Dodgers Dugout: The 25 greatest Dodgers of all time, No. 25: Jim Gilliam
Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and let’s not waste any time into getting to the top-25 countdown.
The 25 greatest Dodgers, No. 25: Jim Gilliam (No first-place votes, 1,759 points)
It seems appropriate that perhaps the most underrated and quiet Dodger slipped into the countdown at No. 25.
Jim Gilliam was a big key to the Dodgers’ World Series titles in the 1960s. He was a super utility player. If the Dodgers had a hole in left field, they would say “Put Gilliam there.” A hole at second, “Let’s put Jim there.” A hole at third, “Hey, Jim can fill that hole.”
Gilliam played for the Dodgers his entire career, from 1953-66 and was Rookie of the Year in 1953 after hitting .278 and leading the NL with 17 triples. He had a keen batting eye, drawing 1,036 walks in his career while striking out 416 times. He scored 90 or more runs six times and drew 90-plus walks five times.
Gilliam’s teammates loved his intelligence on (and off) the field. Manager Walter Alston once said of Gilliam, “He gets on base. He can punch the ball on the hit and run. He steals and never throws to the wrong base. He knows how to get a walk. He has all the little things that go to make up a good ballclub. … I don’t think he’s ever been late a day in his life. He doesn’t make any mistakes. … He gives you 100%, day in and day out. He never moans. He’s a good team man. If I had eight like him, I wouldn’t have to give a single sign.”
He also was instrumental in Maury Wills breaking Ty Cobb’s base-stealing record in 1962. Gilliam usually hit second behind Wills, and was confident he could take a strike or two, allowing Wills a chance to steal, and still get a good pitch to hit late in the count.
He told The Times late that season, “Lots of times there are pitches I could swing at, but I see Maury out of the corner of my eye and take the pitch If I think he’s going to get the base.”
After retiring as a player, Gilliam became a coach for the Dodgers. He and Tommy Lasorda were the leading candidates to replace Alston when Alston retired near the end of the 1976 season. Lasorda got the job, Gilliam resumed coaching for the team.
On Sept. 15, 1978, Gilliam suffered a cerebral hemorrhage at home and went into a coma. He died on Oct. 8, only 49 years old. He died the day after the Dodgers defeated the Philadelphia Phillies to win the NL pennant. His number was retired, and he remains the only Dodger not in the Hall of Fame to have his number retired.
For more on the life of Jim Gilliam, read Jeff Angus’ excellent article here.
Note: A reminder, I received 8,382 ballots from newsletter readers who responded to send me their choices as the top 10 Dodgers of all time. Points were assigned based on ranking, with the first-place choice getting 12 points, second place getting 10, third place eight, down to one point for 10th place. After tabulating the ballots, I will be presenting the top 25 in points. We will be counting down Nos. 25-11, one each weekday, for the next three weeks. Then we will time the top 10 so No. 1 unveils on March 29, the day the season opens.
Yu Darvish has agreed to a six-year, $126-million deal with the Chicago Cubs. Judging by the emails I got after the last newsletter, not many of you are broken up over that news. I think the Dodgers will be fine without him.
It’s almost time
Pitchers and catchers arrive at Dodgers camp in Arizona on Tuesday. The first spring training game is Feb. 23. The season opens March 29. Time to get the newsletter into gear, as we will start breaking down the roster and comparing NL West positions starting at the end of this week.
Wally Moon received a handful of votes in the voting for greatest Dodgers, but he probably would have received a lot more if I asked you to name your favorite Dodger. His “Moon Shots” will long outlive Moon, who died on Saturday. You can read more about him here.
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