The Best Players in Los Angeles Dodgers History
Who Are the Greatest Los Angeles Dodgers Players of All-Time?
With a history dating all the way back to 1884, the Los Angeles Dodgers have displayed a tremendous amount of talent over the years. Between two cities and multiple nicknames, the franchise has been to the postseason 33 times. That includes 24 National League pennants, though the Dodgers have just six World Series victories. They are one of eight franchises in Major League Baseball history to have accumulated 10,000 victories, and they rank third all-time with a .527 winning percentage (10,876-9,766-139).
Of the 331 inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame, 55 of them suited up for the Dodgers during at least one season (16.6 percent). Among them, 14 wear a Dodgers cap on their plaque. Los Angeles has been represented in the All-Star game 305 times, which includes 15 players who have made at least five appearances.
How Many Names Have the Los Angeles Dodgers Had?
In total, the Los Angeles Dodgers have had seven different names for the franchise in two cities. Nicknames for the club while in Brooklyn included the Atlantics, Grays, Bridegrooms, Grooms, Superbas, Robins, and Dodgers, and several of the nicknames were used interchangeably to describe the team, which was legally named the Brooklyn Base Ball Club. The franchise has been known as the Los Angeles Dodgers since relocating to the West Coast in 1958. The nickname of Dodgers was firmly solidified as the team’s moniker when it first appeared on the team’s jerseys in 1932.
Selection Criteria for This List
Determining the best of the best from so much talent was a tough chore, but I've narrowed it down to the top five and also included some honorable-mention selections. Even with that, many deserving players had to be left out of this article. The criteria used to develop this list included:
- Legacy Honors (Hall of Fame, retired number, etc.)
- Single-Season Honors (MVP, All-Star, etc.)
- On-Field Success (league leader, playoff appearances, records, etc.)
- Longevity (years with the Dodgers, percentage of career with the Dodgers, etc.)
Only games played with the Dodgers are factored into this list, so while Hall of Famer Jim Thome would be a great choice on a list about the Cleveland Indians, his 17 games in Los Angeles won’t make the cut here. Now, without further ado, let's count down the top five players in Los Angeles Dodgers history! Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on these selections in the comments.
5. Zack Wheat (1910–26)
Playing at a time when a player could be considered a slugger by hitting less than 10 home runs in a season, Zack Wheat was underappreciated as one of the best players of his era. Still the all-time leader in Dodgers history for numerous offensive categories, including hits (2,804), doubles (464), triples (171), and total bases (4,003), Wheat was a consistent player for 18 seasons in Brooklyn. That longevity also left him with the most games (2,322), at-bats (8,859), and plate appearances (9,731) in Dodgers history. His induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame was delayed, however, as the Veteran's Committee didn't vote him in until 1959—33 years after his retirement.
Wheat rarely led the league in any offensive categories, but made up for it by being consistent. He hit better than .300 in 13 seasons, and led the league with a .335 average in 1918. He again hit .335 in 1922, when he also added a career-high 16 home runs and 112 RBI. His best hitting displays, however, came late in his career. In 1924, Wheat hit a career-high .375 over 141 games that season, and he followed that up with a .359 average over 150 games in 1925. He added 14 home runs in both of those seasons. His career batting average with the Dodgers was .317, which is tied for sixth all-time in franchise history, and he also smacked 131 home runs, scored 1,255 runs, and stole 203 bases.
4. Duke Snider (1947–1962)
Though he is sometimes overlooked in general baseball circles because of other outfielders who played in the same era, there is confusion among Dodgers fans about how much greatness Duke Snider carried in his game. A prolific slugger in times when Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were the most-known superstars, Snider quietly built a Hall of Fame career after 16 years with the Dodgers. Snider appeared in seven straight All-Star games from 1950-56, and helped the Dodgers to six World Series appearances, including championships in 1955 and '59. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980, when he gained 86.49 percent of the vote on his 11th ballot.
After two partial seasons to open his career, Snider cracked the starting lineup in 1949, and soon became the most prominent offensive force in a lineup of stars. Snider hit better than .300 seven times for the Dodgers, and he smashed at least 40 home runs in every season from 1953-57. Those seasons in his prime are a big reason why Snider remains the franchise's all-time career leader in home runs (389), RBI (1,271), and extra-base hits (814). He was an even .300 hitter for the Dodgers, also giving them 343 doubles and 82 triples.
3. Don Drysdale (1956–69)
A hard-throwing, side-armer who wasn't afraid to throw pitches inside, Don Drysdale will be forever remembered as one of the greatest Dodgers pitchers ever. The 1962 Cy Young Award winner was very consistent, starting at least 29 games in every season but the first and last of his 14-year career, and he only had three losing campaigns. Drysdale was a nine-time All-Star and helped the Dodgers win three World Series titles. In 1968—the final full season of Drysdale's career—he set a Major League record of 58⅔ consecutive scoreless innings, which included a record six straight complete-game shutouts. Orel Hershiser would break the scoreless innings streak 20 years later, also in a Dodgers uniform. Because Drysdale was so fearless when pitching inside, he holds a dubious franchise record with 154 hit batsmen, which also ranks 19th all-time in Major League history.
Drysdale debuted in 1956 at the ripe age of 19, and it was clear he'd be an impact player for years to come. In his sophomore season, he was a 17-game winner, and by 1959, he led the National League in strikeouts with 242. It was his first of six seasons with at least 200 strikeouts, which included three campaigns when he led the league. Drysdale wasn't known as a dominating playoff pitcher, posting a 3-3 mark with a 2.95 earned-run average, but he did hurl a three-hit, complete-game shutout in Game 3 of the 1963 World Series, which saw the Dodgers sweep the New York Yankees. Drysdale was eventually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984, when he secured 78.41 percent of the vote in his 10th appearance on the ballot.
2. Jackie Robinson (1947–56)
Not only did Jackie Robinson play the game of baseball at a Hall of Fame level, he lived life as such, which allowed him to become a trailblazing icon of the American Civil Rights Movement and the most influential Major League Baseball player in history. By breaking baseball's modern color barrier in 1947, Robinson faced numerous struggles and criticisms, but still produced as an extremely high level. A pure hitter and an aggressive base runner, Robinson often made fools out of opposing pitchers and outfielders during his playing days, stealing home plate 19 times and often turning singles into doubles. He was the 1947 National League Rookie of the Year, the 1949 Most Valuable Player, and made every All-Star team from 1949-54. He retired after 10 seasons, but was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1962, when he garnered 77.5 percent of the vote. Major League Baseball universally retired his number (42) on April 15, 1997—the 50th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier.
A gifted athlete who excelled in multiple sports before settling on a baseball career, Robinson brought an electricity to the Dodgers offense, and helped them to the World Series while winning Rookie of the Year honors in 1947. Two years later, Robinson led the National League in hitting (.342) and steals (37) and had a career-high 124 RBI in winning the MVP and making his first All-Star team. He would hit better than .300 in each of the next five years. Throughout his career, Robinson appeared in the World Series six times, but the Dodgers only won the championship in 1955.
1. Sandy Koufax (1955–1966)
Though his career was short, Sandy Koufax is regularly regarded as one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all-time. At a time when only one Cy Young Award winner was named in all of Major League Baseball, Koufax was an unprecedented three-time unanimous victor (1963, '65, and '66), and he picked up the pitcher's Triple Crown in each of those seasons, too. In a 12-year career that ended at age 30, Koufax threw a perfect game, fired four no-hitters, was a seven-time All-Star, was the 1963 National League Most Valuable Player, and helped the Dodgers win four World Series championships. His number (32) is retired by the franchise, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 1972 with 86.9 percent of the vote.
Koufax debuted for the Dodgers at age 19 in 1955 and was rather pedestrian, statistically speaking, for the first several seasons of his career. The promise of his blazing fastball, however, gave the team hope he could develop into something more. Starting in 1961, he would become the National League's most dominant hurler, and set a new league record with 269 strikeouts in 1961—he'd break that two more times and now owns the NL's live-ball era single-season record of 382 (1965). He had a winning record every year between 1961-66, when he was forced into early retirement because of an arthritic elbow. In his final season, he won a career-high 27 games and posted a career-low earned-run average of 1.73.
Koufax is also one of the best-known Jewish athletes of all-time, and famously refused to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it was Yom Kippur. In his World Series appearances, however, Koufax dazzled. Though he was just 4-3 overall, his ERA in eight games was 0.98 and he struck out 61 batters over 57 innings. He was the World Series MVP in 1963 and '65.
The following are a handful of players who left an indelible mark on the Los Angeles Dodgers, but fell just outside of the top five of all-time.
Roy Campanella (1948–57)
After starting his career in the Negro and Mexican Leagues, Roy Campanella was brought to the Brooklyn Dodgers by Branch Rickey and became one of the better catchers in the history of baseball. Campanella would win three Most Valuable Player awards in his 10-year career, and made every All-Star team from 1949-56. He appeared in the World Series five times with the Dodgers, and was especially sharp in the 1955 championship year—Campanella had five extra-base hits in that World Series. His career ended tragically when he was paralyzed in a car accident after the 1957 season, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969, winning 79.41 percent of the vote.
Pee Wee Reese (1940–42, 1945–58)
A shifty and durable shortstop, Pee Wee Reese played at an All-Star level for the Dodgers for almost 20 years, bringing with him 10 appearances in the Midsummer Classic and 13 straight seasons with at least 140 games played. Reese rarely led the league in any category, but by doing so many things well, he was an indispensable player on teams that won the National League pennant seven times during his career. He finished in the top 10 of MVP voting eight times, and was a prominent base stealer at a time when stealing wasn't an integral part of the game. That helped him to score at least 75 runs in 13 straight seasons—including a league-high 132 in 1949. Reese gained his spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984, when the Veteran's Committee recognized his contributions to the game.
Dazzy Vance (1922–32, '35)
Dazzy Vance led the National League in strikeouts seven seasons in a row from 1922-28, and in 15 seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he built a Hall of Fame career. Vance was the National League MVP in 1924 after capturing the pitching Triple Crown by leading the league with 28 wins, 262 strikeouts, and a 2.16 earned-run average. He also threw an immaculate inning that season, striking out three straight batters on nine total pitches. A year later, he pitched a no-hitter and his 22 wins again led the league. In 12 seasons with the Dodgers, Vance compiled a 190-131 record, with a 3.17 ERA and 1,918 strikeouts. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955, with 81.7 percent of the vote on his 16th ballot.
Clayton Kershaw (2008–present)
Arguably the best pitcher of the 2010s was Clayton Kershaw. With eight All-Star appearances, three Cy Young Awards, and the 2014 Most Valuable Player trophy, Kershaw proved he was no fluke after debuting at age 20 in 2008. He won the pitching Triple Crown in 2011, beginning a stretch of four straight seasons that he led the National League in earned-run average. He’s been tremendous at preventing runs his entire career, and enters the 2020 season with a career ERA of just 2.44—which is tops among active pitchers. In three seasons, he’s finished with an ERA under 2.00, leaving just he and Sandy Koufax as pitchers in team history to accomplish that. He’s never had a losing season in his career, though if there’s any knock on him, it’s that he has struggled a bit with injuries in recent seasons. Thus far in his career, his won-loss record is 169–74, and he has 2,464 strikeouts in 2,274⅔ innings pitched.
© 2020 Andrew Harner