"You can't start a fire, you can't start a fire without a spark."
-Bruce Springsteen, Dancing In The Dark
Our kickoff to creating the best lineup in LA Dodger history begins, fittingly, with the leadoff position. First, we are restricting this to Los Angeles Dodgers only. Not because we are soulless, evil people who take pleasure in opening old wounds with the fine people of Brooklyn. The main reason we are restricting this to LA only is that the Dodgers' timeline out west coincides nicely with the Retrosheet Era. Getting play-by-play data from before 1956 is quite a chore, so it's difficult to discern where certain players batted.
The Dodgers, for the most part, have had a nice linear progression of leadoff men ever since their move to Los Angeles. Here is a look at the LA Dodger leadoff men, their years as primary leadoff man, along with their overall stats as Dodgers:
|Player||Years||#1 Starts||PA||Runs||SB||CS||Slash Stats||OPS+|
|Brett Butler||91-94, 1997||599||3342||455||179||90||.298/.392/.368||112|
A couple of notes:
1) As we pick each batting order position, that position in the field becomes unavailable for future polls
2) For purposes of this poll, Jim Gilliam is counted as a third baseman. In his years as the primary leadoff man in LA (1958-1960), he started 385 games at 3B, versus 75 in the OF and 55 games at 2B. If we extend this poll to add utility men, Gilliam is pretty much guaranteed a spot.
Between Butler and the arrival of Rafael Furcal, the Dodgers had a hodgepodge of guys bat leadoff, a mix of Eric Young, Dave Roberts, and Cesar Izturis. If we do this poll in a couple of years, Furcal will definitely be in this poll, and might have a shot at the top spot.
The leadoff position is probably my favorite position in the batting order. I love players at the top of the lineup who get on base and wreak absolute havoc on the bases. I loved watching Brett Butler play. With him, bunting was an art form, and watching him lure in the third baseman only to slap a single (or double) over his drawn-in head was a thing of beauty. Steve Sax has a special place in my heart for batting leadoff for my favorite team of all-time. Jim Gilliam should probably get some extra credit for his Brooklyn days (he was Rookie of the Year in 1953), and he was Walter O'Malley's favorite player, for what it's worth. Maury Wills was a key cog in the 1960s championship machine.
However, my vote will go to Davey Lopes. I never got to watch him play live, outside of some games late in his career as an Astro. I still remember his 1987 Topps "Record Breaker" card, noting that he had the most steals as a 40+ year old (he had 25 in 1986, a record that was broken by -- you'll never guess this one -- the newest Hall of Famer). I've seen plenty of Lopes on tape to pick him as the best leadoff man in Los Angeles Dodger history.
Who's your pick?
[Editor Note] - I've added Rafael Furcal