08 April 2013

the evolution of the dodger third baseman - part one of way too many

it's been a while since i've run down the lineage of a dodger position.  it's time to get to the infield, although i should probably update one or two of the previous posts.  i'll do that eventually, but for now, let's look at the hot corner.  this one will take a few posts to get through, as third base has not been a model of consistency for the dodgers except from 1973 through 1982.

as usual, i am starting with the late 40's/early 50's since that's when baseball cards became more prevalent.

billy cox (1948-1953)
look at that 1952 bowman awesomeness!  billy cox arrived in brooklyn after the 1947 season (along with preacher roe and gene mauch) by way of a trade with the pirates.  he helped the dodgers win three pennants (1949, 1952, and 1953) and was best known for his fielding abilities although he hit .291 in 1953 and .302 over his three world series appearances.  cox was prominently featured in roger kahn's book 'the boys of summer' but was unfortunately not a member of the 1955 brooklyn dodger championship team.  that's because he was traded (again along with roe) after the 1954 season to the baltimore orioles.  he spent just part of the 1955 season there before being traded to cleveland, but he chose to retire rather than report to the indians.

in his tenure as the dodgers' third baseman, cox appeared in 742 games and hit .259 with 46 homers and 245 rbi, and he saved who knows how many with his glove.

don hoak (1954)

yes i realize that i'm showing hoak's 1953 topps card rather than his more appropriate 1954 issue.  it's because i find it odd that hoak had a card in the 53 set since he didn't debut in the majors until the following year.  anyway, hoak and cox split time fairly evenly at third base in 1954 with hoak getting slightly more playing time and thus the entry here.  as a rookie, he hit .245 with 7 homers and 26 rbi.  one would have thought, perhaps, that with cox being traded after the season hoak would be given the third base job.  not so.

jackie robinson (1955)
good lord.  i'm burying my 1955 topps jackie robinson card three deep in a dodgers-centric post that hardly anybody but me cares about?  what's wrong with me?  nice card, anyway.

yes, jackie robinson slid over to the hot corner in 1955, starting there in 82 of his 105 games played for walt alston.  he had the worst offensive season of his career that year, hitting just .256 with only 16 extra base hits and 36 rbi.  still, the dodgers won the pennant and jackie started the first six games of the series.  after hitting .182 in those games, alston gave the game 7 start to hoak, who had the privilege of being on the field when johnny podres shut the yankees out for brooklyn's lone world series title.

in 1956, robinson made 71 starts at third during his final season, but was not the team's primary third baseman.

randy jackson (1956)
randy 'hansome ransom' jackson started just three games more than robinson in 1956, but that's enough to make the evolutionary list.  he had been acquired from the cubs prior to the season in a deal that sent don hoak (among others) to chicago.

jackson had been an all-star in his last two seasons with the cubs and was coming off a 21-homer campaign.  he played in a total of 101 games for the dodgers in 1956, and hit .274 with 8 homers and 53 rbi.  one of those home runs came as the middle part of a back-to-back-to-back sequence that started with a duke snider home run and culminated with gil hodges' walk-off blast against the phillies on june 29 - the only time three consecutive home runs have ended a game.  jackson helped the dodgers return to the world series in 1956, but he was hitless in his three fall classic at bats.

jackson returned in 1957 and started the season as the dodgers' third baseman.  however, a serious knee injury suffered near the end of april caused him to miss half the season, and precipitated a move to third by a dodger legend.

pee wee reese (1957)
good golly.  a '55 jackie and a 1957 topps pee wee reese in the same post? never mind the tape stains, this is a sweet piece of cardboard.

with jackson injured, pee wee took over at third and wound up playing 75 of his 103 games there that year.  at 38 years old, he hit .224 with a single home run and 33 runs scored.  he made the move to los angeles with the team, but was just a part-time player in 1958.

dick gray (1958)
dick gray made his major league debut on april 15, 1958 and was 2 for 4 with a single in his first big league at bat.  the next day, he hit the first los angeles dodger home run, and a couple days after that, he hit the first dodger home run in los angeles.  not a bad way to start.  gray wound up hitting .249 with 9 home runs on the season in just 58 games.  randy jackson and pee wee reese shared time with him at third, with jim gilliam, don zimmer, earl robinson, and even gil hodges helping out, but gray's 53 starts at the hot corner were more than anyone else, so he gets the spot in our countdown.

gray began the 1959 season on the bench, but got a few starts at third before he was traded to the cardinals in mid june.

jim gilliam (1959-1960)
the aforementioned gilliam brought some semblance of stability to the third base position for the dodgers as he took over in 1959.  sure, he still played second base and the outfield, but between 1959 and 1960, gilliam made a total of 246 starts at third base - more than any dodger in a two-year span since before even billy cox.  in 1959, gilliam led the league in walks and was named an all-star for the second time in his career.  he hit .282 and helped the dodgers win their first championship in los angeles.  in 1960, his average dipped to .248 although he matched his base on balls total from the previous season, and scored 96 runs.  in 1961, gilliam spent more time at second base, as the dodgers acquired a third baseman from the cardinals.  sort of.

daryl spencer (1961)
daryl spencer was acquired by the dodgers early in the 1961 season, and wound up starting 55 games for them at third base that year, despite having played nothing but shortstop for the cardinals prior to the trade.  he hit .243 with 8 home runs and 27 rbi for the dodgers, and then returned in 1962 to hit .136 with a pair of homers and 12 rbi in 77 games (57 of which included time spent at third base).  spencer's reduced playing time in 1962 meant that a familiar face was once again the primary dodger third baseman.

jim gilliam (1962)
believe it or not, walt alston trotted out jim gilliam as the dodgers' starting third baseman 60 times in 1962 - more than spencer, andy carey, lee walls, or even tommy davis.  that means that gilliam was the team's primary third baseman and second baseman that season!  in addition to those starts, gilliam found himself manning the hot corner 30 times as a result of in-game moves after starting elsewhere on the diamond.  overall, gilliam hit .270 in 1962, with an obp of .370 and 83 runs scored.

in 1963, gilliam made only 27 starts (and 55 total appearances) at third, because the dodgers had a rookie from oxnard ready to take over.

ken mcmullen (1963)
that's mcmullen's 1964 topps card.  i wasn't going to bury his 1963 rookie card way down here in this post.

as with most years, the dodgers employed a number of third basemen in 1963.  mcmullen got the most starts (66) out of his 71 appearances, so he gets to represent the year that the dodgers swept the yankees in the world series.  unfortunately, mcmullen did not appear in the postseason after hitting .236 with 5 home runs and 28 rbi during the regular season.  mcmullen only appeared in 24 games during the 1964 season, after which he was dealt to the senators in the claude osteen trade.

jim gilliam (1964-1965)
look who's back!  gilliam was once again getting the majority of the starts at third base in 1964 and 1965.  gilliam had a down year in 1964, hitting only .228 in 116 games (86 of which were spent at third with 62 starts there), but bounced back in 1965 to bat .280 with an obp of .384 in 111 contests (80, 77).

come back next time to see who took over for gilliam in 1966, and whether the dodgers could keep someone there for more than one season at a time.

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