Ron Cey in . . . The Franchise All-Time All-StarsJuly 1, 2008
Be warned: the following further installment of The All-Time Franchise All-Stars is both derivative and ill-informed, probably more so than the earlier installments, which were focused on teams, the Expos and Mets, that I know a little better than the team profiled here. Though I have, in an effort to retain some semblance of originality, lately avoided looking at Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups, which is a multi-acre amusement park compared to the tangled yo-yo of this ongoing feature, it’s a good bet that whatever I get right in my picks for the all-time teams of any franchise owes to earlier readings of that book.
But who knows, maybe all we can ever really claim as our own is what we get wrong. So on that capitulatory note, here’s how I see the Dodgers all-time team. (In parentheses after each player mentioned is their positional ranking, if available, from The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.) If it seems to you at any time that I’m in way over my head, please feel free to throw me a Dodger blue lifesaver.
C: Roy Campanella (3) or Mike Piazza (5)?
I’d be interested to see what Dodgers fans who watched Piazza every day have to say on this one. I’m following James and going with Campanella, even though Piazza’s offensive numbers in context seem decidedly better than Campanella’s. Piazza’s OPS+ is 159—second all-time on the Dodgers to the relatively brief-tenured Gary Sheffield—while Campanella’s OPS+ is 124. Campanella had the reputation of being a far better fielder than Piazza. He had a gun for an arm, I guess, but then again the era in which he played, the 1950s, featured a relative dearth of stolen base attempts, so the value of Campy’s cannon might be overrated. But then again, I believe these all-time teams should be assembled with the idea that their opponents will be formidable in every way, able to exploit any weakness. Since Campanella had no weaknesses, I’m going with him.
1B: Steve Garvey (31) or Gil Hodges (30)?
Speaking of the OPS+ stat, I was surprised to find that Garvey actually ranked slightly higher (122) than Hodges (120). This advantage would seem to pull Garvey into a virtual tie. So who does the tie go to? Should clubhouse chemistry be a factor in the naming of these teams? I think both were considered to be team leaders, but Garvey’s claim to this role eventually seemed to be of his own making, part of the unofficial smile-heavy Steve Garvey public relations campaign that began to crumble pretty garishly after his sun-drenched prime. On the other hand, Hodges certainly proved his leadership qualities when, after his own playing career ended, he led the Mets to the championship in 1969. But I don’t know, I still find myself wanting to go with Garvey. Maybe his being overrated while he was a player has caused him to be underrated now. Maybe his willingness to interact with the media, which seems to have at times prompted derisive smirking by his teammates, actually took pressure off those teammates. Maybe a guy who shields everyone else from the cameras can be a key element of a successful team. Maybe, just maybe, you kind of need a schmuck.
2B: Jackie Robinson (4)
The Dodgers’ all-time roster includes the pitcher who authored the most famous run of dominance by a starting pitcher in the history of the game (Sandy Koufax) and the pitcher who authored the most famous run of dominance by a relief pitcher in the history of the game (Eric Gagne). Joe Morgan’s run for the Reds in the mid-1970s would be a more well-known contender to a similar distinction among second-basemen, and I’m sure Rogers Hornsby has some astounding peak numbers, but as pointed out by Joe Posnanski recently, Jackie Robinson had his own stretch of dominant play that has to rank among the best burst of years any player has ever had. I don’t think Robinson is generally thought of in this way, as a player who at his peak was one of the more dominant players in baseball history.
SS: Pee Wee Reese (10)
Who’s second after Pee Wee? Bill Russell? Maury Wills?
3B: Ron Cey (16)
Speaking of bursts of dominance, one of my more vivid memories of following baseball in the 1970s was learning of Ron Cey’s spectacular month of power hitting. I believe it occurred in 1977, very early in the season. I heard about it on This Week in Baseball and read about it in Sports Illustrated. This funny-looking, funny-nicknamed guy was on pace to smash all records! He couldn’t keep up the pace, of course, but he ended up with another in a long line of very good seasons. Until Adrian Beltre came along, I don’t think there was any Dodger even within shouting distance of Ron Cey at third base (though I guess old-timers and Roger Kahn devotees would wax poetic over the defensive wizardry of Billy Cox).
LF: Zack Wheat (23)
Not for nothing, but I think this all-time Dodger team is shaping up to have the best collection of names of any all-time franchise team. Zack Wheat is the team leader in this respect, but you’ve got to love the relative preponderance of boyish names (Pee Wee, Sandy, Jackie), and any team with a guy named Duke gets extra points in this regard, too. Also, unless Ed Ott somehow wrestles his way onto the Pirates all-time team, the Dodgers will probably offer the shortest name of any all-franchise team member, Ron Cey, who of course was also known, perfectly, as the Penguin.
CF: Duke Snider (6)
The biggest no-brainer on this team?
RF: Pedro Guerrero (25)
Reggie Smith fans, have at it. My choice was based largely on Pedro’s considerably longer career with the Dodgers.
SP: Sandy Koufax (10)
Who fills in for Sandy on Yom Kippur? Drysdale? Dazzy? Fernando? Hershiser?
RP: Eric Gagne
The whispers about Gagne seemed to get confirmed with the inclusion of his name in the Mitchell Report. But the devaluing cloud over steroid era homer numbers seems to have yet to cast a shadow over Gagne’s prodigious feats with the Dodgers. I see this happening when Gagne is under consideration for the Hall of Fame, and I see him getting little support for that honor. I guess my opinion on that whole mess is not really an opinion at all but a surrender. Who the hell knows? We’ll never know. He kicked some ass though, huh?
Wild Card: Babe Herman? Pete Reiser? Tommy Lasorda? Vin Scully?
Here’s the toughest call for me. Do you go with Babe Herman, who epitomized the idea of Dodgers as lovable Bums? Do you go with Pete Reiser, who speaks most eloquently to the nostalgic glow of the vanished Brooklyn era? Do you go with Tommy Lasorda, who bridges Brooklyn (as a lousy pitcher) and Los Angeles (as a highly successful manager)? But then again if the wild card rules are going to be stretched to allow Lasorda, whose significance to the team is as a non-player, then I’d much rather vote for the great Vin Scully.