Los Angeles Dodgers – Decade Record: 910-701, 3 Division Titles, 3 Pennants
The Dodgers were a perennial contender during the decade, finishing lower than 2nd place or under .500 only once, in 1979. They ranked 4th in the majors with 910 wins, and 3rd in the National League, 98 more than 4th ranked Philadelphia. There was a clear changing of the guard that took place as the holdovers from the ’65-’66 World Series teams – Wes Parker, Maury Wills, Willie Davis, Claude Osteen, and Jim Brewer – aged, and by mid decade were replaced by a new core, especially the infield that would play together as starters from mid-1973 through 1981- Steve Garvey at first, Davey Lopes at second, Bill Russell at shortstop, and Ron Cey at third.
Garvey was the team’s leader. In the final 6 years of the decade after becoming a full-timer in 1974, Steve finished in the Top 20 in MVP voting each year and the Top 10 4 times. He won 4 Gold Gloves and had 5 seasons of 200+ hits and 4 seasons of 110 or more RBI. The speedy Lopes was an excellent table-setter who stole a team-high 375 bases and tied with Garvey for the team lead in runs (645). Russell led the team with 46 triples and 74 sacrifices, while Cey had 2 100+ RBI seasons and led the Dodgers with 163 home runs.
The common thread from the two eras was Don Sutton, who went 12-12 as a rookie on the 1966 pennant winner and was the 1970s staff ace, leading the team with 166 wins, 117 complete games, 39 shutouts, and 1,767 strikeouts. He had a decade-high 21 wins in 1976 and fanned 200 or more batters 3 times. Lefty Tommy John went 87-42 as a Dodger with a 2.97 ERA, with most of the wins coming after missing all of 1975 recovering from the innovative new elbow surgery that now bears his name.
The Dodgers finished one game out of first in 1971, and 3 ½ out in 1973 despite winning 95 games, and proceeded to trade Davis to Montreal for relief ace Mike Marshall, and dealt Osteen to Houston for center fielder Jimmy Wynn. In ’74 Los Angeles won 102 games and captured their first pennant of the decade. Garvey was a write-in All-Star starter and won National League MVP honors, while Marshall finished 3rd in the balloting but did capture the Cy Young Award, pitching in 106 games and going 15-12 with 21 saves and a 2.42 ERA. Wynn finished 5th, with 32 home runs and 108 RBI. Right hander Andy Messersmith won 20 games and struck out 221 batters. The Dodgers fell short in the World Series, losing 4 games to 1 as Oakland captured their third straight World Championship.
Following two consecutive second place finishes, the legendary Walter Alston stepped down as manager after 23 seasons at the helm and was replaced by Tom Lasorda, who would lead the Dodgers for the next 15 years. L.A. won another pennant in 1977, with their signature infield, Tommy John’s 20 wins, and the additions of outfielders Dusty Baker (acquired from Atlanta for Wynn), Rick Monday (acquired as part of the Bill Buckner trade), and Reggie Smith (acquired from St Louis for Joe Ferguson), who lead the league with a .427 OB% and finished 4th in MVP balloting in ’77 and ’78. Though not normally known for their power, LA had 4 hitters with 30+ home runs in 1977 (and 5 for all of the decade!) – Garvey, Cey, Smith, and Baker. However in 1977, and again in 1978, the Dodgers were turned away in 6 games by the Reggie Jackson-led Yankees.
Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks: