The Dodgers’ 10 Greatest Hitters
Duke Snider (1947-62)
The personification of Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer, Snider was part of the great debate among New York City baseball fans in the 1950s over which center fielder in town was better: He, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle.
Appropriately nicknamed the Duke of Flatbush, the left-handed slugger hit .292 with 23 home runs in his rookie year of 1949; that was merely a warm-up for what was to follow. Throughout the 1950s, no one hit more homers nor knocked in more runs than Snider’s 326 and 1,031, respectively; he hit his peak in the middle of the decade, hitting at least 40 homers five straight years—most of those hit within the cozy confines of historic Ebbets Field. But he only led the National League in home runs once when he clubbed 43 in 1955, the year he came tantalizingly close to winning his only MVP award; he missed when a Philadelphia sportswriter, seriously ill, accidentally placed teammate Roy Campanella’s name on the ballot twice. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America allowed the writer’s vote but voided the second Campanella reference assumed to be meant for Snider, who would have won had it been counted in his favor.
After flubbing in his first World Series in 1949—eking out three hits in 21 at-bats with no homers, no RBIs and eight strikeouts—Snider more than made up over his next four Fall Classic appearances, hitting .324 with 10 homers, including four in the victorious 1955 series against the New York Yankees that would account for Brooklyn’s lone world title.
Snider once committed blasphemy in an interview when he said he played baseball for the money, not for the love of the game—a disillusioning notion to those in Brooklyn who came to idolize him. But he would quickly come to miss the borough, statistically if not emotionally; the Dodgers’ move to his hometown of Los Angeles killed his power game as numerous deep flies that would have cleared the fence at Ebbets died in the outrageously cavernous right-field alley of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Injuries soon followed, and he never played a full season through his remaining years in baseball, which wrapped in 1964 after brief stints with the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants.
Snider finished his career with 407 home runs and a lifetime .295 batting average; he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980.
Zack Wheat (1909-26)
Brooklyn’s lone deadball era star was a quiet, cordial part-Native American who let his bat do all the angry talking—racking up a lifetime .317 batting average and 2,804 hits, the most in Dodgers history. Wheat is also the franchise leader in doubles, triples, RBIs and total bases.
While most players traditional put up heady minor league numbers to prove their worth in the majors, Wheat’s were common at best—yet the Dodgers took a chance on him, and it paid off when he emerged into a star early in his long stay at Brooklyn. Outside of one anomalous year (in 1915, when he hit .258), Wheat was a constant .300 hitter and grabbed a batting title in 1918 when he hit .335. In the offensively enhanced 1920s, Wheat—like most veteran hitters of the time—saw his numbers improve with age as the rules and conditions of the game favored the offense; at age 34, he set career highs with 16 home runs and 112 RBIs and, two years later, hit a personal-best .375.
Despite his placid demeanor (he was never ejected from a game) and enormous popularity in Brooklyn, he was often despised by then-manager Wilbert Robinson, who was paranoid that Wheat might one day take his job. At one point, Robinson tried to trade Wheat because he’d been in Brooklyn for “too long”; comments like that likely erupted out of frustration following a series of contract holdouts involving Wheat, forged by the perfect agent: His wife. (She claimed she never lost.)
Jackie Robinson (1947-56)
Fifty years after breaking the color barrier in baseball, Jackie Robinson had his uniform number retired. Not by the Dodgers, who did it way back in 1972, but by all of baseball. It was a first; no player on any team would wear number 42 again. Such a hallowed honor was a testament to Robinson for being put under America’s microscope, amid a hostile environment where he was ordered by his boss, Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, to have the guts “not to fight back.”
The legend of Robinson’s odyssey in Brooklyn is well recorded. Scouted by Rickey as the right man with the right attitude for the right moment. Tolerance of internal protests from white teammates bred below the Mason-Dixon line. Tolerance of opponents who hurled baseballs at his head and vicious racial epithets at his ears. The gradual warming to him by his team, and the widespread applause and acceptance given to him from around the country as he showed how better a place America could be because of baseball.
Often lost amid the social ramifications of Robinson’s emergence is the intense, energetic effort he gave on the field.
In his groundbreaking rookie year, the 28-year-old Robinson hit .297, produced a 21-game hit streak, scored 125 runs and stole a league-leading 29 bases; he was named Rookie of the Year by both the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and The Sporting News, the conservative, go-to baseball weekly that had argued against Robinson’s talent in what some perceived as a façade for a darker, racist-tinted argument against his being in the game, period.
Through his 10 years with the Dodgers, Robinson was the true spark to complement the Boys of Summer boppers behind him in the lineup. He recorded a lifetime .311 batting average, scored 100 runs six times and stole nearly 200 bases at a time when speed was an afterthought. In 1949, Robinson enjoyed his best year statistically when he collected 203 hits, 38 doubles, 12 triples, 16 homers, 124 RBIs, 37 steals and won the NL batting crown with a .342 average. For this, he became the first black player to win an MVP award.
Robinson was never quite able to rise to the occasion in the postseason, batting just .234 in 38 games—though he did create one of his more memorable moments in Game One of the 1955 World Series when he stole home, sending opposing Yankee catcher Yogi Berra flying into a rage to dispute the call.
After the 1956 season, Robinson—gradually graying at age 37—was traded to the New York Giants; rather than report to his archrivals, he retired.
Robinson knew all too well that the emancipation of African-Americans within the majors didn’t start and stop with him, as he fought tirelessly for the continued presence of blacks in the game where it seemed woefully underwhelming. He publicly challenged the all-white Yankees to integrate in 1954 after general manager George Weiss stated on record that “Boxholders from Westchester…would be offended to sit with niggers”; testified to Congress in 1970 on behalf of outfielder Curt Flood, who was challenging the slave-like reserve clause; and, in his dying days in 1972, made a nationally-televised plea at the World Series to hire a black manager. (Frank Robinson would get that call, over two years later.)
Dolph Camilli (1938-43)
The beginning of the Dodgers’ reign of excellence all but coincided with the 1938 arrival of Camilli, a quiet yet hardened individual raised under tough circumstances in San Francisco; after watching his brother literally get beat to death in a boxing ring by future heavyweight champ Max Baer, Camilli came to the conclusion that baseball would be a safer way to earn a living.
Camilli emerged as a dependably strong (if not sensational) slugger midway through the 1930s with the Philadelphia Phillies, who were on the road to bankruptcy; not surprisingly, they sold Camilli to the Dodgers for $50,000. His spirits lifted, Camilli ramped it up for Brooklyn, peaking in the Dodgers’ pennant-winning 1941 season when he took home NL MVP honors with a league-leading 34 home runs and 120 RBIs; he also showed his patience by walking 104 times, the fourth and final time he would top the century mark. The joy of Camilli’s regular season performance was muted by his substandard World Series showing against the Yankees, nabbing just three hits in 18 at-bats with only one RBI.
Over the next few years, Camilli’s performance waned considerably—and as Jackie Robinson would do years later, he stepped away from the game in 1943 rather than accept a trade to the Giants. After spending time in the Pacific Coast League, Camilli returned as a wartime roster filler for the Boston Red Sox in 1945 for a short and unremarkable stint at age 38.
Gil Hodges (1943, 1947-61)
Although he lacked the star power and accolades of the era’s more famed Dodgers such as Snider, Robinson and Pee Wee Reese, Hodges put up high-quality numbers that hardly suggested that he was a mere supporting player. He is, in fact, a close second behind Snider in the Dodgers’ all-time record book with 361 home runs and 1,254 RBIs.
Hodges began his Dodgers career as a catcher but gradually took over the role at first base and excelled, winning three Gold Gloves; he would have likely won more had the award existed before 1957. Offensively, he gave the Dodgers plenty of backbone; he twice blasted at least 40 home runs and in seven straight years (1949-55) knocked in at least 100 runs. Hodges set a major league mark in 1954 with 19 sacrifice flies, and in 1950 became only the fourth player in the century to hit four homers in a game. Eight times, he was selected to the All-Star Game roster.
After suffering through an awful 1952 World Series in which he went hitless in 21 at-bats, Hodges powered up for his next four Fall Classic appearances, hitting .337; he knocked in both runs in Game Seven of the 1955 Series to seal Brooklyn’s lone world title, and four years later hit .391 for Los Angeles in its six-game triumph over the Chicago White Sox.
Hodges’ career faded into the early 1960s and, like numerous other Dodgers and Giants names from the 1950s, found himself doing mop-up work for the expansion New York Mets—with Hodges in the books as the first player to homer for the new franchise. After a long but unsuccessful stint as manager of the Washington Senators, Hodges was back in New York as the Mets’ skipper—and presided over the Amazin’ 1969 world champions. In the spring of 1972, while golfing with his coaches, Hodges suffered a fatal heart attack at age 47.
Jack Fournier (1923-26)
The left-handed slugger from Michigan only played four years with the Robins (as the Dodgers were called under the leadership of manager Wilbert Robinson), but he packed a heck of a wallop—hitting .337, knocking in over 100 runs three times and leading the NL with 27 home runs in 1924; in 1926, Fournier became the first player in franchise history to hit three homers in one game.
Fournier suffered from a case of bad timing, however—arriving in the majors some 60 years before the advent of the designated hitter. He was as awful with the glove as he was sensational with the bat, and his offensive numbers weren’t enough to offset his defensive play (even at first base, one of the less demanding positions on the field) and keep from hearing constant booing from his own fans at Ebbets Field. The catcalls got so bad that the thick-skinned Fournier considered quitting the game, and was known to take on both opposing players on the field as well as fans outside the ballpark.
Dixie Walker (1939-47)
A terrific contact hitter who rarely struck out, Walker spent a frustrating first decade of his career in the American League, largely (and unsuccessfully) trying to crack a Yankee team loaded with talent. After brief but more active stints with the White Sox and Detroit Tigers, Walker was dealt to the Dodgers and proceeded to become a fan favorite in Brooklyn with his annual ability to hit at or above .300; he would soon be known at Ebbets Field as The People’s Cherce—“Cherce” being Brooklynspeak for “choice.”
Walker made history in advance when, with a wartime uptick in 1944, he led the NL with a .357 average; three years later, his brother Harry won his own batting title for Philadelphia, making the two the only pair of brothers in history to both win separate batting crowns.
Never a power hitter—in 1,905 career games, he managed only 105 round-trippers—Walker managed to pull of the increasingly rare trick of knocking in over 100 runs with less than 10 homers—accomplishing the feat in successive years from 1944-45.
Walker’s reputation has taken a historic beating due to his initial disapproval of Jackie Robinson after he signed on with the Dodgers. While Robinson prepped in the minors at Montreal, Walker told the media: “As long as he isn’t with the Dodgers, I’m not worried.” When Robinson did reach the parent club in 1947, it was Walker who started a petition to have him ousted; when that didn’t work, he asked to be traded. By the time the Dodgers obliged—sending him to Pittsburgh at the end of the season—Walker had come around to Robinson, declaring him an excellent athlete and a good man.
Pedro Guerrero (1978-88)
Filling the power vacuum left behind by the disbanded Los Angeles infield of Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes and Bill Russell from the 1970s, Guerrero fueled the Dodgers’ offense throughout much of the 1980s with a solid penchant for home runs while keeping his average at or above .300. In fact, he twice finished second in the NL batting race (in 1985 and 1987), and in 1982 became the first Dodger since Roy Campanella in 1955 to have a .300-30-100 campaign.
Guerrero broke into prominence in the final game of the 1981 World Series when he knocked in five runs at Yankee Stadium to help secure the world title over New York; he finished in a three-way tie for the Series MVP with Cey and Steve Yeager.
Defensively challenged, Guerrero struggled in both the outfield and (especially) at third base before settling in at first once Garvey left for San Diego. His comfort zone was shattered in 1988 when first-year Dodger Kirk Gibson confronted him for laughing it up with opposing St. Louis players following a loss to the Cardinals; he was later traded—to the Cardinals. Guerrero took the news badly.
Roy Campanella (1948-57)
Built like a brick with immense power, Campanella followed the path blazed by Robinson and became a powerful figure in the Dodgers’ Boys of Summer era—only to see his career cut tragically cut short.
From the age of 15, Campanella logged a decade of experience in the Negro Leagues when he was brought into the Dodgers’ fold a year after Robinson signed on; he starred at Triple-A Montreal and St. Paul before being summoned to Brooklyn midway through the 1948 season—and instantly showed his potential by going 9-for-15 with a double, triple and two home runs in his first four starts. For the next decade, Campanella would reign as the NL’s premier catcher, earning eight All-Star Game assignments and, in a space of five years, three NL MVP awards. All along, Campanella didn’t carry the cause of integration or civil rights on his sleeve as did Robinson; he simply wanted to play the game.
Durable for his time, Campanella possessed a cannon for a throwing arm and nailed nearly 60% of all attempted basestealers. All of this despite chronic hand injuries that led to a funky period in which he followed up each of his MVP campaigns with decidedly disappointing numbers at the plate.
After the 1957 season—which ended with the Dodgers announcing their move to California—the 35-year-old Campanella lost control of his car on an icy winter night on Long Island and crashed into a telephone pole; the accident permanently paralyzed him from the waist down. In his honor and to help pay off his medical bills, the Dodgers hosted a benefit game with the Yankees in May 1959 that drew 93,103 fans to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum; it was the largest crowd yet to see a major league baseball game.
Steve Garvey (1969-82)
Love him or hate him, Garvey—with his Popeye-like arms and handsome, boy-next-door looks—was the face of the great Dodgers teams of the 1970s and starred in the infield with Cey, Russell and Lopes for eight years together—the majors’ longest such shared tenure.
Garvey was brought up a third baseman but moved to first not because he couldn’t handle the hot shots drilled at him, but because of an erratic throwing arm. Transitioned to first, Garvey thrived—winning four Gold Gloves while leading the majors five times in fielding percentage. (After his trade to San Diego, Garvey recorded an unprecedented 1.000 fielding rate at first in 1984.) But it was at the plate where Garvey truly earned his pay. Six times he collected 200 or more hits, knocked in over 100 runs five times, reaped the 1974 NL MVP and, in 1977, hit a career-high 33 home runs to join three teammates in becoming the first quartet of players on one team to each slug 30 or more homers in a year.
The bigger the spotlight, the better Garvey performed. The first player voted into the All-Star Game’s starting lineup as a write-in candidate, Garvey responded with solid play that earned him his first of two MVPs performing at the Midsummer Classic. (Garvey had a lifetime .393 average in 10 All-Star Games—all won by the NL.) In the postseason, Garvey was a career .346 hitter in 45 games, twice copping the NLCS MVP award.
Garvey’s dependability was also reflected by appearing in a NL-record 1,207 consecutive games, a run that began as a Dodger and ended as a Padre when he got his hand stepped on at first base while trying to pick off a baserunner.
Amiable yet never shy to promote himself, Garvey was not universally popular—not even within his own clubhouse, as best remembered when he engaged in a wrestling match with outspoken teammate Don Sutton over public remarks the star pitcher had made criticizing Garvey’s “façade” and “Madison Avenue image.” Having a wife (Cyndy Garvey) who seemed far more starved for stardom didn’t help matters. Shortly after his retirement, Garvey’s clean-cut image took a nasty hit in 1989 when he was named in multiple paternity suits while Cyndy—by now, his ex—released a tell-all book on their marriage.
Garvey’s .294 career average, 2,599 career hits and flair for performing in the clutch certainly make him one of the very best players not in the Hall of Fame.
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