Los Angeles Dodgers (1958-Present)
Brooklyn Dodgers (1884-1957)
Also Known as the Brooklyn Robins, Brooklyn Superbas, Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers, Brooklyn Bridegrooms, Brooklyn Grooms, Brooklyn Grays, Brooklyn Atlantics
American Association (1884-1889)
National League (1890-Present)
American Association Champion: 1889
National League Champion: 1890, 1899, 1900, 1916, 1920, 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1959, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1988, 2017, 2018
World Championship Series Champion: 1890
World Series Champion: 1955, 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981, 1988
The two most important figures in Dodger history are Branch Rickey and Walter O’Malley. Rickey for launching the Dodgers’ massive minor league system, and then steadfastly making sure his “Great Experiment” would succeed. O’Malley, even though he forced Rickey out in 1950, continued the player development strategy Rickey employed, and had the foresight to move the franchise to Los Angeles in 1958.
It all started in Brooklyn in the 1850s with the forming of two amateur baseball powerhouses representing Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Excelsiors and the Brooklyn Atlantics. By the 1860s the Atlantics became the premier amateur club in the nation. They won 8 National Amateur Association Titles between 1857 and 1869. 1869 is the year Harry Wright’s Cincinnati Red Stockings became Baseball’s first professional team, the Brooklyn Atlantics quickly followed. In 1870, the Atlantics famously ended Cincinnati’s 81 game winning streak, handing the previously undefeated Red Stockings their first loss, 8-7 in 11 innings. The Atlantics were not an original member of the National Association of Professional Baseball Players when it opened in 1871, but joined the league in its second year and remained until the dissolution of the league in 1875. In 1875 Brooklyn wasn’t competitive in the Association, going 2-42 for the season. They were not invited to join the new National League.
The team was reformed in 1884 and entered the American Association as the Brooklyn Atlantics. They quickly changed their name to the Bridegrooms, then the Superbas, then the Robins, and finally, due to the fact that their fans needed to dodge trolley cars on their way to the games, the Trolley Dodgers. This name, of course, was soon shortened to the Dodgers. That reformed franchise is now the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Brooklyn struggled in their first few seasons in the American Association, but rebounded late in the decade to capture the American Association pennant in 1889. This led to an invitation to join the National League in 1890, which they accepted.
Brooklyn would be the last franchise created that would survive the National League consolidation from twelve teams to eight after the 1899 season. Beginning in 1900 the National League would consist of franchises representing Cincinnati, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, and Brooklyn until Boston left for Milwaukee in 1953. These eight are the only remaining Major League clubs started in the 19th century.
Brooklyn would enter their new league with a bang, winning the National League Championship in their first year. Later in the decade Ned Hanlon would guide them to back to back pennants in 1899 and 1900. Despite their impressive start, the next 40 years would not be kind to Brooklyn fans. They became one of the weaker teams in the league through the 1930s, earning their beloved nickname “dem bums”.
The hiring of Branch Rickey as club president in 1942 was the key turning point in the history of the franchise. He immediately began to build a Dodger Farm system that would become the envy of the baseball world. Then in 1946 he initiated his “great experiment” when he signed Negro League star Jackie Robinson to a Major League contract. Robinson’s success led to the signing of Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. Those three would be the heart of the Dodger dynasty that would win six National League Championships between 1947 and 1956.
Rickey, along with James Mulvey, John L. Smith, and Walter O’Malley, obtained 25% ownership of the Dodgers in 1945. The death of part owner John L. Smith in 1950 caused a power struggle within the organization between Rickey and Walter O’Malley. O’Malley won the battle and forced Rickey to sell his interest in the team. O’Malley was a shrewd businessman, wisely continuing Rickey’s investment in player development, then convincing Giant owner Horace Stoneman to abandon New York City and move with him to California in 1958. The O’Malley family would own the Dodgers until 1997. Today the Dodgers rival the New York Yankees as the most valuable franchise in professional sports.
[Just a note before you get to far of the bias of the writers of this piece. We are huge Dodger Fans. The Dodgers are our favorite sports team, and in particular, the 1960s Koufax, Drysdale teams have a special place in our hearts. We hope this loyalty has not influenced our choices, but feel the reader is the best one to make that judgement. Read about that love here.]
Three time National League MVP Roy Campanella (1948-1957) over fellow Hall of Fame member Mike Piazza (1992-1998). Piazza is the best offensive player in history who’s primarily position was catcher, but his defense was not good. Also, he divided his best years between the Dodgers and the New York Mets. Campanella was a great defensive catcher who drove in as many as 142 runs and hit 30 or more home runs four times. His three National League MVPs speak for themselves. An easy pick. (Read our story of Campanella’s most dramatic game here).
This is the toughest choice in the article. The choice between Gil Hodges (1943-1961) and Steve Garvey (1969-1982) is very close. Both players were extremely consistent contributors to very successful teams, Hodges in the 1940s and 1950s and Garvey in the 1970s and 1980s. Hodges drove in over 100 runs seven times, a feat Garvey achieved five times. Hodges’ offensive statistics are better than Garvey’s, but Hodges played most of his career in run friendly Ebbets Field, while Garvey’s home park was the pitcher’s paradise, Dodger Stadium. Both were very good defensive first basemen, with a slight edge to Garvey. Garvey was probably the third best player on the Dodgers during the 1970s (behind Ron Cey and Don Sutton), Hodges was somewhere between the 5th and 8th best player on the 1950s “Boys of Summer” (behind Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, and Pee Wee Reese. He was about even with Junior Gilliam, Don Newcombe, and Carl Furillo). Hodges played on an impressive eight teams that won the National League Pennant, and three that went on to win the World Series. Garvey’s Dodgers teams “only” won four pennants and one World Series. While active, Garvey was viewed as the more valuable performer. He won a National League MVP in 1974, and finished in the top six another four times. Hodges never finished in the top six, the highest, a 7th, in 1957. Of course after their playing careers ended their reputations took completely different courses. Hodges managed the “Miracle Mets” to the World Championship in 1969, then died suddenly in 1972 at age 47 of a massive heart attack, while Garvey’s reputation was destroyed by revelations that his public perception was a complete fraud. Bill James doesn’t help us much; rating Hodges as the 30th best first baseman of all time, and Garvey 31st. It’s really just a pick-em.
Jackie Robinson (1947-1956), as a baseball player, is very underrated. What folks don’t realize about Robinson is that he was almost two years older than Stan Musial. Jackie was 28 years old when he made his Major League debut in 1947. Musial had already won 2 of his three MVP Awards before Robinson was allowed in the League. Since most players peak between age 26 and 28, Robinson’s entire big league career was on the down side of his production. Give him the seven seasons when he was not allowed to compete, and Musial was (Musial was 20 years old when he debuted in 1941), and there’s a good chance that Jackie Robinson would today be considered a better player than Stan Musial. Being better than Stan Musial is the definition of greatness.
As successful as the Dodgers have been, especially since the hiring of Branch Rickey in 1942, it’s amazing how much trouble they’ve had coming up with quality third basemen. The exception to that is the development of Ron Cey (1971-1982). Cey was probably the best of the Dodger’s famous infield that stayed together from 1973-1981, a group that was primarily responsible for four National League Pennants and a World Series Title in 1981. Just so you know the struggles the Dodgers’ have had at third base: the second best third baseman in Dodger History was also the second best second baseman in Dodger history, Jim “Junior” Gilliam (1953-1966).
It comes down to Harold “Pee Wee” Reese (1940-1958) and Maury Wills (1959-1966, 1969-1972). Reese is in the Hall of Fame and Wills isn’t, but Wills won a MVP Award in 1962, while Reese never finished better than 5th in the voting. Both were very effective leadoff men, who were excellent with the glove. Reese is in the middle of the pack for Hall of Fame Shortstops. Wills is still on the outside looking in. It’s not a mismatch, but we think the Hall of Fame got it right. Reese was a little better than Wills.
Left Field: the greatest player in Dodger history before the hiring of Branch Rickey was Zack Wheat (1909-1926). An easy choice in left field.
Edwin “Duke” Snider (1947-1962) is one of the ten best center fielders in baseball history. and clearly the top Dodger who played the position. The only unknown is whether the next best Dodger center fielder, Willie Davis (1960-1973), is better than the best right fielder…
…Pedro Guerrero (1978-1988). If he is we’ll move Edwin “Duke” Snider (1947-1962) to right and leave the better defensive player, Davis, in center. Guerrero was a devastating offensive player who was moved around on defense so often that he wasn’t good anywhere. Davis was a Gold Glove in center whose offensive numbers were destroyed by his home ballpark. Davis averaged 148 games in his 13 years as a Dodger regular, while Guerrero averaged only 129 in his six year stint in the Dodger line up. Davis played more than 900 more games as a Dodger than did Guerrero, 1,952 to 1,036. That settles it, Davis was a more valuable Dodger.
Rating the Dodger pitchers is not easy. #1 is obvious, but after that you have seven basically even candidates for three spots. We’ll start with the three Dons. Don Sutton (1966-1980, 1988) has more pitching wins (233) as a Dodger than anyone else. The problem with Sutton, despite his membership in the Hall of Fame, is he was never the best pitcher in the league, and rarely even the ace of his Dodger pitching staff. He was just a very good pitcher for many years. Don Newcombe (1949-1958) is the complete opposite of Sutton. He had big years, going 20-9 in 1951, then serving two years in the U.S. Army, returning to go 20-5 in 1955 and 27-7 in 1956, winning both the Cy Young Award and the National League MVP. His career was extremely short, winning only 123 games for the Dodgers. Don Drysdale (1956-1969) also won a Cy Young Award when he won 25 games in 1962. He’s second in Dodger history with 209 wins. He was a key member of five National League Champion Teams, and three World Series winners. William “Brickyard” Kennedy (1892-1901) won 20 or more games four times for Brooklyn, including 1899 and 1900 when the Bridegrooms won back to back NL Championships. Burleigh Grimes (1918-1926), the last pitcher permitted to use the spitball, topped 20 wins four times during the 1920s, when he teamed with Clarence “Dazzy” Vance to form a formidable one, two punch. Vance won the pitching triple crown in 1924 with 28 wins, a 2.16 ERA and 262 strikeouts. The first of his three 20 win seasons. Both Grimes and Vance are in the Hall of Fame. The last to be considered is Clayton Kershaw (2008-Present). From 2011 to 2017 Kershaw was simply the best pitcher in baseball. His problem is he has trouble staying healthy, which has limited him to only 153 wins in his eleven year career. Sorting them out the best we can, with only the #1 spot, Sandy Koufax (1955-1966), being certain, here’s our order; #2 Clayton Kershaw (2008-Present), #3 Don Drysdale (1956-1969), #4 Clarence “Dazzy” Vance (1922-1932, 1935).
The Dodgers have been fortunate to have had five different Hall of Fame managers lead them to National League Championships. Studying these five men will give a clear picture of who the best one was. Ned Hanlon (1899-1905) led the franchise to back to back National League Titles in 1899 and 1900. The next was Wilbert Robinson (1914-1931), who was the catcher for the Baltimore Orioles when they won three pennants for Ned Hanlon in the 1890s. Robinson won two NL Championships, in 1916 and 1920, but overall was only two games over .500. The next pennant had to wait until 1941 when Leo Durocher (1939-1946, 1948) was in charge. Brooklyn won 100 games that year, but lost the World Series to the hated Yankees. Walter Alston (1954-1976) was a surprise selection to guide the Dodgers in 1954. He would go on to win seven National League Pennants and four World Series in his 23 year reign. He was replaced by Tommy Lasorda (1976-1996) who won pennants in 1977, 1978, 1981 and 1988. Lasorda’s team won the World Series in 1981 and 1988. Dave Roberts has gotten off to a great start to his Dodger Manager reign, winning four National League West Titles and two National Pennants in his four seasons. It’s obviously too early to vault him as a Hall of Fame candidate. He has a long way to go to match the success of Walter Alston (1954-1976); whose record is clearly the best of the group. His four World Series wins is the most all time for a National League Skipper.
As storied as the Dodger franchise has been, it is amazing how nobody is the obvious face of the franchise. No player, primarily associated with the Dodgers, is even in the discussion as the greatest at his position. We would find it difficult to put any of the above choices as one of the 50 greatest players of all time. Maybe Jackie Robinson. If there is a face to the Dodgers, it’s probably Robinson. But to make Jackie the MVP of the Dodgers we have to give him credit for years he wasn’t allowed to play. He won a well deserved MVP in 1949, and was one of the best players in baseball until 1954, but he was never the best player in baseball. His teammate Roy Campanella won three MVP Awards while anchoring the team from behind the plate. The problem with naming Campanella is we’re not sure he was the best player on his own team. Robinson or Duke Snider can also claim that distinction. Zack Wheat was the best player on his Dodger teams in the 1910s and 1920s. He holds many Dodger records; Games Played, At Bats, Hits, Doubles, Triples, and Total Bases. He is 2nd in Runs scored, 3rd in RBI, and 4th in Batting average (.317). But again, nobody ever considered him the most valuable player in baseball.
That brings us to Sandy Koufax.The height Sandy Koufax reached from 1963 to 1966 is higher than any other Dodger. Not only that, but his effect on the team’s success is also unprecedented. The Dodgers were in complete control of the 1962 National League Pennant race when Koufax, who was 14-5 at the time, went down with a circulation problem in his pitching hand which prevented him from winning another game. The Dodgers blew the pennant to the Giants. He went 25-5, in 1963 and the Dodgers won the World Series. He was 19-5 in 1964 when his season came to an end on August 19th due to arthritis in his left arm, the Dodgers finished 6th. 1965 saw him go 26-8, win his second pitching triple crown, and the Dodgers won another World Series. He went 27-9 in 1966, winning his third pitching triple crown in four years. The Dodgers won the National League again, but would be swept in the World Series by the Baltimore Orioles. Just to put Koufax’ impact on the Dodger’s three National League Championships between 1963 and 1966 in proper perspective. If we replace Koufax with the second best pitcher of his generation, Bob Gibson (who is one month older than Sandy), the Dodgers lose all three races. Gibson went 18-9 in 1963, 20-12 in 1965 and 21-12 in 1966. 7 games worse than Koufax in 1963 (Dodgers won by 6), 6 games behind Sandy in 1965 (Dodgers won by 2), and again 6 games behind him in 1966 (Dodgers won by 1 1/2). Koufax then suddenly retired at age 30. The Dodgers slumped to 8th in 1967. He was National League MVP in 1963, finished second in the voting in 1965 and 1966, was a unanimous choice as the Cy Young Award winner three times, and was World Series MVP twice. His impact on the Dodgers’ success is indisputable.