The Los Angeles Dodgers’ 29-year wait to return to the World Series ended this week when they hosted the Houston Astros in games one and two at Chavez Ravine. Behind the stellar pitching of Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers took the first game, 3-1, but fell in extra innings on Wednesday, 7-6. The series resumes tonight through Sunday at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Kershaw’s 11 strikeouts in game one may remind long-time baseball fans of some the phenomenal names who have played for the Dodgers. The team has a storied history in the World Series, beginning with its first championship in Brooklyn in 1955 behind the play of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Duke Snyder. They defeated the cross-town rival New York Yankees that year who boasted their own list of baseball legends including Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle.
The next year saw a rematch in the Fall Classic, this time with the Yankees emerging victorious after pitcher Don Larsen threw a perfect game.
The Dodgers’ move west in 1958 saw a continuation of championship baseball with the pitching of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, the hitting of Tommy Davis and the base-stealing prowess of Maury Wills. Playing at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum while Dodger Stadium was under construction, the Dodgers in 1959 defeated the Chicago White Sox for the World Series title.
This combination of players continued their domination of Major League Baseball in 1963 when the Dodgers swept the Yankees for their third World Series trophy, and again in 1965 against the Minnesota Twins. During this period, Dodger Stadium became a destination point for sports fans, particularly to see Koufax and Drysdale dominate opposing batters. Koufax would win three Cy Young Awards, while Wills would set the single-season record for stolen bases, and Drysdale would later set a record for consecutive scoreless innings.
Although the Dodgers would appear in the 1966 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, and again in 1974 against the Oakland Athletics, there was a dry period in the Fall Classic championships including two consecutive appearances against the Yankees in 1977 and 1978. The 1977 series was notable as Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in game six, each on the first pitch.
Popular manager Tommy Lasorda took the helm in the mid ‘70s and guided a talented group including infielders Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Dave Lopes, Steve Yeager, and outfielders Dusty Baker and Rick Monday to their only World Series title together in 1981, once again against the Yankees. The 1981 season was significant because it was divided in half by a strike. In that victory, sluggers Cey, Yeager and Pedro Guerrero were named World Series co-MVPs. Also making an imprint on Dodger lore was lefthander Fernando Valenzuela as “Fernandomania” captured the hearts of Dodgers fans and essentially stealing the town from another young phenom, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and his Los Angeles Lakers.
In 1988, the Dodgers returned to the World Series, this time with a make-shift lineup due to injuries. The “Stuntmen,” as they were called, took on the Oakland Athletics and in the first game at Dodger Stadium things were looking bleak after Jose Canseco hit a grand slam early on. In the ninth inning, Lasorda called on a hobbling Kirk Gibson to pinch hit and he electrified the crowd with a “walk-off” two-run homer to lift the Dodgers to victory. Behind the “lights out” pitching of Orel Hershiser (who that year broke Drysdale’s record of 58 and two-thirds scoreless innings en route to winning the Cy Young Award), the Dodgers defeated the Athletics in five games to capture their fifth World Series title in Los Angeles.
Since 1998, the Dodgers have had an assortment of owners, managers, front-office executives and players. Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley sold the team that year to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. (owner of 20th Century Fox). From 1989 through 2007, however, the Dodgers made only four postseason appearances and never advanced past the first round of the playoffs. Things began to change in 2008 under the ownership of Frank and Jamie McCourt who hired Joe Torre as manager and brought in slugger Manny Ramirez and clutch-hitting infielder Nomar Garciaparra. Also, at the start of the 2008 season, the Dodgers called up their top prospect Clayton Kershaw.
That year, the team defeated the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the playoffs, but fell to the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series (NLCS). A similar fate took place in 2009 as the Dodgers again faced the Phillies in the NLCS, only to fall in five games.
One month prior to opening day in 2012, the Dodgers were sold to Guggenheim Baseball Management LLC, a group of investors fronted by Guggenheim CEO Mark Walter and including Earvin “Magic” Johnson, baseball executive Stan Kasten and film mogul Peter Guber. The sale exceeded a record $2 billion, although Forbes magazine would later place the value of the Dodgers franchise about $1.4 billion.
This season under second-year manager Dave Roberts, the Dodgers enjoyed the most wins since arriving in Los Angeles, racing off to a 91-36 streak by August en route to a Major League best 104-58 record. A late season slump, in which the team lost 20 of 25 games (highlighted by 11 consecutive losses), led to questions among some fans about whether the team would succeed in the post season.
Despite the slump, the Dodgers recovered to win eight of their final 10 games to capture a fifth straight National League West championship and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Division Series and defeated the defending champion Chicago Cubs in five games to advance to the World Series.
A talented core of young players and experienced veterans including Cody Bellinger, Yasiel Puig, Cory Seager, Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner, Chase Utley and Andre Ethier have provided the Dodgers with their best opportunity in decades to bring the championship home to the City of Angels.