Wednesday, April 20, 2011

#144 - Walt Alston/ Dodgers Field Leaders

In a nice segue we move from a guy who was a Dodger fan to one of the most iconic Dodgers of them all, Walter Alston. Walt was close to the tail-end of his Dodger run of 23 years, all of which he did on one-year contracts. In the early '70's Walt wrung some impressive won-loss records out of not great teams. Before the season began he lost three of his vets; Maury Wills and Wes Parker retired, and Jim Lefebvre went to Japan. But he had some pretty good kids come up and he was rewarded in '73 with an almost brand new infield and a new ace in Andy Messersmith that would give him 95 wins. By August the team known as the "Little Blue Bicycle" (in contrast to the Reds' "Big Red Machine") had the best record, the best hitting, and the best pitching in the NL. But in early September both Don Sutton and Messersmith got hurt and the Reds pulled away. But the Dodgers got them in '74.

Walt Alston was a first baseman signed by the Cards in '35 after attending Miami (of Ohio) University where he got a degree in education. While overall he would put up some pretty good minor league hitting numbers - 176 homers and a .295 average - he really couldn't get going at any level above B league ball. Still, in '36, fresh off a C season of hitting 35 out and batting .326 he did get into his only major league game, striking out in his only at bat. Starting in '40 he began managing as well as playing in the St. Louis system which he did through '42. In '44 he was traded to Brooklyn and immediately started managing in their system, hanging up his playing spikes following the '46 season. After six years of exceptionally good seasons at the Triple A level, Walt was named Brooklyn manager for the '54 season. It was a tough start. Many fans and players expected Pee Wee Reese to be given the job and Walt was the receptor of a bunch of frustration as the Giants won the pennant and swept the Series, a win most players and fans felt belonged to Brooklyn. In '55 a couple locker room tirades got his stars to stop bitching and Walt not only got Brooklyn back to the Series, but he won the damn thing after years of frustration. He then went out west with his team and in his 23 years only had three losing seasons, his first in LA after Jackie Robinson retired and Roy Campanella was paralyzed, and in '67 and '68 after Sandy Koufax quit (and the Dodgers sucked those years anyway). Walt would manage through the '76 season, when he retired. He won seven pennants, four Series, and four Manager of the Year awards (it wasn't instituted until '59 so he probably would have won at least one more). His lifetime record was 2,040-1,613. He was voted to the Hall of Fame in '83 a year before he passed away at age 72.

Red Adams was the LA pitching coach. He also had a very brief major league history, getting into a couple games during the '46 season for the Cubs, going 0-1 with an 8.25 ERA. He was signed by Chicago in '39 out of high school in California. He was destined to be a Dodger: his first couple years he played D ball in Bisbee, Arizona, home of the Kim Basinger character in "LA Confidential." He would actually have some good years at the Triple A level and after missing a bit over a year in '43 to the military played at that level for a bunch of years. First he won 21 at Double A in '45. His last few seasons he moved around a bit from Brooklyn to Philly through his last season in '57. His career record in the minors was 193-182 with around a 3.75 ERA. Beginning in '59 he was a scout for the Dodgers and in '69 he took over as pitching coach in LA which he did through the '80 season. He was very successful and got serious props from Tommy John, Geoff Zahn, Mike Marshall, and Don Sutton in his HOF speech. He is still around.

Monty Basgall was made for baseball - his last name misses it by two letters (he also has a great given first name). Monty was born in Kansas and went to Sterling University there from where he was signed by the Dodgers in '42. After a season in the minors he went into the military for WW II. He returned in '46 and resumed playing second base in Double A. Following the '47 season he was traded to Pittsburgh for Vic Barnhart and Jimmy Bloodworth (great names). By late '48 he was playing for the Pirates and in '49 would be their regular second baseman, hitting .218. He lost the job the next year to Danny Murtaugh of all people. He played a bit up top in '51 and that was it for his major league career. Lifetime he hit .215. Back in the minors, he continued playing in the Pittsburgh system, mostly at Triple A through his release after the '55 season. His minor league average was .263 lifetime. Monty then began managing in the Pirates system which he did through '58. From '59 to '72 he scouted for LA, with time out to manage in the minors from '71 to '72. He would finish with a minor league managing record of 312-301. '73 was his first season as a coach, a position he kept through the '86 season. He got a bunch of credit from Tommy Lasorda for developing the Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey infield. He settled in Arizona following the '86 season and passed away there in 2005. He was 82.

Jim "Junior" Gilliam had by far the most established playing career of any of these guys. Junior played five seasons for the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro Leagues before being signed by Brookyn in '51. He ripped up the league his two seasons in Montreal and was made the Dodgers' second baseman in '53, winning NL ROY for his 17 triples, 100 walks, and 125 runs scored. He scored over 100 runs each of his first four seasons and in '59 led the league in walks. He was pretty much the definitive unselfish player, playing wherever needed (he put in significant time at third and in the outfield during his career). In '62 when Maury Wills broke the stolen base record, Junior batted behind Wills, took a lot of strikes, and protected the plate, sacrificing his average. He played through '66, all for the Dodgers, and finished with a .265 average and a .360 OBA. Although he had over 1,000 lifetime walks, he only struck out a bit over 400 times so he put the ball in play pretty much all the time. He was a .211 hitter with a .325 OBA in seven Series. When done playing he segued right into a coaching job for LA which he was doing in '78 when he passed away at 49 from a brain hemorrhage. His number 19 was retired shortly thereafter.

Tommy Lasorda doesn't really need a bio, but here's a brief one. From Norristown, PA he was signed by the Phillies in '45, fresh out of high school. After a horrible start to his pitching career - 3-12 in Class D - he went into the military the next two years. Almost right after returning to baseball in '48 he was drafted by the Dodgers in the minor league draft. He would pitch in the Dodger system the next eight seasons, primarily at Montreal. In '54 and '55 he would play briefly for Brooklyn. In '56 he was sold to the A's and got his last shot up top. For his major league career he was 0-4 with a 6.48 ERA. Later in '56 he was traded to the Yankees (whoa!) and in '57 was sold back to the Dodgers. He put in a bunch more time in Montreal (he would total nine years there) until his release in '60. For his minor career he went 136-104 with a 3.60 (more or less) ERA. He scouted and coached in the LA system for awhile and then managed in the Dodger system from '65 to '72, including those powerhouse Triple A teams of the late '60s and early '70s. He coached under Walt Alston from '73 to '76, succeeding him in that last year. He would then manage LA for 21 years, going 1,593-1,439. He won seven division titles, four pennants and two Series, as well as Manager of the Year four times. He then followed Alston into the Hall in '97. Tommy also did a short stint as Dodger GM and coached two Olympic teams, leading the US to victory in 2000, a first for our baseball team. Tommy is all over YouTube for anyone who wants to be entertained by his antics.

Time for the double hookup. Alston's one at bat was as a replacement for Johnny Mize which should help huge. First as manager:

1. Alston managed John Roseboro from '57 to '67;
2. Roseboro and Dick Woodson '69 Twins.

Now as player:

1. Alston and Johnny Mize '36 Cards;
2. Mize and Billy Martin '50 to '53 Yankees;
3. Martin and Harmon Killebrew '61 Twins;
4. Killebrew and Dick Woodson '69 to '70 and '72 to '74 Twins.

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