Catching Up On 60 Years of True Blue Moments

by | May 18, 2018 | Andrei Ojeda, MLB |

In the 60 years since Dem Bums moved west the Dodgers would take up temporary residence at the Los Angeles Coliseum, winning the World Series in their second season in L.A. before calling Dodger Stadium their home in 1962. During their 60 years in the City of Angels, the Dodgers have made 22 postseason appearances, the most of any National League team in that span, winning five World Series, 10 National League pennants, and 16 NL West Division titles.  

To quote Dodgers broadcaster Joe Davis, “Moment after Moment” from sweeping the Yankees in 1963 to their most recent World Series appearance in 29 years highlighted by Gibson’s walk-off in Game One of ‘88, and countless legends like Koufax, Drysdale, Garvey, Fernando, Hershiser, Piazza, and Kershaw, just to name a few. They collectively have brought many great “Moment after Moment” to many a Dodger Blue blooded Angeleno.

Recently the Dodgers honored the 1988 World Champion team with a pre-game ceremony. Prior to the ceremony the team hosted their annual alumni game. Formerly known as the old-timers game, these games were once common throughout baseball. After an 18 year absence, the alumni game would be revived by the Dodgers in 2013. The game would feature alumni mostly from their ‘81 and ‘88 World Champion teams. Other alumni dating back to 1958 were present as well, including Don Newcombe, Maury Wills, Tommy Davis, and Sandy Koufax.

I had a chance to catch up with a few of the Dodgers alumni from the 1970’s and 80’s, including two of the four members of baseball’s longest running infield. Steve Garvey would spend 14 of his 19 MLB seasons wearing the Dodger Blue from 1969-1982. A 10-time All-Star throughout his career with four Gold Gloves, National League MVP in 1974, and part of the 1981 World Champions, Garvey, who runs Garvey Media Group gives about 45-50 motivational speeches with a focus on advertising. He was among the four who would be part of baseball’s longest running infield from 1973-1981 along Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey. “The key was staying healthy. We continued to grow as players and understand our roles and performances, our teams did well and Al Campanis signed us to long-term contracts. When it was all said and done that recipe was a great recipe for success during what I call The Golden Era from 1973-82.”

Of the four members of baseball’s longest running infield, Bill Russell would spend his entire playing career with the Dodgers from 1969-86. Currently working for MLB’s umpiring division evaluating umpire performances at Dodger and Angel Stadium, Russell, a three-time All-Star, would become just the third L.A. Dodger manager in 39 seasons, taking over for the legendary Tommy Lasorda midway through the 1996 season. Prior to taking the reins as Dodger skipper, Russell would be part of Lasorda’s coaching staff as a bench coach from 1987-91. After managing the Dodgers Triple-A farm club, the Albuquerque Dukes, Russell would return as a Dodgers coach in 1994. On taking over for Lasorda midway through the 1996 season, “You’re never going to be able to replace somebody like that, a Hall of Famer, you just can’t replace him. You just go out and do your best, let the players perform and that’s all you can do.”

Steve Sax, National League Rookie of the Year in 1982 and five-time All-Star, would spend eight of his 14 seasons in Dodger Blue from 1981-88. With Davey Lopes being traded during the off-season after the 1981 season, breaking up baseball’s longest running infield, Sax, currently an MLB Network Radio host, would take over the starting duties at 2nd base. On being a rookie among veterans Garvey, Cey, and Russell he said, “They were a big part of helping me get to the point where I had to get to being successful because that was a veteran laden team. They gave me an opportunity to go through bad times and really showed me what professionalism was all about.”

In his 15 years in the bigs, Derrel Thomas would play for eight teams, passing through L.A. from 1979-83. Thomas remains active with the Dodgers in community relations as a representative of the Dodgers Legend Bureau. During his playing days, most as a utility player, Thomas would play every position at one point except pitcher. On moving from one position to another during the game, “Your frame of mind changes because the game speeds up on you when playing the infield versus playing the outfield.” His favorite moment in Dodger Blue was ”walking out into Yankee Stadium, Game 6 of the 1981 World Series.”

After spending two seasons each with the California Angels and the Minnesota Twins, Ken Landreaux would finish the remainder of his career with the in Dodger Blue from 1981-87. Prior to arriving in Los Angeles, Landreaux would set a Twins record in 1981 with a 31-game hitting streak. “When the Twins informed me I was being traded to the Dodgers it was like going back home. I was born and raised in Los Angeles so I was a Dodger fan from day one growing up in nearby Compton. Maury Wills, Tommy Davis, Sandy Koufax, Jim Gilliam, Johnny Roseboro – those were some great Dodgers players. If I ever got drafted by a major league team I always wanted it to be the Dodgers.” Playing mostly in center field with the Dodgers, it was Landreaux who would catch the final out in Game Six of the 1981 World Series. These days, Landreaux works special events with the Dodgers in Community Relations as well as the Compton Youth Academy for youth baseball development.

Though the 1988 team would best be remembered by the exploits of Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser, Tim Belcher would play a key role with the pitching staff, winning 12 games in 1988 during his rookie campaign. Belcher would also win two games in the 1988 NLCS against the heavily favored Mets. Belcher, who would climb through the Oakland Athletics Triple-A organization, was traded to the Dodgers in September of 1987 for current Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. With Hershiser having pitched in Game Seven of the NLCS, it would be the rookie pitcher who would get the nod against his former ‘mates in Game One of the World Series. The A’s, featuring Bash Brothers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, would enter the series as heavy favorites. After a two-run shot by Mickey Hatcher in the home first, it seemed the “experts” would have their way when Jose Canseco launched a massive grand slam in the visiting half of the second. Though Belcher would only pitch two innings of that first game, he would come back strong and win a pivotal Game Four in Oakland, putting the Dodgers up three games to one and setting up the next evening’s triumph. As a rookie getting the start in one of baseball’s biggest stages, it would only be natural if Belcher had butterflies in his stomach.

“I did actually. A lot of those guys were my teammates just a year before. I was traded from Oakland in ‘87 so I played with a lot of those guys in the minor leagues.”

A native of Ohio, Belcher currently works for the Cleveland Indians as a Special Assistant for Baseball Operations, both on and off field activities.

After coming one game shy of their sixth World Series triumph in Los Angeles, the Dodgers find themselves struggling in 2018. Like any storied franchise, in the 60 years in Los Angeles, the Dodgers and their blue blooded followers have had their fair share of ups and downs. Though not impossible, it will be an uphill climb if The Blue is to win their sixth straight division title.  As Vin Scully once said, “The Dodgers never do anything easy. They don’t win easy and they don’t lose easy.”

Click here to view more pictures from the Dodgers alumni game and reunion.

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