September 13, 1925 – Right-hander Dazzy Vance, the Brooklyn ace who took a unique route to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, pitched a no-hitter against the Phillies only five days after one-hitting them. Back in 1920, Arthur “Dazzy” Vance, a minor league journeyman, accidentally banged his arm on a table during a poker game. The next morning, still inexplicably in pain, he went to the doctor. The diagnosis was an elbow injury that had gone undetected. Vance underwent an elbow surgery that likely relieved the right-hander of bone chips and other loose fragments in his elbow, and at age 29, he suddenly regained his fastball. But Vance needed one more break to begin his epic journey with the Brooklyn Dodgers. After winning 21 games in 1921 at Class A New Orleans, Vance was offered to Brooklyn in a package deal with highly regarded catcher Hank DeBerry. Dodger Owner Charles Ebbets wanted DeBerry, but he balked at Vance, who owned a lifetime 0-4 Major League record in previous failed auditions with the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Brooklyn scout Larry Sutton pleaded with Ebbets after hearing DeBerry rave about Vance’s talent. Ebbets relented, and Vance earned a spot in the starting rotation the following spring. For the next seven seasons, Vance led the National League in strikeouts. His fashion trademark was an old undershirt with a tattered right sleeve. Opponents complained about the distracting flannel strips flapping behind his fastball, but Vance claimed it was his “lucky shirt” from New Orleans. The league president couldn’t find a rule against tattered shirts, so Vance kept wearing it. Vance continued pitching in the Majors until age 44. He won 197 games and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955.
September 12, 1947 – With 13 games remaining in the regular season, The Sporting News named Brooklyn first baseman Jackie Robinson the “Rookie of the Year.” Sporting News publisher wrote that Robinson’s selection was based on his “baseball values.” “That Jack Roosevelt Robinson might have had more obstacles than his first-year competitors, and that he perhaps had a harder fight to gain even major league recognition, was no concern of this publication,” J.C. Taylor Spink wrote. “The sociological experiment that Robinson represented, the trail-blazing that he did, the barriers he broke down, did not enter into the decision. He was rated and examined solely as a freshman player in the big leagues – on the basis of his running, his defensive play, his team value.”
On this date in 1965, Sandy Koufax strikes out 14, including the final six batters he faces, in his perfect game and 1-0 victory against the Chicago Cubs at Dodger Stadium. After Joe Amalfitano fanned for the second out of the ninth inning, he walked toward the dugout and crossed paths with Harvey Kuenn, who told Amalfitano, “I’ll be right back.”
It remains the only perfect game by a Dodger pitcher and nearly was a double no-hitter because Cubs left-hander Bob Hendley allowed just two baserunners – both Lou Johnson, who walked in the fifth and blooped a double to right field in the seventh. Johnson scored in the fifth inning on a sacrifice bunt, stolen base and throwing error.
On this date in 2001, Shawn Green broke the Dodger single-season home run record with his 44th against the St. Louis Cardinals. The previous mark was held by Brooklyn’s Duke Snider, who hit 43 in 1956. Green set the franchise record with 49 home runs in 2001. On September 26, Green didn’t play for the first time in 415 consecutive games to honor the most significant holiday on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. He donated his day’s pay to a charity for survivors of the New York 9/11 terrorist attacks.
On this date in 1996, Brett Butler returned for his first game since being diagnosed with cancer on May 6. Batting leadoff and playing center field, Butler hit a single in three at-bats and stole a base in a 2-1 victory over the Pirates at Dodger Stadium. Butler underwent surgery and treatment during the summer to combat a rare type of cancer that involved his tonsils. Butler appeared in 763 games with Los Angeles between 1991-1997 and compiled a .298 batting average in 763 games with 14 home runs, 191 RBI and 179 stolen bases.
Steve Bilko had been a popular first baseman in the Pacific Coast League with the Los Angeles Angels prior to joining the Dodgers in 1958. The television character “Sgt. Bilko,” played by actor Phil Silvers, was named after Bilko because he was the favorite player of series-creator Nat Hiken. Other Dodgers would influence TV and film characters. The “Herbie the Love Bug” car was No. 53 because one of the producers was a Don Drysdale fan. And Agent Scully in the “X-Files” was named after Vin Scully. The “John Doggett” agent added to the X-Files was in honor of Scully’s longtime broadcasting partner, Jerry Doggett.
On September 4, 1966, the Dodgers became the first MLB team to draw more than two million fans at home and on the road in the same season. The Dodgers were defending World Champions with Hall of Fame pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale leading L.A. in another close pennant race. Los Angeles won the 1966 pennant on the final day of the regular season. The Dodgers in 1978 would become the first MLB franchise to surpass the three-million mark in home attendance.
After missing two games with the flu, first baseman Steve Garvey returned to the lineup on Sept. 3, 1975 and began his National League streak of 1,207 consecutive games, which ranks fourth all-time on the MLB list behind Cal Ripken Jr. (2,632), Lou Gehrig (2,130) and Everett Scott (1,307). Garvey played in 1,107 of the 1,207 games as a Dodger and 100 with the San Diego Padres. Garvey was the Dodgers’ Opening Day third baseman in 1970 and 1971, but his throwing errors made him a pinch-hitter by 1973. His Dodger career at the crossroads, Garvey’s big break occurred when outfielder Von Joshua broke his hand and manager Walter Alston asked Bill Buckner if he would switch from first base to left field. Buckner agreed and Garvey started his first game with infielders Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey on June 23. The quartet spent a record 8 1/2 seasons together through the 1981 World Series.
When the Dodgers lost the NL West title by one game to the Atlanta Braves in 1982, the teams again jockeyed for position the following summer with high-profile trades involving American League pitchers. The Dodgers, trailing by 3 1/2 games on August 19, acquired left-hander Rick Honeycutt from the Texas Rangers in exchange for pitchers Dave Stewart and Ricky Wright. Honeycutt was 14-8 with a 2.42 ERA with Texas (his 174.2 innings were enough to qualify for the A.L. ERA title). Honeycutt won his first two starts on August 21 and 27, allowing just one run in 16 innings.
On the day after Honeycutt’s second start with the Dodgers, the Braves traded for pitcher Len Barker from the Cleveland Indians. At the time, the Dodgers trailed the Braves by just one-half game. In 24 games with the 1983 Indians, Barker was 8-13 with a 5.11 ERA, but his track record included a 19-win season with Cleveland in 1980, a perfect game in 1982 and 15 wins in 1982. In six starts with the Braves, Barker went 1-3 with a 3.82 ERA.
After the Barker trade, Honeycutt went 0-3 with a 9.97 ERA in six September appearances. The Dodgers clinched the division title on September 30 in Game No. 160 and finished three games ahead of the Braves.
Tommy 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.”