July 2012

The Olympics

ImageTommy Lasorda travels around the United States with the Hall of Fame ring he received after a successful 20-year reign as manager of the Dodgers. But his most popular baseball stories don’t center on the rookie season of Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 or the Orel Hershiser-Kirk Gibson tandem that keyed a championshp in 1988.

Instead, Lasorda captivates crowds with tales from the 2000 Olympics in Australia when Team USA defetaed Cuba, 4-0, in the gold-medal game. It was four years after Lasorda had retired and hardly anyone gave Lasorda and his unheralded roster a chance against the powerful Cuban national team, which had only one loss in previous Olympics competition.

Right-hander Ben Sheets earned the starting assignment for Team USA in the championship game. As a young prospect with the Milwaukee Brewers, Sheets was supposed to be on a pitch count. But with a shutout in the late innings, Lasorda wasn’t going to take chances with the bullpen. The triumph remains the highlight of Lasorda’s baseball career.

“This is bigger than the World Series,” Lasorda said. “I’ve managed four World Series, and when the Dodgers have won, the Dodger fans were happy, but the Cincinnati fans weren’t, the San Francisco fans weren’t. But with this baseball team, the United States of America is happy.”

Rookies of the Year

Hanley Ramirez is the 14th former Rookie of the Year acquired by the Dodgers. The others are: Wally Moon (1954 Cardinals), Frank Robinson (1956 Reds), Dick Allen (1964 Phillies), Pat Zachry (1976 Reds), Eddie Murray (1977 Orioles), Alfredo Griffin (1979 Blue Jays), Darryl Strawberry (1983 Mets), Todd Worrell (1986 Cardinals), Gregg Olson (1989 Orioles), Sandy Alomar Jr. (1990 Indians), Nomar Garciaparra (1997 Red Sox), Rafael Furcal (2000 Braves), Angel Berroa (2003 Royals). Tommie Agee (1966 White Sox) was a non-roster player during spring training in 1974 but didn’t make the team.

The Dodgers have won the award a record 16 times: Jackie Robinson (1947), Don Newcombe (1949), Joe Black (1952), Jim Gilliam (1953), Frank Howard (1960), Jim Lefebvre (1965), Ted Sizemore (1969), Rick Sutcliffe (1979), Steve Howe (1980), Fernando Valenzuela (1981), Steve Sax (1982), Eric Karros (1992), Mike Piazza (1993), Raul Mondesi (1994), Hideo Nomo (1995) and Todd Hollandsworth (1996).

Center fielder Sam Jethroe was a member of the Dodgers’ Triple-A Montreal team when traded after the 1949 season to the Boston Braves. Jethroe won top rookie honors with the Braves in 1950.

Gil Hodges and the Hall of Fame

“I can’t understand why Gil Hodges isn’t in the Hall of Fame.”

Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully doesn’t stand on a soapbox when discussing the merits of longtime Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman who later won a World Series as manager of the 1969 New York “Miracle” Mets. He doesn’t cite Hodges’ 370 career home runs, which by 1962 ranked second all-time for right-handed hitters behind Jimmie Foxx. The case of Hodges and the Hall of Fame is an example of “out of sight, out of mind.” Hodges passed away on April 2, 1972, two days shy of his 48th birthday. His death due to a massive heart attack occurred at the end of a round of golf with his Mets coaching staff in spring training.

For election to the Hall of Fame, a candidate must receive at least 75 percent of the ballots cast that particular year. The panel during Hodges’ candidacy from 1969-83. A player could remain on the ballot for 15 years. Anyone receiving less than five percent was removed from the following year’s ballot. The voting in Hodges’ era was exclusively conducted by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

From 1970-83, every player who finished ahead of Hodges in the balloting eventually was elected to the Hall of Fame. Those elected to the Hall from 1970-83 were: Lou Boudreau, Sandy Koufax, Yogi Berra, Early Wynn, Warren Spahn, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Ralph Kiner, Robin Roberts, Bob Lemon, Ernie Banks, Eddie Mathews, Willie Mays, Al Kaline, Duke Snider, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Juan Marichal. Johnny Mize and Enos Slaughter, who finished behind Hodges in the 1970 and 1971 HOF elections when Hodges was still alive, were lated added to Cooperstown by the Veteran’s Committee.

At the time of his of his death, Hodges had appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot four times – 1969 (14th place, 24.1 percent); 1970 (third, 48.3); 1971 (fourth, 50.0), and 1972 (fifth, 40.7). He gained 17 percent in 1973, but finished fourth behind Spahn (83.2), Ford (67.1) and Kiner (61.8).

Although Hodges was always among the leaders in votes received, his percentage never came close to the required 75 percent. He twice hit 60.1 percent when finishing third in 1976 and third in 1981. His biggest percentage during his final year of eligibility (63.4) in 1983 produced only a seventh-place finish behind Brooks Robinson (92.0), Marichal (83.7), Harmon Killebrew (71.9), Luis Aparacio (67.4), Hoyt Wilhelm (65.0) and Don Drysdale (64.7).

Hodges and Snider were teammates on Dodger pennant-winning seasons in 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956 and 1959. Hodges’ final year as a player was 1963; Snider’s was 1964. Players must be retired at least five years before appearing on a HOF ballot, so Hodges was one year ahead of Snider. From 1970-76, Hodges finished ahead of Snider in the balloting. The 1973 results for Hodges (57.4 percent) and Snider (21.2) changed dramatically by 1978, the first year Snider (67.0) finished ahead of Hodges (59.6). Snider’s 86.5 percent was enough for election in 1980, while Hodges (59.7) finished fourth behind Kaline (88.3), Snider, and Drysdale (53.9).

If there is a hurdle for the Hodges’ cause, it might be voters might believe there is “enough” representation from the fabled Boys of Summer era from Ebbets Field – Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Duke Snider, owner Walter O’Malley, broadcasters Red Barber and Vin Scully. And the passage of time means dwindling numbers of those voters who actually saw Hodges as a player or a manager. But Hodges remains a worthy candidate, and his uniform No. 14 was retired by the Mets in 1973.

Dodger All-Stars

Random Dodger All-Star notes from Brooklyn and Los Angeles:

— The first Major League All-Star Game was played at Chicago’s Comiskey Park on July 6, 1933. The lone Brooklyn Dodger player representative was infielder Tony Cuccinello. Dodger manager Max Carey served as a coach.

— The last hurrah of the Larry MacPhail Era occurred during the 1942 All-Star Game when Dodger manager Leo Durocher’s N.L. roster included seven Brooklyn players: Billy Herman, Joe Medwick, Mickey Owen, Pee Wee Reese, Pete Reiser, Arky Vaughan and Whit Wyatt. MacPhail, as Dodger team president, rescued the franchise from bankruptcy during his tenure beginning in 1938 when he borrowed money to purchase players and make improvements to Ebbets Field. The Dodgers were National League champs in 1941, but World War II eventually depleted the roster and the St. Louis Cardinals would win titles in 1942, 1944 and 1946.

— Jackie Robinson became a N.L. Al-Star for the first time during his MVP season in 1949. The 1949 game was the only ASG played at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. Robinson was joined by catcher Roy Campanella and rookie pitcher Don Newcombe.

— There were two All-Star Games played each season from 1959-62. The expanded ASG schedule in 1959 gave the Majors a chance to host the Mid-Summer Classic in the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum on August 3. A crowd of 55,105 watched the American League win, 5-3. Pitcher Don Drysdale and left fielder Wally Moon were in the N.L. starting lineup.

— In 1974, Steve Garvey became only the second player to be elected to the All-Star team as a “write-in” candidate, joining Atlanta’s Rico Carty in 1970. Garvey was named MVP of the 1974 ASG. In 1975, Garvey and Jimmy Wynn became the first teammates in ASG history to hit back-to-back home runs.

— In 1998, reliever Jeff Shaw became the first player to make his debut for a new team at the All-Star Game. Shaw had been traded by the Cincinnati Reds to Los Angeles during the final weekend before the All-Star break. Shaw reported to the All-Star Game and wore a Dodgers jersey, even though he had not yet played for Los Angeles.

Photo: Brooklyn representatives on the 1934 N.L. All-Star team included catcher Al Lopez, pitcher Van Mungo and manager Casey Stengel, who was a coach on manager Bill Terry’s staff.

Big Red Machine

The phrase “National League West” rivals fades with each passing decade, but in the 1970s the Cincinnati Reds and Dodgers dominated the competition after Major League Baseball adopted division play in 1969. The Reds won the division six times (1970, 72-73, 75-76, 79) while the Dodgers won three times (1974, 77, 78). The lone exception was the 1971 San Francisco Giants, which edged the Dodgers by one game.

Los Angeles sportswriter Bob Hunter coined the nickname “Big Red Machine” in 1969 and the next season the Reds were rolling to the N.L. pennant under rookie manager Sparky Anderson. When Tommy Lasorda was hired as Dodgers manager at the end of the 1976 season, the Reds were on their way to a second consecutive World Series title. Lasorda’s “bleeding Dodger blue” speeches were used for motivation within the organization, but the Reds represented his biggest challenge.

Prior to the 1977 season, Lasorda announced the days of Cincinnati’s dynasty were over. General manager Al Campanis was surprised to hear such bold talk from a rookie manager, but Lasorda was convinced he had to lead by example and challenge Anderson, who was a teammate with the 1957 Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. “We were friends before, but that had to end because of the Dodgers-Reds rivalry,” Lasorda said. “My job was to win.”

The Reds fired Anderson after the 1978 season, but he enjoyed a second career in the American League with the Detroit Tigers from 1979-1995, including a championship in 1984. Lasorda and Anderson remained friendly over the years until Sparky’s passing at age 76 in 2010.