With baseball pitchers and catchers reporting in a few days for spring training, it’s Ron’s turn. Houston Mitchell of the Los Angeles Times recently ran an on-line poll for folks to submit their lists of the all-time greatest Dodgers, whether players or otherwise, Brooklyn or Los Angeles. Herewith, Ron’s ballot as a life-long fan of Da Bums.
10) Harold Henry “Pee Wee” Reese got his nickname as a childhood marbles champion, plus being the smallest guy on the field. Playing 1940-58, except for three years of WWII service, he was the Dodgers’ captain in the 1950s and a ten-time all-star. He was also a mentor for Jackie Robinson, even though at first it seemed Robinson might replace him at shortstop. This Hall-of-Famer gets the nod over a dozen great Dodgers for tenth.
9) Walter Alston: “The Quiet Man” had only one at-bat in the majors in 1936, but became the Dodgers’ manager in 1954 and signed 23 one-year contracts with them, retiring after 1976. He skippered their first World Series title in 1955 and three others after they moved to LA. Six-time manager of the year, 2040 career wins, and the Hall of Fame.
8) Don Drysdale: A nine-time all-star pitcher and HOFer who won 209 games in 1956-1969, the 6’5” right-hander teamed with Sandy Koufax to give the Dodgers the best one-two punch in baseball in 1961-66. Due to his size and willingness to throw the brushback, his blazing side-arm delivery was intimidating. He still holds the National League record for most hit batsmen (154).
7) Clayton Kershaw: The best pitcher in baseball since 2008, the lefty has racked up numerous remarkable career and annual records. Except that he and other current pitchers typically only log six innings per start, he might challenge Sandy Koufax as the team’s best pitcher ever. (Koufax and Drysdale pitched many more innings per year.)
6) Edwin D. “Duke” Snider: Dodgers’ best hitter for most of his 1947-62 tenure. Honest New Yorkers in 1952-54 counted him their best centerfielder, ahead of new guys Mantle and Mays. The HOFer led Da Bums to six World Series. A gifted all-around athlete and later minor Hollywood actor and sportscaster, “The Silver Fox” was very popular.
5) Roy Campanella: In 1946, “Campy” broke the color barrier in the minor leagues as a player and then as a manager. Cheerful and popular, he played in every major league all-star game in 1949-56. He won the NL Most Valuable Player award in 1951, 1953 and 1955. The HOFer’s career was ended by a paralyzing 1958 auto accident, so he never got to play in LA.
4) Branch Rickey: A lawyer, his playing career was interrupted in 1908-09 by tuberculosis; he managed in 1913-15 and 1919-25; and then became baseball’s greatest executive. In 1919-42, he built the modern farm system for the Cardinals and pioneered many other innovations. He was Dodger General Manager in 1943-50, breaking the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson; also the first Hispanic superstar, Roberto Clemente.
3) Vin Scully: The greatest baseball broadcaster ever, calling Dodger games from 1950 to 2016! I wrote extensively about him in another column, noting he also excelled at other sportscasting and had the most pleasant, personable and best-informed delivery.
2) Jackie Robinson: Everyone knows this four-sport star athlete as the player who broke the major league color barrier in 1947 and for the toll that experience exacted on him. He was also a truly great player: In 1949-53, he tied the legendary Stan Musial as the best player in the game. (Ted Williams missed two of those years for military service.) Like Rickey and the others on this list, a real man.
1) Sandy Koufax: Arguably the greatest pitcher ever during 1961-66, when starters were expected to finish the game. Sports Illustrated’s favorite athlete of the 20th century, he left it all out there on the mound and had to retire at 30 having thrown his arm away for the team.
When Mitchell compiles the results of 8,323 ballots, we’ll report them.