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Thursday, August 22, 2019

As Clayton Kershaw passes Sandy Koufax in wins, October remains the focus

LOS ANGELES — When the Los Angeles Dodgers weren’t very good and when they were great, when he was skinny and floppy and when he was grown and daunting, in regular seasons and in October, in Vero Beach and Glendale, I got in a car to go see Clayton Kershaw.

Because the baseball was good. Because he cared. Because his standard became everyone else’s. Because the chance for greatness over three hours was more likely than it was not. Because he was better than most everyone else many nights.

Because Sandy Koufax existed in another time, in my mind in black and white, in my ears as a tinny and tenor voice-over, in my eyes as the dignified older gentleman leaning on a bullpen rail, whispering into Kershaw’s ear.

So Clayton Kershaw would do, at 20 years old when he was afflicted by the typical left-handed maladies of audacity and imprecision, a decade later when he won his 166th game, one more than Koufax, in between as a destination on countless summer nights against the darkening San Gabriel Mountains.


QLE Posted: August 22, 2019 at 06:22 AM | 8 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: clayton kershaw, dodgers, sandy koufax

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   1. phredbird Posted: August 22, 2019 at 03:06 PM (#5873529)

as i've mentioned on this site before, i got to see kershaw's debut, it was against the cardinals.

i don't think he figured in the decision, but i do believe he struck out the first batter he faced.

a couple of years later, i went to a charity event organized by TJ Simers of all people, he was scheduled to interview Sandy Koufax and Joe Torre before an audience in an auditorium downtown. koufax was a lot more publicity shy then, even more than now, so it was kind of a big deal — torre talked him into it. i think every jewish kid from brooklyn who moved to L.A. in the previous 40 years must have been there, and it was great. during the event, simers introduced kershaw, who was in attendance. he invited kershaw to come up to the stage, and then he did something really wild. he asked sandy to stand next to kershaw. kershaw is no 98-lb weakling, and Sandy was at that time in his late 70s. but koufax was easily larger than kershaw, especially in the shoulders. then simers asked them to press their hands together, and i swear kershaw's hand looked like a child's next to sandy's, his fingers were barely two-thirds as long as koufax's. you should have heard the oohs and aahs in the audience.

people forget what a physical specimen sandy was. it's too bad he didn't get to benefit from more modern medical and rehab.
   2. Itchy Row Posted: August 22, 2019 at 03:21 PM (#5873533)
Kershaw passed Drysdale as the Dodger franchise WAR leader within the last couple of weeks. Kershaw has 67.7 to Drysdale's 67.1.

And #1's memory of Kershaw's debut is correct.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: August 22, 2019 at 05:38 PM (#5873600)
As good a place as any ...

The Dodgers have a good shot at their 3rd straight NL pennant. That would be the first NL team to do that since the 1942-44 Cardinals. The Dodgers did win 4 of 5 from 52-56 and the Braves took 4 of 5 (completed seasons) from 91-96 but 3 in a row has been a rarity in the NL.

Even ignoring the Yanks, the A's have done it twice and the O's once in the post-war era.
   4. Srul Itza Posted: August 22, 2019 at 10:42 PM (#5873650)
Kershaw passed Drysdale as the Dodger franchise WAR leader

I am a little amazed that, for a franchise that has been around as long as the Dodgers, their career WAR leader is under 70.
   5. TomH Posted: August 23, 2019 at 11:02 AM (#5873738)
.. and as successful as the Dodgers
   6. SoSH U at work Posted: August 23, 2019 at 11:20 AM (#5873743)
I am a little amazed that, for a franchise that has been around as long as the Dodgers, their career WAR leader is under 70.

They're just missing that single-team, 20-year guy that most of the original franchises (and many of the expansion teams) have. But they're comparable with their Original 16 peers elsewhere. If you look at each's 24th-best player (the bottom right guy on each franchise page at BBRef), the Dodgers are right there with the Cards, Giants, Red Sox, Tigers and A's. Obviously, the Yanks are well in front of everyone.
   7. QLE Posted: August 23, 2019 at 03:03 PM (#5873803)
.. and as successful as the Dodgers

I'd argue it makes sense looking at their successful teams:

1) Of their good teams in the 1880s/early 1890s, the position players aren't playing enough games to amass a considerable amount of career WAR, and the dazzling pitcher they had (Bob Caruthers) only spent four years on the team.

2) The few good years at the turn of the century are ones where most of the great players spent much of their career with other teams (including all the Orioles who were moved over when the two teams had shared ownership).

3) For most of the period between 1902 and 1940, they're a marginal team- the pennant-winning years seem to involve marginal players having career years, and, even among the great players they had, Zack Wheat was something of a compiler, Dazzy Vance didn't stick in the majors until he was past 30.

4) Of the "Boys of Summer" (whom the period between 1940 and the first couple of year the team spent in LA seems to fit), the best player, because of the color line, didn't start until he was 28. Another great player was a catcher who was similar affected by the color line. The two position players on the career team with the most WAR (Reese and Snider) played with the team during this period, but much of the dominance other than those four is the product of having a bunch of very good players (which, of course, isn't easy in the slightest, and is an impressive feat- look at the Giants in the same period).

5) Of the mid-1960s Dodgers, other than Drysdale, it's a pitcher with four great seasons who's out of the game at 30 and a group of decidedly less-impressive position players (the best of whom, Willie Davis, ironically just misses meriting HOF induction for me because he spent much of this period relatively mediocre, compared to how he'd perform starting in 1969).

6) Looking at the mid-1970s to early 1980s teams, the best position player by far (Reggie Smith) spent many of the best years of his career with other teams- of those who spent the bulk of their careers with the team, the best is Ron Cey. Of the pitchers, meanwhile, the two with the best overall careers were more compilers rather than ones who had dazzling seasons- and, in both cases, they spent large hunks of their careers (including, in Tommy John's case, the bulk of his WAR value) with other teams.

7) The 1988 season was very much a fluke year- the best pitcher compiled less than 40 WAR with the team, and the best position player had most of his best years on other teams.

8) For most of the 1990s and 2000s, the Dodgers were a mediocre team (albeit in a division where mediocrity was often enough to stay competitive, and in some cases win the divisional title)- they let the player who would have broken their WAR record go after he had a dazzling year, and their best longer-term pitcher and position player both produced large amounts of their value on other teams.

9) That leaves that last few years. Other than Kershaw, most of the players at the start of their divisional run were ones signed from other teams who didn't spend a particularly long time with the team, which limits career WAR abilities, while many of those in the last few years are at too early a point in their careers to really predict anything.

Overall, then, this being the case makes more sense looking at the nature of their teams- as noted above, they aren't out of place looking at any listing other than the very top, and team history was simply one where they didn't end up with (as their longstanding rivals did) a Mays, Bonds, Mathewson, or Ott.
   8. Itchy Row Posted: August 23, 2019 at 06:10 PM (#5873893)
The Dodgers' top five in WAR is close enough that Drysdale's hitting moved him ahead of Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, and Jackie Robinson and kept him ahead of Kershaw for an extra year. If he hadn't added any batting WAR, Drysdale would have been fifth in team history. If Drysdale had been as bad of a hitter as Koufax was (negative 4.2 WAR), Zack Wheat and Dazzy Vance would have been ahead of him too.

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