Los Angeles Dodger cap and February 1975 Baseball Digest featuring Steve Garvey [David Kramer’s collection]
Like many baseball fans, I live in the past. For example, in the interior imagination of our baseball poet Bill Pruitt, nothing can eclipse Gibby’s nine complete games for his Cards back in ’64, ’67 and ’68 before there was such a thing as the playoffs or a World Series day game.¹ For me, the frozen-in-time golden age was 1969 – 1985, the years comprising my card collection.
I began the collection in 1972 during the era of the dynasties before free agency took full hold. I did not fill my card sleeves with cellar dwellers or even Davids. Instead, my collection is of Goliaths: the Orioles and Yankees in the AL East who combined for 11 division titles during that era; the A’s and Royals in the West combined for 12; the Phillies and the Pirates combined for 11 in the NL East; the Reds and the Dodgers combined for 12 in the West.
The Dodgers, now in the World Series for the third time in four years, took me back to my card era when Los Angeles won four pennants in eight years. As the Dodgers played on the west coast, I did not follow them closely. Nonetheless, I marvelled at the longevity of what I call the quintessential quintet who played together from 1972 – 1981: Ron Cey 3B, Steve Garvey 1B, Davey Lopes 2B, Bill Russell SS, Steve Yeager C.²
Generally attention is mostly paid to the infield quartet who became full time starters in 1973 — Cey, Garvey, Lopes and Russell — but the longevity streak is more impressive when we include Yeager. Although Yeager played in fewer games than the rest of the quintet, the five were frequently on the field for parts of nine consecutive seasons.
Ultimately, free agency took its toll on the quintet when Garvey signed with the Padres in 1982. Lopes was traded to the A’s the same year. Cey was traded to the Cubs in 1983. Yeager played the last year of his 15 year career with Seattle before retiring in 1986. Russell spent his entire 18 year career with the Dodgers, retiring in 1986.³
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With the quintet on the rise, the Dodger beat out the Reds, winning Los Angeles’ first pennant since 1966 after defeating Pittsburgh 3 games to 1 in the League Championship Series.
The Dodgers lost in five games to the A’s, four of which ended with a 3 – 2 score. The series was marked by three throws: Joe Ferguson nailing Sal Bando at the plate with Yeager holding on; Bill Buckner trying to take an extra base and tagged out by Bando; Mike Marshall picking off pinch running specialist Herb Washington. “Fast Food” Washington would later open McDonald’s restaurants in Rochester and Pittsford.
After the Big Red Machine dominated the NL West in ’75 and ’76, the Dodgers regained the division title, then defeated the Phillies three games to one to face the Yankees. The Dodgers were done in by Reggie Jackson who hit 4 home runs on four consecutive swings, including 3 in game six.
The Dodgers again beat the Phillies in the League Championship, only to fall again to the Yankees. This time the Dodgers were undone by the glove work of Graig Nettles. Jackson played his role when he got in the way a thrown ball, foiling a double-play attempt by the Dodgers. Much to the chagrin of Dodger’s manager Tommy Lasorda, no interference was called.
In the 1981 strike season, the Dodgers had to first defeat Houston in the Division Series and Montreal in the Championship Series to gain a rematch with the Yankees. The Dodgers won in six as reliever George Frazier had the dubious distinction as the only pitcher to lose three games in a best of seven World Series. Lefty Williams lost 3 games in the 8 game 1919 series. However, Williams is widely suspected to have thrown those games as part of the Black Sox Scandal.
A crucial moment came in game six. Unlike in the American League regular season, no designated hitter was used. In the fourth inning, New York manager Bob Lemon removed Tommy John for pinch-hitter, Bobby Murcer, with the score at 1-1 and runners on second. John’s replacement — the ill fated Frazier — gave up 3 runs in the 5th for the loss. Many say that Lemon — unused to managing without a DH — panicked when he removed John so early in the game.
Having won a legal challenge to Topp’s baseball card monopoly, in 1981 Fleer began producing its own sets.
¹ I asked Bill if my speculation about his interior baseball imagination was overstated. He responded:
You did exaggerate, but I don’t mind. Gibson’s accomplishments were sterling; but my poetic imagination makes equal room for Sutter striking out Gorman Thomas in 82; and in 2011 the Cards coming back twice after being one out away from losing the series in game six, and David Freese hitting two home runs in that game, to tie and then to win. Then they won game 7. How can anything surpass that?
² Don Sutton pitched for the Dodgers from 1966 – 1980, but was signed as a free agent in 1981 by Houston, hence I am not including Sutton in what would be a Supper Sextet.
³ In The Durable Dodger Infield (1980), W. R. Bill Schroeder looks at the Chicago Cubs’ famous infield Frank Chance, Johnny Evers, Joe Tinker, and Harry Steinfeldt from 1906 – 1910, immortalized by Franklin Pierce Adams’ Baseball’s Sad Lexicon:
These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double-
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
— Franklin Pierce Adams, New York Evening Mail (July 10, 1910)
Schroeder concludes that Chicago had a more publicized, but less deserving, infield than the Dodgers for whom he penned a rhyme;
Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey
The Dodger infield that came to stay
Nothing flashy, but steady and true
Dating way back to Seventy-Two
— W. R. Bill Schroeder, 1980
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