Sunday, November 22, 2009

Weekend Sports Edition: The 1966 Los Angeles Dodgers

There have been many powerhouse pennant winners whose roster was akin to the American military's performance in both Iraq wars, at least the military part of it. That is, shock and awe them with overwhelming power. The Yankee teams of the 20's, 50's, early 60's and late 90's come to mind as well as the Reds teams of 75 and 76. An honorable mention goes to the Oriole teams of 69 through 71. But what has fascinates me more is the teams who win pennants and amass impressive records on the back of one player while the rest of team is mediocre at best. The 1966 Dodgers are a perfect example of the latter. They scored 606 runs that year, 8th in the league. Their lineup was anemic. Their best hitter was third baseman Jim Lefebvre. He hit 24 home runs and batted .274. Tommie Davis was platooned in the outfield. He hit .313 with 3 home runs. The pitching was good but consider: Don Drysdale was 13-16. Claude Osteen was 17-14. Don Sutton was 12-12. They had one great reliever, Phil Regan, who went 14-1 with a 1.62 ERA. They won 95 games. How did they accomplish this feat with such a lackluster roster? Everyone over 50 knows the answer: Sandy Koufax. He won 27 games, lost 9, with an ERA of 1.73, struck out 317 batters and completed 27 games. The Dodgers that year finished 1.5 games ahead of the second place Giants. Although Koufax won the Cy Young that year, he was not the MVP. That went to Roberto Clemente. I can think of no modern day pennant winner that can owe its accomplishment more to one player than the 66 Dodgers can to Koufax. A caveat. The Dodgers lost the World Series that year to the Orioles in 4 games. They scored 2 runs in the series. Koufax pitched game two against Jim Palmer and lost 6-0, due mainly to three errors by Willie Davis, an otherwise great fielder. It was the last game Koufax ever pitched. His arm gave out. His run from 1963 through 1966 is still the most dominant ever by a pitcher. I will never forget a Casey Stengel quote after the 1963 series where the Dodgers beat the Yankees 4-0. Koufax went 25-5 that year. The former Yankee manager said that he had no problem understanding how Koufax won 25 games. What he could not figure out for the life of him was how he ever lost 5!

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