11 February 2011

the evolution of the center fielder, part 2

here's part 1, if you want to catch up.  with rudy law in tommy's doghouse, the dodgers were in need of a new center fielder for the 1981 season.  so, they sent mickey hatcher and a couple of minor leaguers to the twins right at the end of spring training to get...

ken landreaux (1981-1985)
landreaux, shown here on his 1984 topps card, had previously been traded for rod carew (with 3 other players).  he arrived in los angeles and was firmly entrenched in center for the next 5 seasons.  in 1981, he hit only .251 but did not make an error all season (219 total chances in center).  his hitting woes followed him into the postseason, and by the end of the nlcs against the expos, landreaux had lost his position to pedro guerrero and derrel thomas.  he would still enter most games as a late inning defensive replacement, and his most memorable play of the year was his catch of bob watson's flyball to end the 1981 world series.

despite the postseason setback, landreaux was still the dodgers' guy in center.  over the next 4 seasons, he hit .271 and averaged 138 games played.  in the 1985 nlcs against the cardinals, landreaux hit .389 with an ops of .977.  he remained with the dodgers through the 1987 season, but gave way as their primary center fielder to reggie williams in 1986.

reggie williams (1986)
williams (shown on his 1987 donruss card which includes the dodger stadium pavilion in the background)gained a roster spot when pedro guerrero went down with an injured knee as the result of a slide gone bad in spring training.  he wound up making 64 starts in center to landreaux's 62.  overall, williams played in 128 games (landreaux appeared in 103) and hit .277 with 4 homers and 32 rbi.  the dodgers were actively looking for a long term replacement in center, and finally landed one when they acquired john shelby from the orioles

john shelby (1987-1989)
the dodgers started the 1987 season with mike ramsey in center.  reggie williams was still around, but he was hitting well below .200 in a part-time role.  so, in may of '87, the dodgers sent tom niedenfuer to baltimore in exchange for t-bone, shown on his 1989 upper deck card.  i recall at the time shelby was surprised to be handed the dodgers' center field job right away, but he earned it in a hurry.  in 120 games, shelby hit 21 home runs and drove in 69 runs.  that turned out to be his career year, but he still managed to hold on to the job through 1989 (although he made only 86 starts in center in '89).  after his poor '89 season, the dodgers moved shelby in early 1990 to detroit and as a result, had a center field by committee, headed by an unlikely outfielder

kirk gibson (1990)
gibson, featured on this fantastically blue 1990 donruss baseball's best card, was still recovering from injury at the start of the season.  with gibby out, shelby played center until he was traded and then stan javier took over.  jose gonzalez also got some playing time.  the dodgers had kal daniels (acquired during the '89 season) and hubie brooks (a newly signed free agent) at the corner outfield spots, so gibby moved to center when he returned to the lineup in june.  he started 69 games in center and only 11 in his normal stomping grounds of left field. clearly, gibson was not the answer to the center field question, and the search was on once again.

brett butler (1991-1994)
butler, shown here on a 1994 bowman (foil) card, joined the dodgers as a free agent prior to the 1991 season.  both brooks and gibson were gone, but daniels was still in left and darryl strawberry was taking over in right.  there was no question who the center fielder would be - butler played in 161 games and hit .296.  he led the league in runs (112) and walks (108) and finished 7th in the mvp voting.  in his 4 years as the dodgers' center fielder, he missed just 15 games.  his full season averages over that span (remember - 1994 was the strike season) were 99 runs scored, 41 steals and a .303 average.  it had been a long time since the dodgers had that kind of production from their center fielder, and that's why dodger fans were pretty upset when fred claire let him go to the mets as a free agent after the 1994 season.
roberto kelly (1995)
at the beginning of the 1995 season, roberto kelly was a brave.  he was traded to the expos in april and then flipped to the dodgers in may.  that's his 1995 topps traded card shown above.  the dodgers had moved raul mondesi to center to start the season, but put him back in right when kelly was acquired (they sent their right fielder henry rodriguez to montreal in the deal that brought kelly to la).  as a dodger, kelly actually played more left field than center field.  he made 59 starts in left and only 48 in center.  that's because the dodgers re-acquired butler in august, and he reclaimed center and kelly moved to left.  still, kelly's 48 starts qualifies him as the dodgers' primary center fielder in 1995.  with butler back in the fold, the dodgers let kelly walk as a free agent after the season.  however, butler's health problems allowed someone else to claim center field in 1996.  and by someone else, i mean one heck of a committee.  still, one guy made more starts than anyone else and that guy was... 
wayne kirby (1996)
butler started the season back in his familiar center field position, and played through may 1 without missing a game.  he was then diagnosed with cancer, and left the team to seek treatment.  with butler battling cancer, the dodgers turned to chad fonville and then to roger cedeno to fill the void.  that didn't go too well, and, dissatisfied with cedeno's performance, the dodgers selected wayne kirby (seen here on his way cool 1997 fleer ultra card) off of waivers from the indians in june.  kirby wound up making 44 starts as the dodgers center fielder.  butler made 34 starts, including 5 at the end of the season when he returned from treatment, while cedeno had 33.  to round things out, chad curtis made 20 starts in center, rookie of the year todd hollandsworth made 17, and chad fonville made 14. kirby was back with the dodgers in 1997, but in a limited role.  that's because brett butler really did reclaim the center field spot in '97.  sort of.
brett butler (1997)
in what would be his final season, butler played in 105 games, but made only 47 starts in center.  by the end of the season, he had been moved to left.  still, those 47 starts led all dodgers.  the other dodger center fielder starters were otis nixon (41), roger cedeno (39), todd hollandsworth (25), and an assortment of other players like darren lewis had the rest.  butler, shown above on his 1997 upper deck card, was given one last start in center on the last day of the season.  he went 1 for 4 with 2 rbi - his final hit was quite fittingly a triple.

with butler retired, the dodgers once again turned to raul mondesi to fill his shoes in center, just as they had back in 1995.  this time, mondesi stuck, but only after a couple other guys had failed.

raul mondesi (1998)
mondesi, shown on a 1996 bowman's best 'best cuts' insert card, made 94 starts in center to go with his 53 starts in right during the dodgers' 1998 campaign.  trenidad hubbard began the season as the dodgers' center fielder, but was replaced by roger cedeno in late april.  cedeno only lasted until mid-may before mondesi took over.  mondesi finished the season with 30 home runs for the second year in a row, and hit .289 when playing center.  still, he would be put back in right in 1999 as the dodgers' revolving door in center continued to spin.

part 3, coming soon...

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