01 November 2011

the evolution of the right fielder

so far, i have covered the evolution of the dodgers through their managers, catchers, closers, center fielders, and left fielders.  i have even gone through the chain of out of place guys.  here's the first installment of the last of the outfield positions - right field.

carl furillo (1949-1958)
don't you just love 1952 bowman?  i do.  i have about a half dozen dodger cards from that set and they are awesome.  furillo was pretty good himself in right field for the dodgers during their final decade in brooklyn. he was nicknamed 'the reading rifle' in deference to his throwing arm, and he led the league in outfield assists twice - first in 1950 with 18 and then in 1951 with 24.  he also led the league in batting with a .344 average in 1953.  furillo, or the idea of a player like furillo, is one of the reasons i liked the dodgers so much growing up.  he was a guy who played one position for one team, and played it well, for nearly a decade.  unfortunately, even the dodgers ran their team like a business and dumped furillo fairly unceremoniously when injuries limited his effectiveness.

duke snider (1959)
the silver fox slid over to right from center for the 1959 season. actually, the dodgers went with a right field committee of snider, furillo, ron fairly and others, but the duke got the bulk of the playing time.  it was his last big season, too.  he hit 23 home runs, drove in 88 and had an average of .308 in 126 games.  in the postseason, as the dodgers won their second world championship, he hit his final world series home run, giving him 11 for his career which at the time was second only to babe ruth (mickey mantle also had 11 heading into the 1960's).

frank howard (1960-1964)
hondo had enjoyed a cup of coffee with the big club in both 1958 and 1959, but stuck around for good in 1960.  he took over in right field en route to being named the national league's rookie of the year with 23 homers, 77 rbi and a .268 batting average.  in 1961, playing time in right was split amongst howard, fairly, tommy davis, and a cast of others like gordie windhorn.  still, howard got the majority of the playing time, and he remained the primary right fielder for the dodgers until he was traded to the senators after the 1964 season.

ron fairly (1965-1968)
with howard gone and wes parker in the mix, fairly moved from first to right. in fairly's first year as the primary right fielder, the dodgers won their 4th world series title in 11 years, and fairly was a big part of it.  in the fall classic against the twins, fairly scored 7 times and hit .375 with 2 home runs and 6 rbi. he didn't fare quite as well in the 1966 world series, as he was stymied by the baltimore pitching staff just like the rest of the team.  when fairly was traded to the expos a couple of months into the 1969 season, the dodgers moved andy kosco over from left field to replace him.

andy kosco (1969-1970)
kosco hit 19 home runs in 1969 to lead the team.  however, he was batting .274 when he made the switch to right, and by the end of june, about 20 games later, he was hitting right around .250.  in 1970, he continued to struggle, hitting just .228 as the dodgers gave him just slightly more starts in right than either willie crawford or bill russell.  in february of 1971, the dodgers sent kosco to the brewers for al downing, and opened up right field for a kid named bill buckner.

bill buckner (1971)
buckner's eyebrows are fairly tame on his 1971 dell today's team stamp.  billy buck spent just over half of the season out in right for the dodgers, and he hit .277 in 108 total games played.  buckner hit his first career home run and later in the season hit his first career grand slam.  he continued to patrol the outfield in the following years, but gave up his majority stake in right when the dodgers acquired frank robinson in december of 1971.

frank robinson (1972)
there aren't too many cards of frank robinson in a dodger uniform from the period (actually, there is only his 1972 topps high number card) so i'm using a 1972 team issued postcard.  anyway, frobby spent one year in la and it was the worst season of his career to that point.  he played in a then-career low 103 games (starting 86 times in right) and hit only 6 doubles.  he did have 19 home runs, but his batting average was just .251 and he sported a career worst ops of .795, eclipsed only in his final year when he was a player-manager at the age of 40.  this was the guy who had finished third in the al mvp balloting in two of the previous three seasons, and finished 10th in the voting the other year.  it would have been understandable had robinson been in his last year, like the aging rickey henderson that spent his final playing days as a dodger, but after the dodgers traded him to the angels, robinson rebounded with a huge offensive year.  at least the dodgers got andy messersmith out of the deal.

willie crawford (1973-1975)
willie crawford took over in right having spent significant time there already in the previous seasons.  the hometown star hit .295 in each of his first two seasons as the team's primary right fielder.  in 1974, he helped the dodgers return to the postseason and the world series for the first time since 1966.  in the fall classic against the a's, crawford hit .333 with a home run, but the dodgers lost in 5 games.  after the 1975 season, the dodgers decided to give joe ferguson a shot as the full-time right fielder since they had given the catching job to steve yeager, and crawford was deemed expendable.  he was dealt to the cardinals for former dodger rookie of the year ted sizemore, straight up.

reggie smith (1976-1980)
part way through the 1976 season, the dodgers decided to trade joe ferguson to the cardinals for reggie smith. he hit .280 with 10 home runs after the trade, and really made an impact the next two years.  in 1977, reggie was one of the four dodgers to hit 30 home runs in a season, putting his 32 long balls up with steve garvey, ron cey, and dusty baker.  he also hit .307 and led the league with a .427 obp.  it's no coincidence that the dodgers went to the world series that year and in 1978 with smith again providing serious offensive pop.  he missed some significant time in 1979, but still spent more time in right than any of the von joshua-gary thomasson-pedro guerrero and others cavalcade of replacements.  he reclaimed his spot in the lineup for the 1980 season and was hitting .323 when his season was essentially ended by injury at the end of july.  it took a while for smith to get back, but he was able to be on the dodgers' postseason roster in 1981 and was rewarded with the only world series championship of his career.

smith's replacement in right was series co-mvp, pedro guerrero.  he'll lead off the evolution in part 2.

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