Retired Numbers: Los Angeles Dodgers

(This is part of a series on retired numbers, with somewhat of a focus on Retired Number Bandits — players who wore a number that was later retired at any point after the person for whom it was retired first wore it. See the introduction for more information and explanation on Bandits.)

The Los Angeles Dodgers have officially retired ten numbers and unofficially retired one. Their policy is that a player must be a member of the Hall of Fame to have his number retired, and they have made only one exception.

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Pee Wee Reese, 1

Reese was a Hall of Fame shortstop who became perhaps as famous for his befriending of Robinson in 1947 and beyond as he was for his play on the field. He coached for one year with the Dodgers after his 1958 retirement, helping the team to their first World Series title in Los Angeles in 1959. He then took of number 1 for good, and it was eventually retired upon his election to the Hall of Fame in 1984.

Reese’s number was worn by Paul Waner and Mike Sandlock during Reese’s time in the military during World War II, and after his career it was worn by Billy Grabarkewitz, Rick Auerbach, Derrel Thomas, and Gary Weiss.

Duke Snider, 4

Snider was the third-best center fielder in New York in the 1950s, behind Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. That was still plenty good to make the Hall of Fame, but he had to wait until his 11th time on the ballot in 1980.

Snider hit 389 of his 407 career homers and made seven straight All-Star teams with the Dodgers. His number 4 was retired in 1980 after his election to the Hall of Fame, but not before it had been worn by Tom Hutton, Kevin Pasley, and Bill North.

Jim Gilliam, 19

Gilliam is the lone exception to the Dodgers’ Hall of Fame rule for retiring numbers. After spending 26 years with the team as a player and a coach, Gilliam died suddenly in 1978, just before his 50th birthday. The Dodgers immediately retired his number 19.

The former Rookie of the Year was a very good player, making two All-Star teams and garnering MVP votes in four seasons. He played in seven World Series with the Dodgers, winning it four times.

Don Sutton, 20

When Sutton left the Dodgers to sign with the Astros after the 1980 season, he was 35 years old and had a career 230-175 record. He had been very good in his 15 seasons with the Dodgers, but he was not a no-doubt Hall of Famer. He won 91 more games over the next seven years to top the 300-win mark, then returned to the Dodgers for 16 games in his final season in 1988.

Sutton was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998 in his fifth year on the ballot, and the Dodgers retired his number 20 that year. In the interim, it had been worn by Candy Maldonado, Larry See, Ed Amelung, Phil Garner, Mike Davis, Willie Randolph, Brian Traxler, Darren Holmes, Mitch Webster, Mike Blowers, and Darren Lewis.

Sandy Koufax, 32

Koufax was born and mostly raised in Brooklyn, but in high school he was better known for his basketball skills than baseball. He went to the University of Cincinnati and walked on to the basketball team, eventually earning a partial scholarship. He also tried out for and made the baseball team, and in 1954 he went 3-1 with 51 strikeouts in 31 innings. Of course, he also walked 30 batters.

Those control problems would define the first half of his major league career, too. From 1955 to 1960, Koufax averaged 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings, but he also averaged 5.3 walks per nine. He started to turn the corner in 1961-62, and then in his final four seasons comprised one of the most dominant stretches any pitcher has ever had. From 1963-66, he went 97-27 with a 1.86 ERA, 1,228 strikeouts, and 259 walks in 1,192.2 innings pitched. He averaged just two walks per nine innings in that stretch, and he led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio in two of those seasons.

Koufax retired at age 30 due to an arthritic throwing elbow after pitching in pain for two seasons. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, and that summer his number 32 was officially retired. It had not been issued since his retirement.

Roy Campanella, 39

Campanella played only ten years in the big leagues. This was  due to a late start — he didn’t make his big league debut until he was 26 after playing in the Negro Leagues starting at age 15 — and tragedy that cut his career short. In January 1958, he was in a car accident that fractured his neck and left him paralyzed at the age of 36.

In the time he did get to play in the big leagues, Campy was outstanding. He hit .276/.360/.500 with 242 home runs, winning three MVP Awards and making eight All-Star teams. He remained involved with the Dodgers for most of his life, dying in 1993 at the age of 71. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969 and the Dodgers retired his number 39 in 1972. Before it was retired, the number was worn by Ken Rowe, Howie Reed, and Bob Lee.

Here is video of Campanella on the hit television show “What’s My Line?” in 1953 (it should start in the right place, but skip to 15:58 if it doesn’t):

Jackie Robinson, 42

Robinson has had more words written about him that almost any other ballplayer. He was a four-sport star at UCLA who became the first black player in the 20th century after many decades of institutional racism kept the game segregated. He was a fierce competitor and a brave hero, and thousands of players since him rightly pay respects to the man who paved the way for their careers.

Oh yeah, and he was a heck of a baseball player. That gets lost in the shuffle sometimes, but in many ways it was just as important as anything else. When Branch Rickey was looking for the right player to break the color barrier, he needed not just the right temperament, but also the right player. Robinson was not nearly the biggest name in the Negro Leagues. Satchel Paige, Buck Leonard, Josh Gibson, and others were all much bigger names, but they were past their primes. If the first black player had joined the league and failed, it might have been worse than if he had never played at all, reinforcing the inferiority stereotypes that had contributed so much to the segregation in the first place.

Robinson won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, the first recipient ever and the man it is now named after. He won the MVP Award in 1949, and overall in his ten-year career, he hit .311/.409/.474. He was outstanding on offense, on the bases, and in the field, and over his ten seasons he put up a total of 61.5 WAR. That’s more than Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew (22 seasons), Yogi Berra (19 seasons), Willie Stargell (21 seasons), Tony Perez (23 seasons), and Jim Rice (16 seasons), among others.

Robinson retired in 1956 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962. His number 42 was not issued again until 1969, when it was inexplicably given to rookie Ray Lamb. It was then taken back out of circulation, and it was retired in 1972 (along with Koufax’s 32 and Campanella’s 39). Robinson was nearly blind by that time due to complications from diabetes and heart disease, and he died less than four months later at the age of 52.

Don Drysdale, 53

Drysdale’s career was relatively short, just 14 years. He spent most of his best seasons as the second-best pitcher on his own team, next to Koufax. He didn’t hit any of the magic numbers that guarantee a pitcher’s place in the Hall of Fame — just 209 wins and 2,486 strikeouts. For those reasons, he languished on the Hall of Fame ballot for ten years before finally being elected in 1984.

But Drysdale was an outstanding pitcher for a Dodgers team that won three World Series titles in his career. He won the 1962 Cy Young Award, made seven All-Star teams, and set the record in 1968 for most consecutive scoreless innings.

Drysdale retired in 1969 and the Dodgers retired his number 53 after his Hall of Fame election in 1984. His number was issued to rookie Tom Paciorek in 1970, but then it was never issued again.

Walter Alston, 24

Between 1932 and 1953, the Dodgers had seven managers in 22 years. Not extreme by any means, but a stark contrast to the eras immediately before and after. From 1914 to 1931, Brooklyn was managed by Wilbert Robinson, aka Uncle Robbie, and the team was known as the Robins after him. Robinson’s number was elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager in 1945, but his number is not retired by the Dodgers because they didn’t start wearing uniform numbers until 1932, the year after he stopped managing the team.

After the 22 relatively unstable years, the Dodgers hired Walter Alston, often referred to as “The Quiet Man,” and referred to in the New York Daily News headline at the time of his hiring as “Walter Who?” He then spent nearly 23 years at the helm of the Dodgers, winning seven National League pennants and four World Series championships, and was named NL Manager of the Year six times. Alston succeeded Chuck Dressen, who had left the team after they refused to commit to him with a multi-year contract. Alston, on the other hand, spent 23 years with the Dodgers on a series of 23 one-year contracts.

Alston retired near the end of the 1976 season. The Dodgers retired his number in 1977, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983. He was unable to be at his induction ceremony after suffering a heart attack, so his grandson represented him in Cooperstown. He died the next year at age 72.

Tommy Lasorda, 2

Lasorda has spent most of his life in the Dodgers organization, first as a pitcher, then as a coach, then as a Hall of Fame manager, and currently as an ambassador and advisor. He was issued number 2 when he took over for Alston as manager at the end of the 1976 season, and it has not been worn by anyone else since. The team retired his number in 1997 after his time as manager was done and he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

After having seven managers in the previous 22 years, the Dodgers from 1954 to 1996 were managed by just two men: Alston and Lasorda.

Unofficial: Fernando Valenzuela, 34

Valenzuela took the league by storm in 1981, winning the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards and helping the Dodgers to their first World Series championship in 16 years. His time as a frontline starter was short, though. He had his last great season at age 25 in 1986 and was gone from the Dodgers before he was 30.

But Fernando’s impact on the game, especially for a city with such a high population of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans as Los Angeles, was strong enough that the Dodgers have not issued his number 34 since his departure in 1990. Since 2003, Fernando has worked in the Spanish-language broadcast booth for the Dodgers, and he remains one of the most popular players in Dodgers history.

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