Retired numbers: Los Angeles Dodgers

10 Brooklyn and L.A. heroes have been honored; more than half a dozen wait their turns

The Dodgers are among the most storied franchises in baseball history, tracing their roots all the way back to 1884.

They earned 12 National League pennants before fleeing their Brooklyn birthplace in 1958 for Los Angeles, where they have won another dozen. Seven of those seasons, including 2020, were capped with world championships.

Only the Yankees have taken more league pennants than the Dodgers’ total of 24, and just five clubs (Yankees, Cardinals, Athletics, Red Sox, and Giants) boast more World Series trophies. That’s a lot of history.

So it comes as no surprise that the Dodgers are also among the big-league leaders in jersey retirement. They have bestowed that honor upon 10 of their former players and managers, a total topped by only five teams.

Los Angeles is today’s destination on our every-other-Friday journey through retired uniforms. It might seem, at first glance, to be an unpromising stop. The Dodgers have been more vigorous than most clubs in pulling numbers out of circulation. What’s left for them to do?

Quite a bit.

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Dodgers’ numbers already retired

Let’s begin with a quick rundown of the club’s 10 retired numerals. We’ll look at players first, then managers. Nine of these honorees can also be found in the plaque gallery at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

No. 1 Pee Wee Reese (1940-1942, 1946-1958) captained Brooklyn’s famed “Boys of Summer” in the 1950s. The shortstop finished among the top 10 votegetters for the Most Valuable Player Award eight times. He paces all retired Dodgers in wins above replacement (68.2) and is the franchise’s all-time leader in runs scored (1,338).

No. 4 Duke Snider was usually mentioned with Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays when the great center fielders of the 1950s were discussed. Snider wasn’t quite at their level, but he did qualify for eight All-Star teams. His 389 home runs for the Dodgers (1947-1962) remain the standard for the franchise.

The Dodgers have retired the uniform of only one player who fell short of Cooperstown. No. 19 Jim Gilliam was the club’s first-base coach when he died at the age of 49 prior to the start of the 1978 World Series. He was better known as a second and third baseman who was named Rookie of the Year at the dawn of his 14-year playing career (1953-1966).

No. 20 Don Sutton won 324 games during his 23-year pitching career, the 14th-highest total in big-league history. He posted 233 of those victories for the Dodgers (1966-1980, 1988), putting him atop the franchise leaderboard. His 2,696 strikeouts also rank as the most in club history.

It surprises casual fans that No. 32 Sandy Koufax, despite his reputation as a superhuman pitcher, won only 165 games for Brooklyn and Los Angeles. That’s because he struggled for the first six seasons of his 12-year career (1955-1966). Koufax went 36-40 through 1960, then 129-47 the rest of the way. picking up three Cy Young Awards and an MVP trophy.

No. 39 Roy Campanella was the best catcher in baseball at his peak, winning MVP Awards in 1951, 1953, and 1955. Campanella hit at least 20 home runs in seven of 10 seasons (1948-1957) before his career was cut short by an automobile accident that paralyzed him.

Every club has retired No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson’s courageous integration of the major leagues, but the Dodgers have the only true claim on the superstar second baseman, who played his entire career (1947-1956) in Brooklyn. Robinson was named Rookie of the Year in 1947, then MVP two years later. He batted .342 in his best season, .311 over all 10 years.

No. 53 Don Drysdale played second fiddle to Koufax as both of their pitching careers crested in the 1960s. Yet the 14-year veteran (1956-1969) still had his moments of glory. Drysdale led the National League in strikeouts three times. He posted a 25-9 record in 1962, winning the Cy Young Award.

A pair of Dodgers managers have had their numbers retired. No. 24 Walter Alston (1954-1976) led the team to seven league titles and four world championships. His successor, No. 2 Tommy Lasorda (1976-1996), reaped four pennants and two World Series trophies.

Dodgers’ candidates for retired numbers

If the Dodgers wanted to retire an additional half-dozen jerseys or even more, they would have a broad array of plausible candidates to consider.

Forty-five Hall of Famers have taken the field in Dodgers uniforms in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. The stints for several were admittedly short. How many of you remember seeing Jim Bunning, Rickey Henderson, Juan Marichal, Greg Maddux, or Frank Robinson in Dodger blue?

Yet several strong possibilities remain. Here are nine in numerical order. Some made it to Cooperstown, and some didn’t, but a solid case can be made for each:

Zack Wheat played 2,322 games for the Dodgers (1909-1926), 141 more than anybody else. But longevity isn’t what got him to the Hall of Fame. The left fielder — who played before numerals were affixed to uniforms — was one of the great batters of his era. He ranks first in franchise history in hits (2,804), doubles (464), and triples (171), and he is sixth in wins above replacement (59.6).

No. 3 Willie Davis rapped 2,091 hits for the Dodgers (1960-1973), a total topped only by Wheat and Reese. Davis played a wide-ranging center field (three Gold Gloves) and was a terror on the basepaths. His 335 stolen bases rank third in franchise history.

Only four players have appeared in a Dodgers uniform in more than 2,000 games, and No. 14 Gil Hodges was one of them. The first baseman blasted 361 home runs for Brooklyn and Los Angeles (1943-1961), leaving him second to Snider’s 389. Hodges was often mentioned as a Hall of Fame candidate, but his voting support never climbed within 10 points of the 75% threshold.

No. 15 Dazzy Vance still ranks third on the all-time victory list for Dodgers pitchers, even though he retired 85 years ago. The Hall of Famer, who won 190 games for Brooklyn (1922-1932, 1935), topped the National League in strikeouts for seven consecutive seasons from 1922 through 1928. His 59.0 WAR ranks seventh among all Dodgers.

No. 22 Clayton Kershaw has already become the franchise’s all-time leader in WAR at 69.6, a prodigious accomplishment in just 13 seasons (2008-2020). The pitcher owns three Cy Young Awards and a Most Valuable Player Award. His 2,526 strikeouts are second on the team’s all-time list. A couple of guys named Drysdale and Koufax sit behind him.

No. 30 Maury Wills (1959-1966, 1969-1972) slid his way into baseball history in 1962, when he stole 104 bases, breaking Ty Cobb’s modern-era record of 96. The shortstop was named the National League’s MVP that year. Wills remains the club’s all-time leader with 490 steals.

No. 31 Mike Piazza played the first seven seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the Dodgers (1992-1998). The catcher is commonly associated with the Mets, but his 3,941 plate appearances for New York don’t massively exceed his 3,017 for Los Angeles. Piazza’s .331 batting average for the Dodgers is fourth on the club’s all-time list.

No Dodger has worn No. 34 since Fernando Valenzuela (1980-1990) was released, though his number hasn’t been formally retired. The pitcher captivated the baseball world during his official rookie season of 1981, winning both the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards. Valenzuela’s 141 wins rank ninth in Dodgers history.

No. 36 Don Newcombe (1949-1958) wasn’t around long enough to post outstanding career numbers, though the pitcher remains an outsized figure in club history. He was the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 1949, then the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young winner in 1956. He posted a stunning 27-7 record in the latter year.

The outlook

It’s unlikely that the Dodgers will suddenly decide to honor ancient stars who never took the field in Los Angeles. Wheat and Vance clearly have the numbers to warrant belated ceremonies. (That’s numbers as in statistics. Wheat never wore a number on his back.) Yet the clubs has ignored them for decades. Why would it change now?

Other stars of more recent vintage have seen their reputations dim over time. Hodges and Newcombe were gods in Brooklyn, though their skills faded after the club moved to Los Angeles. Davis and Wills were important cogs in the Dodgers machine in the 1960s, yet are unfamiliar to the team’s younger fans. The odds would seem to be against them all.

The Dodgers’ reluctance to honor Piazza is strange, given his close links to Tommy Lasorda (who convinced the team to draft him) and his strong performances in Los Angeles (five times among the top 10 votegetters for MVP). Piazza chose to wear a Mets cap on his plaque in Cooperstown. Perhaps that’s considered a disqualification.

That leaves a pair of pitchers. Valenzuela, who remains affiliated with the Dodgers as a broadcaster, was a sensation in the 1980s, greatly expanding the club’s fan base. His number has already been retired for all intents and purposes. It just remains for the team to make it official.

As for Kershaw? He’s a lock, though there’s a small technicality. His ceremony can’t be held until he hangs up his cleats.

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