rd in shutouts (40), 2nd in K/BB ratio (2.93), and 2nd in ERA+ (131).

That’s my list.  Yours might be entirely different for a franchise with as much history as this one.  What do you think?

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