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The 1991 Dodgers: 6 National League All-Stars & a looming pennant race with the Braves

30 years ago, the best-record-in-MLB Dodgers sent 6 players to the midsummer classic in Toronto.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Thirty years ago this week, the Dodgers sent six All-Stars to Skydome in Toronto, representative of a team that held the best record (49-31) and run differential (+78) in the majors.

It was first time the Dodgers had that many All-Stars since 1981, and something they’ve only done once since, in 2017. Six All-Stars is the Dodgers record since moving to Los Angeles. The franchise record is seven All-Stars in one year, done six times in Brooklyn between 1941-52, when there were only eight teams in the National League.

Darryl Strawberry, in his first year with his hometown team, was the only Dodgers player elected to start by the fans, earning the most votes among National League outfielders. It was the eighth straight All-Star nod for Strawberry, but one clearly based on reputation rather than performance.

Two different injured list stints with shoulder issues cost Strawberry 20 games in the first half. He returned to play the final five games before the break but was hitting just .229/.344/.410 with eight home runs and 30 RBI. He opted not to go to Toronto.

“I need to rest the shoulder and be ready for the second half,” Strawberry said. “I appreciate the fans’ support, but I have not had a first half deserving of All-Star selection.” (1)

1991 Dodgers All-Stars

Pos Player ASG Game
Pos Player ASG Game
CF Brett Butler 1st 0 for 1
SP Ramon Martinez 2nd DNP (hip)
SP Mike Morgan 1st 1 IP, 0 R, K
1B Eddie Murray 8th 0 for 1
2B Juan Samuel 3rd 1 for 1
RF Darryl Strawberry 9th DNP (shoulder)
Strawberry was elected to start by the fans

The Dodgers’ other prize free agent acquisition that offseason, Brett Butler, was a smashing success from the get go, hitting .302/.403/.341 with 19 steals at the break. He led the National League in runs scored (59), ranked second in on-base percentage, fourth in walks (52).

Butler entered the break on a 21-game hitting streak, including five hits in the last two games before the break over Atlanta, with whom he almost signed.

The Dodgers in December 1990 signed Butler for $10 million over three years. The Braves’ offer was a reported $7.5 million, but upon learning of the Dodgers’ interest only upped their offer by $100,000, per the Los Angeles Times.

“To be honest, I really wanted to play for the Braves, but to see them use that sort of negotiating tactic ...,” Butler said. “After I heard their offer, I knew I could feel good about going to the Dodgers.” (2)

Butler, who would extend that hit streak to 23 games, the longest of his career, was also third in the NL in hits (94) at the break. Tony Gwynn, as you might expect, was first, with 119 hits, but in between was Juan Samuel. It was the third All-Star Game for the 30-year-old Samuel, in his second year with the Dodgers and hitting .313/.359/.447 at the break.

Ramon Martinez, the runner-up for the National League Cy Young Award in 1990, beat Atlanta on the Sunday before the All-Star Game for his 12th win, tying Tom Glavine for the NL lead. But he left the game in the sixth inning with a hip strain. He’d make his next start a week later, but Martinez was advised not to pitch in Toronto after earning his second All-Star nod.

62nd MLB All-Star Game
Ramon Martinez led the National League in wins at the All-Star break in 1991, and made his second misdummer classic, though the Dodgers right-hander didn’t pitch, nursing a hip strain.
Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Martinez was initially the only Dodgers pitcher named to the NL All-Star team. At the time, All-Star rosters were at 28 players, and the previous year’s pennant-winning manager picked all the reserves (unlike now). Reds skipper Lou Piniella opted to take only nine pitchers, and Mike Morgan (9-5 with a 2.43 ERA in a team-leading 122⅓ innings) was among the snubs.

“This just goes to show that the game is a joke,” Morgan said. “The way I felt, it was impossible for me not to make the team. Whoever chooses these teams didn’t know what they were looking at. They did not take the best.” (2)

“Leaving Mike Morgan off that team is a stinking crime,” catcher Mike Scioscia said. “It ticks me off. We should have had Mike Morgan on that staff. He pitched better than some of the guys who were taken.” (3)

But once Martinez bowed out, Morgan got the nod for his only career All-Star nod. It was also Butler’s only All-Star Game, and the final midsummer classics for Martinez, Strawberry, and Samuel.

Eddie Murray, at age 35, also made his eighth and final All-Star roster in 1991, leading the Dodgers with 51 runs batted in at the break.

Dodgers made their All-Star appearances beginning in the fifth inning, when Samuel took over at second base for Ryne Sandberg. Murray replaced Will Clark at first base in the sixth.

In the seventh inning, Butler pinch ran at first base for Gwynn, who singled, then Samuel singled to left field. With a pair of Dodgers teammates on base with two outs against Rick Aguilera, Murray struck out to end the inning, keeping the American League on top, 3-2.

Mike Morgan pitched the top of the ninth inning, retiring three Hall of Famers — Kirby Puckett, Carlton Fisk, Roberto Alomar — in order, striking out Fisk.

The score was 4-2 in the ninth inning when Dennis Eckersley retired the side in order, ending with a Butler groundout back to the box.

Heading into the second half of the season, the Dodgers were looking strong. Despite Strawberry and Scioscia missing time, they had the best record in baseball. Orel Hershiser returned in May after missing a year with shoulder surgery, and the rotation was solid.

The division lead was five games over the defending-champion Reds, and confidence was high in Los Angeles.

“Overall, we’re satisfied with our performance,” Strawberry told the Associated Press. “The second half is going to be fun because all the players are relaxed about what we have to do.” (4)

That AP story was featured in multiple newspapers. The titles varied, but with the same theme. One said, “Dodgers poised to run away with National League West,” and another used, “Dodgers’ best may be yet to come.”

For Strawberry, his best was yet to come. He caught fire in the second half, hitting 20 home runs and driving in 69, looking every bit like the superstar the Dodgers signed. It’s hard to overstate how much of a Hall of Fame lock Strawberry seemed at the time. He was tied with Mickey Mantle for the eighth-most home runs through their first nine major league seasons, with Rocky Colavito and Strawberry the only two of the top 15 such players not in Cooperstown.

Strawberry’s second half helped the Dodgers to a 44-38 post-break record, reaching 93 wins on the season, a total they wouldn’t top until 2009.

“The only way we’ll lose this thing is if some other team gets flat-out hot, plays .650 ball, and beats us,” Scioscia said at the All-Star break. “Because injuries don’t seem to affect us.

“We aren’t going to give another team any chances. They are going to have to beat us themselves.” (5)

Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers

Atlanta, a last-place finisher in the previous three seasons, was one game under .500 at the break in 1991 — 9½ games back of the Dodgers — but the young talent was coming together. At the time the Braves were thought to be up and coming, though I’m not sure anyone saw 14 division titles in the next 15 years coming.

But Scioscia proved prescient, as the Braves finishing 55-28 (.663) vaulted them over the Dodgers.

The Braves won two of three over the Dodgers in Atlanta from September 13-15 to pull ahead by 1½ games, but one week later the Dodgers returned the favor in Los Angeles to lead by 1½ games themselves.

The Dodgers led by two games with eight to play, and even led by a game with four to play. But three straight Los Angeles losses down the stretch, coupled with eight straight Atlanta wins eliminated the Dodgers on the penultimate day of the season.

  1. “Only Dodger All-Star pick to stay home,” by Ross Newhan. The Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1991.
  2. “That old blue magic’s got them in its spell,” by Bill Plaschke. The Los Angeles Times, July 11, 1991.
  3. “Morgan, Winfield, Joyner left off All-Star teams,” by Bill Plaschke. The Los Angeles Times, July 5, 1991.
  4. “Padres beat Dodgers in 12 innings,” by Terry Johnson. San Pedro News-Pilot, July 5, 1991.
  5. “Dodgers poised to run away with National League West,” The Associated Press. From The Signal, Santa Clarita, California, July 11, 1991.