Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Category: History (Page 1 of 33)

Dick Whitman at 100: Mad Men namesake played for Brooklyn

Today is the 100th birthday of Dick Whitman, who falls into the category of worlds colliding for me.

Dick Whitman was the birth name of the character known as Don Draper on one of my all-time favorite shows, Mad Men. Coincidentally (or not), Dick Whitman was also the name of a major-league outfielder who made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946.

That debut came after serving in a war, which both the real and fictional versions of Whitman had in common.

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Return of the Clayton Kershaw Playoff Chart

Click the chart below to enlarge. 

Green: Ace-level starts
Orange: Two earned runs or fewer in first six innings
Yellow: Mixed bags
Red: Disasters
Light gold: Relief appearances

I created the Clayton Kershaw Postseason Chart two years ago to communicate how Kershaw has been both great and terrible and everywhere in between during the postseason.

The Dodgers’ brief window in the 2019 playoffs didn’t change the narrative. In his first start, he pitched well enough to win but didn’t. Then he had a disastrous relief outing, his first such nightmare out of the bullpen in a decade.

Kershaw has made 25 career playoff starts. Here’s how they break down:

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Dodger bullpen breaks two National League records

All the short-season caveats apply, but the Dodger bullpen did set two National League records for the live-ball era (1920-on). 

  • Dodger relievers set a National League record for the lowest single-season WHIP at 1.044. The bullpen broke the NL mark held by the 2003 Dodgers, who were led by Eric Gagne, Guillermo Mota and Paul Quantrill. Unfortunately, they just missed the major-league record of 1.003, held by the 1965 Chicago White Sox. 
  • They also broke the NL mark for lowest on-base percentage allowed: .274, also held by the 2003 Dodgers. The ’65 White Sox allowed a .264 OBP.   

While the team only played 60 games, Dodger relievers did average an unprecedented 4 1/3 innings per game.  In fact, so omnipresent was the Dodger bullpen that for the first time in franchise history, relief pitchers had more than half of the team’s wins — 26 out of 43. 

Victor Gonzalez, Adam Kolarek, Jake McGee and Brusdar Graterol each had WHIPs below 1.00. 

Obviously, it’s dubious to suggest these records would have held up over 162 games. But in the realm of 2020, we can say this: Dodger relievers were the best. 

Duke Snider holds a major NL record that no one talks about

Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is one of the most hallowed records in baseball history, even though most fans today weren’t alive to see him play. 

But we live in an era with a greater appreciation for getting on base by any means necessary. So while an all-time on-base streak hasn’t built up the cachet of DiMaggio’s 56, it’s worth calling out who holds that record.

In the American League, the titan of touching first is Ted Williams, who reached base 84 straight games in 1949. In fact, Williams owns two of the top three streaks, with his 73-game streak in 1941-42 coming just behind the 74-gamer by DiMaggio that includes his hitting streak.  

In the National League, this underrated record is held by none other than Hall of Fame outfielder Duke Snider of the Dodgers, who reached base in 58 consecutive games from May 13 through July 11, 1954.

Snider broke a record of 56 consecutive games held by two fellow Hall of Famers — Roger Bresnahan (1904) and Snider’s future Dodger teammate Arky Vaughan (1936).

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An epic Dodgers collapse Phillies comeback, 30 years ago today

On August 21, 1990, I went to a baseball game with a friend. And I stayed for about seven innings, and then we left early. 

I don’t think we thought twice about it. It was a weeknight. We had jobs. 

And the Dodgers were winning, 11-1. 

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The legacy of Babe and Roger in America

The last paper I wrote as an undergraduate student at Stanford was for a class called Sport in American Life, one of my favorites. It was taught by a terrific visiting professor, Elliot Gorn, and for me, there was no more perfect capper to my American Studies major than to be able to write an essay on baseball, in particular a comparison of the way fans and the media regarded Babe Ruth and Roger Maris.

It’s not a perfect essay, to be sure, but this lull in our baseball lives seems to me to be as good a time to revisit it as any. It has now been 31 years since I wrote it, or longer than it had been from the time Maris hit his 61st home run the time of the paper, which is amazing to me.

My favorite research discovery was that the same beat writer for the New York Times, John Drebinger, covered Ruth’s 60th homer in 1927 and Maris’ record-breaking blast in 1961. The contrast in style between the two stories by the same man might have partly been a reflection of the times, but it still spoke volumes to me. 

Also of note is the clear influence Bill James had already had on me by then. I had started buying his annual editions of his Baseball Abstract in 1981, when they were self-published and advertised in the classifieds of The Sporting News. By the time I was working on this paper, James had become much more widely read but was still very much a revolutionary. I quoted him liberally in this paper, and while my work didn’t approach his, the spirit of trying to distinguish between myth and reality was already strong. In a way, this might have been among my first, proto-Dodger Thoughts piece of writing.  

Anyway, here it is. (You might need to zoom in with your browser to read it more easily.)

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Gleyber Torres and the myth of Dodger passivity

Gleyber Torres has never played for the Dodgers, but he has come to have a peculiar place in Dodger lore. 

People keep saying that the Cubs’ July 25, 2016 trade of Torres, then a 19-year-old mega-prospect, with three other players to the Yankees for super reliever Aroldis Chapman is an example of what the Dodgers need to start doing in pursuit of an elusive 21st-century World Series title.

Supposedly, Torres is the canary in the Dodgers’ coalmine of caution.

“Their organizational philosophy prevents them from making the kind of the deal the Chicago Cubs did in their championship season in 2016, ending a 108-year drought,” wrote Dylan Hernandez in the Times this weekend, though he’s far from the only one to make such an argument. 

Here’s what this theory ignores: 

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Best of the 2010s:
The All-Decade Dodgers

Raymond Gorospe/MLB.com

We have nearly reached the end of the ’10s, and though selections of the Dodgers’ all-decade team should probably wait until after the 2019 World Series, these few days of relative calm before the storm of the postseason seemed like a good time to reveal them. Nothing is likely to affect these choices between now and then (although I’m fascinated by the idea that something could). 

Most challenging was having to deal with five legitimate candidates for the four openings at outfield/first base. Catcher was nearly a toss-up, and second base yielded its own surprise. 

Here we go … 

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Brothers in Arms excerpt: The underrated Claude Osteen

Today is the 80th birthday of Claude Osteen — a pitcher not nearly enough Dodger fans of today know about. To celebrate, here’s his chapter from Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition …

By the 1960s, Dodger pitching development was revving like a Mustang, and it wasn’t thanks only to Drysdale and Koufax. To illustrate: of the 1,610 games Los Angeles played during the decade, 83 percent were started by pitchers originally signed by the Dodgers. Of the eight Los Angeles pitchers to start at least 50 games in the ’60s, seven were homegrown.

Claude Osteen was the standout, in more ways than one.

Ambling in the shadow of three Hall of Fame teammates and not exactly a household name to 21st-century fans, Osteen has to be one of the more underrated pitchers in Dodger history. With 26.3 wins above replacement in nine seasons for Los Angeles, Osteen ranked 15th among the franchise’s great arms and eighth in Los Angeles. Osteen’s 100 complete games tie him for 12th on the all-time Dodger list, and as for shutouts, only his three Hall of Fame contemporaries plus Nap Rucker had more as a Dodger than Osteen’s 34.

“We took a lot of pride in finishing the job,” Osteen says. “I took a lot of pride in throwing shutouts—it’s probably one of the things I’m most proud of.”

Osteen played an enormous role in capturing the Dodgers’ final World Series title of the ’60s, provided a stabilizing bridge to the pennant-winning Dodger teams of the 1970s and extended the Dodger tradition to a later generation as pitching coach from 1999 to 2000. Though it all began for Osteen elsewhere, he nearly had roots as a Dodger as well.

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1981 World Series MVP Award Presentation: The wrong Steve

Mike Littwin/Los Angeles Times

It was weird enough, after the Dodgers won the 1981 title, when they split the World Series Most Valuable Player Award among three players.

It became weirder still when Bob Uecker and MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn included the wrong man, Steve Garvey, in the award presentation. It was Steve Yeager, not Garvey, who had been voted the winner alongside Ron Cey and Pedro Guerrero.

Howard Rosenberg/Los Angeles Times

Garvey expressed heartfelt gratitude for the award that he wouldn’t get to keep. Yeager, hovering in the background at the outset, eventually got to the microphone, though he is never named as a tri-MVP winner. Guerrero got a big hug from Al Campanis, but no chance to speak at all. 

Enjoy the presentation above, in all its awkward glory.

Most obscure but memorable Opening Day starters for the Dodgers, 1989-2019


For no particular occasion …

In honor of Mike Ramsey (1987), here are the most memorable Opening Day starters for the Dodgers since they last won a World Series:

Trenidad Hubbard, CF (1998)
Blake DeWitt, 2B (2010)
Olmedo Saenz, 1B (2006)
Juan Rivera, LF (2012)
Jason Phillips, C (2005)
Juan Encarnacion, RF (2004)
Luis Cruz, 3B (2013)
Justin Sellers, SS (2013)
Vicente Padilla, P (2010)

Visiting the Hall of Fame
Part 2: On to Los Angeles

As I mentioned a couple days ago, on July 14 I made my second visit to Cooperstown, and first as an adult. I took tons of pictures, and couldn’t help wanting to share some with you. Today, here is a set of shots focusing on the Dodgers, dating from their move to Los Angeles. 

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Visiting the Hall of Fame
Part 1: Brooklyn memories

It was a Cooperstown Surprise.

Last weekend brought me to the wilds of New York for family reasons, on a trip that had been planned for months but near the last minute unexpectedly left me with a free day. Staying only 90 minutes from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I rose at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, on four hours sleep after having traveled all Saturday from home, and made the drive to a little slice of baseball heaven. 

At age 51, this was my second trip to the Hall — my first came when I was 14. People have asked me if the Hall seemed different, but so much time has passed that the biggest compare and contrast I can make is doing the trip with my dad vs. doing it solo. 

That said, another major difference was having a cellphone, as opposed to only memories that would fade over time. I took more than 200 photos, and with this year’s annual induction ceremony only days away, there seems to be no better time for me to share some of them with you (with apologies for the quality). I’m going to divide them into multiple posts, starting with this one centered on the Brooklyn Dodgers. 

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The ones from longest ago

Looking back at some old birthdays on this Memorial Day …

  • The oldest Ram I saw play in person: Charlie Cowan (June 19, 1938)
  • The oldest MLB player I know I ever saw play in person: Vic Davalillo (July 31, 1936)
  • The oldest Laker I saw play on TV: Elgin Baylor (September 16, 1934)
  • The oldest MLB player I know I saw play on TV: Hank Aaron (February 5, 1934)
  • The oldest athlete I know I saw play on TV: George Blanda (September 17, 1927)
  • The oldest athlete I know I saw play in person: Marques Haynes (March 10, 1926)
  • The oldest athlete I might have seen play, but I can’t remember if I was at a game when he actually pitched: Hoyt Wilhelm (July 26, 1922)

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Eugenio Vélez, Eugenio Vélez

You might be aware that Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles is closing in on the record for most consecutive hitless at-bats in the majors. If you’re a Dodger fan, you might be even more aware of who holds that record: Eugenio Vélez, whose 0-for-37 2011 season with Los Angeles enabled him to set an MLB record with 46 straight hitless at-bats.

But what you might not realize is that Vélez’s streak never ended. It is still active. In fact, so is Vélez. This past winter, he came to the plate 19 times for Aguilas de Mexicali, capping his seventh straight year in professional baseball since he last took a major-league at-bat.

On top of everything else, Vélez is still only 36 years old, turning 37 on May 16. He is a mere three years older than Davis. There’s still life in him yet.

So Davis may break this record. But as far as I’m concerned, this duel ain’t over.

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