Los Angeles Dodgers
Plying their trade in the Western Division of the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers have a long history in the sport of baseball, marked by sporadic bursts of glory and long periods on the periphery.
With six World Series titles to their name and no fewer than 22 pennants, their fans have hardly been starved of success. However, having been around since 1883 and established in Los Angeles since 1958, being a Dodgers fan is as much about the lows as the dizzying highs.
Foundation in Brooklyn
Building on the pedigree in baseball in New York, a series of loosely affiliated sides were formed and dissolved over the course of the late 19th and early 20th century. These ranged from the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1864, right up to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1913, which marked the start of the Dodgers’ history proper.
Notable amongst these many sides were the remarkably named Brooklyn Bridegrooms, who picked up the American Association pennant in 1889, before switching to the National League in 1890.
A series of name changes ensued yet again and the franchise enjoyed considerable success after the switch to the NL, picking up the pennant on two occasions in 1899 and 1900 as the Brooklyn Superbas (so-called in reference, bizarrely, to a local acrobatic troupe).
Around this period, a series of mergers and acquisitions, first with the New York Metropolitans in 1888, then the Brooklyn Wonders in 1891 and finally the Baltimore Orioles in 1900, consolidated the side’s presence in New York.
Although the current franchise has undergone changes in practically every respect, one constant since 1890, with their entry to the National League, has been their rivalry with the San Francisco Giants.
With a lineage of contests reaching all the way back to 1901, there is no rivalry in baseball with a longer history, nor one so balanced. Well over two thousand contests later and each side having won just over one thousand each, the feud represents an everlasting reminder of the club’s foundation and its time in Brooklyn.
Early years as the Dodgers
Established as the Brooklyn Dodgers by 1913, under the tutelage of manager, Wilbert Robinson, they didn’t have to wait too long for success, taking the pennant in 1916. They repeated the feat four years later in 1920 and reached the World Series on both occasions, only to fall short continually.
The failure to take these opportunities was made all the more profound by the barren spell which followed their final pennant in 1920. A seemingly endless stream of disappointing seasons in the 1920s and 1930s saw the Dodgers dismissed as the ‘Daffiness boys’, owing to their errant fielding and generally mediocre play.
Although taking the scalps of other big sides in key circumstances, most notably knocking their arch-rivals the Giants out of the pennant race in 1934, it was a full 21 years before the Dodgers would themselves compete for the pennant and, unlike the Giants in 1934, pick up the precious accolade. The victory in 1941 was masterminded by general manager, Larry MacPhail, who departed the club the following year to do his best for the war effort.
Post-war change and glory
With the leagues, like MacPhail, understandably affected by World War Two, it was a while before baseball returned and it did so in a changed world both on and off the field. The Dodgers were pivotal to the changes on the field, taking the momentous step of fielding the first African-American player in the National League’s history in 1947.
The decision was justified on political and sporting grounds too, as Jackie Robinson proved a future Hall of Famer, picking up NL Rookie of the Year and adding to it with the NL MVP award just two years later.
Robinson’s career with the Dodgers was also marked by his participation in no fewer than six World Series contests and, subsequently, inaugurated a monumentally successful period for the Dodgers. Helped by the heroics of Robinson and the return of general manager, Larry MacPhail, but for the all-conquering New York Yankees, the Dodgers’ trophy cabinet would certainly be fuller, as they took the pennant in 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953, only to fall foul of the Yankees in every single World Series.
The euphoria of taking the pennant had been almost entirely wiped out by the disappointment of failing in the World Series, as the Dodgers fans marked each defeat with the cry “Wait till next year!”. To make matters worse, in 1951, the Dodgers experienced the agony of being on the receiving end of the ‘shot heard round the world’, delivered courtesy of Bobby Thomson of the Giants to seal the pennant for the Dodgers’ nemesis.
With the greatest success seemingly forever out of reach, the despair was eventually replaced with delight just two years later as, in 1955, the Dodgers extracted a modicum of the sweetest revenge on the Yankees.
Having lost the first two games, it seemed all too familiar, but a remarkable reversal saw the Dodgers take a 3-2 lead and seal the win in dramatic fashion in Game 7. Finally, the Dodgers had a World Series victory.
Move to California
Continuing their great form, the Dodgers took the pennant again in 1956, only to fall back into the habit of losing to the Yankees in the World Series. However, the following season, things took place off field that changed the entire face of the franchise.
Under the ownership of Walter O’Malley, the Dodgers had been looking to build a new ballpark and, with negotiations between the New York authorities and the Dodgers going nowhere, O’Malley proved amenable to a possible shift to the West Coast.
This eventually came to fruition in 1957, when the Los Angeles top dogs offered the all-important land for a new stadium, in return for having the famous Dodgers in the City of Angels. The decision was highly controversial, with O’Malley vilified and lauded by the denizens of Brooklyn and Los Angeles. However, one silver lining was that, at exactly the same time, the Giants incredibly also moved West and thus one of the great rivalries was preserved.
The Dodgers departed Ebbets Field with a 2-0 victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 24th 1957 and played their first match in Los Angeles on 18th April 1958, defeating their arch-rivals the newly-named San Francisco Giants.
While the Dodger Stadium was being developed, the Dodgers spent their time at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and it proved a happy hunting ground. Having again won the pennant in 1959, the Dodgers contested the World Series with the White Sox and marked their arrival in Los Angeles with the biggest prize of them all, firmly ensconcing them in their new home.
The move to Dodger Stadium was completed in 1962, and another move proved another good decision for the Dodgers. Missing out on the pennant by the smallest of margins in 1962, the Dodgers had the opportunity to rectify matters the following season and they not only managed that, but went one better to take the World Series again with a very satisfying 4 game sweep of the New York Yankees. The early 1960s proved a remarkably fruitful period, even by the Dodgers’ standards, with the awesome pitching of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pivotal.
Koufax, in particular, would prove crucial to the Dodgers two years later when, having taken the pennant, they found themselves before the Minnesota Twins in the World Series. After losing the first two games, the Dodgers recovered in dramatic fashion off the back of Koufax’s pitching and eventually won the series in Game 7. Managed by the modest but brilliant Walter Alston all through this period, things couldn’t get much better for the Dodgers.
With four World Series titles and seven pennants racked up, Alston eventually retired after the 1976 season. He had seen glory with the Dodgers but a series of disappointing seasons after the 1965 World Series victory had partially tarnished his legacy. Now he had left, the question was when the next big win was coming.
His replacement was a fine choice. Tommy Lasorda was practically synonymous with the Dodgers and his time as manager was marked by the development of the next great side. Over the course of five years, the Dodgers grew in stature, picking up the pennant in 1977 and 1978.
However, it was the 1980s when Lasorda’s Dodgers really blossomed, as they first took the World Series in 1981 at the expense of the New York Yankees, and then repeated the feat in even more remarkable fashion in 1988, taking the pennant against the odds against the New York Mets and triumphing over the overwhelming favourites, the Oakland Athletics.
Into the wilderness
1988 proved to be the apex not only of Lasorda’s time as manager, but the Dodgers’ history. Since taking their sixth World Series, the Dodgers have been starved of success, despite brief flirtations in 1995 and 2004, when they took the West Division title, only to lose the championship game.
Things looked promising in 2006 as well when they faced the New York Mets in the NL Division Series, but disappointment followed as they suffered a 3-0 sweep.
The 2007 season proved to be another infuriating affair as a series of late defeats took the Dodgers out of the race for the play-offs. In response, Grady Little resigned as manager and, with New York Yankees’ legend Joe Torre his replacement, hopes are high that there will be something of a renaissance for the Dodgers in the City of Angels.
- World Series Titles – Winners (1955, 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981, 1988)
- NL Pennants – Winners (1890, 1899, 1900, 1916, 1920, 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1959, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1988)
- AA Pennants (as Brooklyn Bridegrooms) – Winners (1889)
- West Division – Winners (1974, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1995, 2004)
- 1 – Pee Wee Reese
- 2 – Tommy Lasorda
- 4 – Duke Snider
- 19 – Jim Gilliam
- 20 – Don Sutton
- 24 – Walter Alston
- 32 – Sandy Koufax
- 39 – Roy Campanella
- 42 – Jackie Robinson
- 53 – Don Drysdale