Thursday, January 17, 2013

January 17- Los Angeles Dodgers

It’s pretty fitting that I’d be sitting in a study room in the library at the University of Oregon writing this post with two songs on repeat: “Green Onions” by Booker T & the MGs and “I Love LA” by Randy Newman. Both songs personified the eras in which the three players' numbers I have written on my hat dominated. But first… the hat.

The marketing and creative team that moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles along with the Dodgers are quite possibly some the most intelligent people on the planet. By this I mean, the “LA” on the front of the cap was first introduced in 1958, their first year on the West Coast. And, since their first game, they’ve had the same logo affixed to their cap. That’s it. End of story. Two simple letters personified an entire culture of baseball fans inside and outside of the United States. No matter what race, creed or gender of who wears it on the baseball field, their presence has influenced scores of other fans to fall suit and scoop up the hat for more than just following team; it became a socioeconomical flag for some. Now, having said that, I feel a little bad for one of the numbers choices on my hat, so I’ll be sure to start with the first, which should come as no surprise to any baseball fans.

#32- Sandy Koufax’s career ran from 1955, the last year the Dodgers won a World Series in Brooklyn, through 1966. The first six years of Koufax’s career are truly hard to believe. He had little to no control over any pitch he threw, and his numbers are less than extraordinary. Koufax’s ERA hung at roughly 4.00 as he was used as both a starter and a reliever. Believe it or not, Koufax was sent down in 1957 and struck out 13 batters in his first appearance back in the Majors. This was the way things went. It wasn’t until 1961 that everything seemed to come together. Koufax had spent the winter working on his conditioning and got to Spring Training in the best shape of his life. Long time Dodgers scout Kenny Meyers also made a discovery in Koufax’s windup motion. Koufax was rearing back too far, thus obstructing his vision upon his follow through. In his first start of Spring Training Koufax walked the bases loaded on 12 straight pitches, prompting then catcher Norm Sherry to remind Koufax to take something off the ball for better control. The advice worked. Koufax struck out the side and threw sever consecutive innings of no hit ball. The rest as they say is history. Four no hitters, the breaking of Christy Mathewson’s single-season strikeout record of 267 (269 for Koufax in 1961) three Cy Young Awards (1963,65,66), one MVP (1963), 2396 career strikeouts, a 2.76 career ERA, 165-87 record, four World Series rings and spot in the Hall of Fame.

Koufax’s arm had been giving him problems since 1965, and rather than play through it and have it affect him the rest of his life, he gave it all up at the age of 31. After what he had all ready accomplished in his life, I don’t blame him. Had modern surgery been available, and at the ready like it is today, who knows how things would have turned out?

#55- Orel Hershiser. Now, as I had mentioned before about culture, I felt a little bad about this one shortly after I marked it last year. I had grown up hating and loving Hershiser. Loving him for his dominance, but hating him because of the 1988 World Series against my Oakland Athletics. 1988 was the best season he ever had, winning 23 games with a 2.26 ERA and 178 strikeouts. It would be the only year that he would ever win the National League Cy Young award as well as his one, and only Gold Glove award. The only other time that Hershiser could have contested to be the Cy Young winner came in 1985 when he went 19-3 with a 2.03 ERA and 157 strikeouts. Remarkably, Hershiser finished in third place as there was a young phenom by the name of Dwight Gooden lighting up the league for the New York Mets. In only four of his 18-year service he posted a season ERA under 2.70. He was good, but he wasn’t exactly a superstar by today’s standards.

Hershiser made three All-Star Game appearances (1987-1989) throughout his career and won one Silver Slugger award in 1993. 1995 and 1997 were the only other times when Hershiser came close to winning another World Series ring. In both of those seasons he and the Cleveland Indians made it to the end, but came up short losing to the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins respectively.

#34 was an interesting specimen. Having grown up playing ball in Mexico he was a diamond in the rough when he was brought into the league in 1980. In 1981, his first full season, Valenzuela went 13-7 with a 2.48 ERA and a league-high 180 strikeout to become the first, and only pitcher to win the Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year in the same season. His dominance and pleasant manner made him a fan favorite amongst the hodgepodge of cultures that resided in Los Angeles and the surrounding area. Fernando-Mania, as they called it, took over the game and opened up the pathway for other talented players to cross the border and show off what they had.

From 1981-1986 Valenzuela made six consecutive All-Star Game Appearances, finished in the Top-five for the NL Cy Young three additional times(1982, 1985-1986), won two Silver Slugger awards (1981 and 1983), one Gold Glove award in 1986 and two World Series rings in 1981 and 1988.

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