Wednesday, December 23, 2015

1971 Los Angeles Dodgers (2nd): 89-73, .549, 1GB

After sitting out pennant races from 1967 on the Dodgers went from being the marquee NL franchise to a bunch of afterthoughts.  1970 saw the Dodgers post a nice record, even though they really didn't contend for the NL West Flag.  That probably had more to do with Cincy's dominance than the Dodgers lack of prowess.  1971 looked like another middle of the pack finish until the team caught fire in September and the 1st place Giants began leaking oil.  As late as September 5th the Giants held a comfortable 8 game lead over the Dodgers with no expecting any miracles.  See in this rivalry, which spanned almost a century and 3,000 miles the Dodgers were the boys who had the big leads (1951 & 1962) and the Giants were the chasers.  With the situation totally reversed no one gave it an afterthought.  Then the Dodgers caught fire with an 8 game winning streak.  Simultaneously the Giants went cold going 1-7.  A seemingly insurmountable 8 game lead was now a tenuous one game difference.  Game on...With 2 weeks to go the race was now up for grabs and LA had all the momentum.  Those young guys who were finally coming to harvest from a farm that had been replenished were making it happen.  The old vets in San Fran, making one last run, were going to have to summon up all of their guile and talent.  Baseball couldn't ask for more.  The only advantage the Giants had was the fact that they had no games left with the Dodgers, who just swept 6 games from them over the course of a week and a half.  That advantage played out as neither team could gain advantage and separate themselves from each other....And so it came down to the final game of the season.  If LA wins and SF loses, we get a one game play in.  The Giants only need to win to clinch the division.  The Dodgers held serve as ace Don Sutton defeated the Astros in front of 53,000 fans on a Tuesday night.  It all came down to what the Giants did at San Diego.  With a tiring Dominican Dandy on the mound the Giants felt confident.  Staking their ace to 5 runs the Giants clinched the division and ended the only true pennant race in baseball during the 1971 season.

It took 14 cards to finish off the Dodgers card set.

After a half decade of injury plagued seasons with the Yankees, A's and Brewers the baseball world figured 30 year old Al Downing was through.  Well the tough lefty wasn't in agreement.  A change of scenery from the AL to the NL did him wonders.  Downing not only recovered from his ailments he enjoyed his best season ever going 20-9, 2.68 with 5 shutouts.  It was a magical season for the native of Trenton except for one tragic moment in game 161.  With the season on the line and the Dodgers needing a win to tie the Giants he lasted just an inning and a third before being chased.  Houston scored 4 big runs off of him and the Dodgers never came back.  He picked the worst time to have his shortest outing of the season.
In 108 games rookie Billy Bucks hit a solid .277.  The Dodgers moved him between the corner OF slots and first base.  This would foreshadow his 8 years in LA where he never had a firm position.  Management loved his line drive bat, but the concern was that he would never hit for enough power to play those 3 positions regularly.  After hitting .301 in 1976 he was dealt to the Cubs for Rick Monday in a deal that helped both clubs.  In total he would play 22 seasons and finish with a lifetime .289 average.  He came up 285 hits shy of 3,000 hits, but he is arguably most remembered for the ball that went through his wickets in game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
Darwin started out as a pitcher and after almost a decade in the minors he realized that he wasn't going to cut it.  The Dodgers noticed he could actually swing the bat, so by 1971 he was in the process of converting over to being an outfielder.  Of course with LA's OF situation already crowded he wasn't going to get a shot there.  After 11 games in LA in '71 he was traded to Minnesota where he had some success as a regular outfielder.  The knock on him was that he could hit the long ball, but he also struck out a lot, which was proven by the fact that he led the AL 3 straight years in K's from 1972-74.  During that stretch he also knocked in 80, 90 and 94 runs respectively.  After getting such a late start as an everyday player his career wound down pretty fast and by 1978 he was out of baseball.  
Bobby V was the pro-typical hard nose utility guy.  He hit .249 in almost 300 AB's, while playing ever position.  In the same role the following season he hit .274, and at the ripe old age of 22 his future had nowhere to go but up.  The Dodgers, who were in search of a big time arm packaged him up in a huge blockbuster deal for Andy Messersmith and Ken McMullen.  Right out of the gate he was on fire with the stick in '73 hitting .306 and hell spent on proving the Dodgers wrong for trading him.  Then on May 17th tragedy struck.  While attempting to rob Oakland's Dick Green of a home run he got his spikes caught in the Big A's chain link fence.  A horrific leg injury was the result, which forced him to miss the remainder of the season.  Upon healing he would never regain his speed.  After bouncing around baseball as a utility man Bobby's career would come to an end after playing for Seattle during the '79 season.  At the age of 29 he was ready to embark on his new career as a coach.  After coaching for the Mets he took the next step up by 1986 as the Rangers manager.  Bobby spent 16 years in the dugout for the Rangers, Mets and Red Sox.  He is now an ESPN color commentator.

23 year old knuckleballer Charlie Hough saw just 4 games worth of action during the '71 season.  He would see even less time the following season.  By 1973 he had earned himself a regular slot in the Dodgers pen.  For the '76 and '77 seasons he saved a combined total of 40 games.  Midway through the '80 season the Texas Rangers purchased his contract from LA.  After a season and a half in Texas he was moved to the starting rotation, where he would spend the rest of his career.  In 25 major league seasons he compiled a 216-216, 3.75 record.  Fun Fact:  In 1993 he was the expansion Marlins first winning pitcher ever.  He beat LA in the team's first ever game.
By the early 70's the Dodger franchise had more young live arms than they knew what to with.  Alexander, who was 6-6, 3.80, was deemed expendable at season's end, and traded to Baltimore for an aging Frank Robinson.  188 wins later the Dodgers probably wished they could have had that deal back.  While a Dodger Alexander pitched in 17 games.  12 as a starter and 5 out of the pen.
After hitting 23 homers in just 345 AB's in 1970 for the Indians the Dodgers acquired the 30 year old Sims to be there starting catcher for the next 3-5 years.  Sims actually boosted his average 10 points to .274, but he hit 17 less homers and eventually became a platoon player.  Midway through the '72 season he was cut and picked up by Detroit.  He bounced from Detroit to the Bronx mid 1973 and in the final game ever in Old Yankee Stadium he hit the final home run in the "cathedral of baseball".  Sims then wound up in Texas in '74 and hit .208 and was released.  Still his name comes up in trivia contests all the time.
The ageless 48 year old knuckleballing reliever arrived in LA just in time for the stretch run going 0-1, 1.02, 3Sv.  LA needed reief help to catch the Giants and he provided it.  In one of the biggest moments of the season on 9/14 with the Dodgers clinging to a one run lead and a runner on second Wilhelm struck out the immortal Willie Mays on a 2-2 pitch to end the game.  That was his 3rd save in 6 days.  I created this card, by using a book cover photo with some airbrushing.
In his first glimpse of extended action Ferguson hit just .216-2-7 in 102 AB's.  After a breakout 1973 season he would level off and regress, which is why he was shipped out to STL midway through the '76 season.  He would return midway through the '78 season just in time for the pennant run, but he was cut before the '81 championship run.  His final 2 years were with the Angels as a bit player.
Dodger scouts drafted Strahler out of the the Phillies organization not to long after he was in the process of recovering from kidney surgery.  Strahler wasn't ready to let loose, but the Phillies were.  The Dodgers saw potential and Strahler rewarded them, or at least their Spokane farm team, with some great seasons.  In each of his 3 callups with the big club Strahler did nothing to hurt his status as a prospect.  What did hurt was the fact that LA had cornered the market on arms by the early 70's and there just wasn't a spot for him.  In just 6 game of action in '71 Strahler didn't have a decision, but sported a fine 2.84 ERA in 12 2/3 innings.  The following season in 47 innings of work he was 1-2, 3.26 (19 games).  Knowing there just wasn't going to be a full time slot for him, LA shipped him to the Angels in the blockbuster deal that brought back Andy Messersmith.  By late April the Angels sent him to the Tigers where he put up below average numbers (4-5, 4.37).  He would bounce around the minors for the next two seasons before being released by the Indians after going 0-2, 4.29 at Oklahoma City-AAA.

Mikkelsen, now in his 3rd season with the Dodgers, won 8 games while losing 5 in 41 games out of the pen.  A reliable right handed sinkerballer, Mikkelson owed his career to Yogi Berra who spotted his unique talent for getting ground ball outs, back in Spring training (1964).  The following season his ERA would balloon and the Dodgers chose to let him go in order to provide more opportunity for younger arms.  He gave four years of good service to the Dodgers with 24 wins and 20 saves in 155 appearances. In 1969–70 he averaged a 2.76 ERA for each season, despite missing the beginning of the '70 season due to hepatitis.
A short 2 game 2 at bat glimpse was all we would see from the "Penguin" in 1971.  LA would have to wait two more seasons (1973) for Cey to have his breakout year and claim ownership to third base for the next decade.  As a Dodger, Cey would be a 6 time All-Star and frequent MVP candidate.  In total he would spend 17 years in the majors hitting 316 homers with .261 lifetime average.

Dodger fans during the 70's likened Paciorek to being the "righty version of Buckner".  Both guys had solid line drive bats, but neither posessed the power required to be a corner OF/IF type.  Paciorek made a brief appearance in LA (1-2, 2G) during the 71 season.  It would take two more years for him to see extended action, but by then LA was loaded with too much talent to overcome.  At the conclusion of the '75 season he was dealt to Atlanta, where he had some fine season before moving to the AL and becoming a solid DH type for the next decade or so before retiring at the age of 40 sporting a lifetime .282 average.

In his only season in SoCal and the majors O'Brien was 2-2, 3.00 in 42 innings (14 games). The impatient 21 year old was sent down to Spokane (AAA) and faltered heavily (3-5, 6.35).  The Dodgers, with their plethora of arms sent him to Baltimore as part of the Frank Robinson deal.  In two minor league seasons with the Orioles he was less than stellar.  Moving on to Tacoma (MIN-AAA) his number again were less than impressive.  A final shot in '75 with the Dodgers AAA-Alburquerque team netted a 0-1, 8.50 record and an unconditional release from baseball.

To create this card I had to colorize a grainy B&W photos that I found via Google search.

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