Bill Russell with Walter Alston

If you have any sense of Los Angeles Dodger history (and if you don’t, click here!), you know about the iron man.

Steve Garvey played in every game the Dodgers had from 1976 through 1982 — 1,083 in all, and except for eight pinch-hitting appearances, all at his favored position of first base. At his durability peak in 1976, Garvey played in 1,464 2/3 innings, or all but six innings the Dodgers played that year.

Surprisingly, that 1976 season didn’t make Garvey the Dodgers’ all-time single-season innings leader. In a largely forgotten but rather astonishing 1973 season, Bill Russell was on the field at shortstop for every single out the Dodgers made except for four of them.

Playing at fair territory’s most challenging defensive position, Russell logged 1,489 2/3 innings and 160 complete games, both franchise records. He left only two games early:

  • On April 7, in the Dodgers’ second game of the season, Russell gave way in the top of the ninth inning to pinch-hitter Von Joshua, who hit a game-tying RBI single. Davey Lopes, who scored the tying run as a pinch-runner, went to shortstop for the first time in his MLB career in the bottom of the ninth, which lasted only two batters before Jerry Morales hit a walkoff homer against Dodger reliever Jim Brewer.
  • On July 21, Russell took a breather in the bottom of the eighth inning of an 8-1 loss at St. Louis, missing the Cardinals’ final three outs in what I expect was a steamy summer’s evening on the Busch Stadium astroturf.

That was it. Russell, who racked up 163 hits but only had a .301 on-base percentage in 1973, played in 99.9 percent of the Dodgers’ innings at short that year.

If those are the iron men, let me introduce you to (pause to Google most flexible metals in the world) the graphene men.

This year, the Dodgers are heading for a couple of unprecedented fielding events that underscores the team’s unusual versatility. For the first time in a 162-game season, there might not be a single Dodger to play even 1,000 innings at a single position — remarkable considering that the team will play close to 1,500. And, their leader in innings at one position — also for the first time since at least 1962 — might be a catcher.

Yasmani Grandal is the unexpected chart-topper, not the least because he had seemingly lost his starting job to Austin Barnes in the 2017 postseason. But Barnes’ offense has disappeared so far in 2018, and Grandal has recaptured the lead role behind the plate.

Grandal finished 2017 with 999 1/3 innings as a backstop, so if the 29-year-old, who a free agent at the end of this season, can avoid his history of late-season slumps at this grueling position, he could reach 1,000 innings. Even if he doesn’t, he still might lead the Dodgers.

  • With the acquisition of Manny Machado (who is really the closest thing the Dodgers have to an iron man today, having missed only 12 games in his final 3 1/2 seasons with the Orioles), Cody Bellinger is more likely to have the outfield cut into his innings at first base.
  • Yasiel Puig led the Dodgers with 1,201 2/3 innings in right field last year and was an early bet to repeat the feat in 2018, but even if he comes off the disabled list soon, he’s going to have to play catch up.
  • Chris Taylor (792) is second to Bellinger (840 1/3) in overall innings for the Dodgers in 2018, but as you can see, he moves around so much that he has the rare chance to lead the Dodgers at two positions, shortstop and center.
  • Matt Kemp, the last Dodger to play 162 games (2010), has logged 619 1/3 innings overall this season, but his time in right field has ended any possibility that he will cross 1,000 innings in left.

Players juggling positions is nothing new, and it isn’t that unusual for the Dodgers to have only one player reach 1,000 innings at a single position. But usually, that player would do so comfortably. Certainly, injuries have played a role in the innings distribution for the 2018 Dodgers, but as the potential lack of 1,000-inning players helps to show, the team’s versatility really is something else.

To wrap this up, here are a few more bits of durability trivia:

  • Eric Karros is the Dodgers’ top iron man in the post-Garvey era. In 1997, Karros started all 162 games, completing 158 and missing 9 2/3 innings all season.
  • Away from the cushier locale of first base, the pacemaker since Russell is Juan Pierre, who in 2007 started 160 games and played all but 33 1/3 of the Dodgers’ innings in center field.
  • No one has ever played in more games in a regular season for the Dodgers than Maury Wills, who was in the starting lineup at shortstop an unbelievable 164 times in a 1962 campaign that was extended to 165 games thanks to the three-game playoff with the Giants. Wills played 1,444 1/3 innings that year, resting for 44 1/3.