Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and let’s get right to No. 2 in our countdown. By the way, you can see my personal top-10 ballot at the end of this newsletter.
The 25 greatest Dodgers, No. 2: Jackie Robinson (2,061 first-place votes, 69,082 points)
It all could have gone very differently. When Branch Rickey (No. 17 on the list) decided he wanted to break baseball’s color barrier, he knew he had to find the right person. Someone who was proud of his heritage but smart enough and self-disciplined enough not to fight back when the racists, in the stands and on the field, started hurling invectives his way. He found that man in Jackie Robinson.
He had other choices. Some were better players. Some seemed to be better suited temperamentally. But none had the perfect combination. Except for Robinson.
There’s no way to sum up Robinson’s greatness in a brief newsletter story. His role as a civil rights pioneer is legendary. His number has been retired by Major League Baseball. People are still making movies and documentaries about him. One misstep by Robinson, especially early in his Dodgers career, would have given those who preferred baseball to remain a white man’s game ammunition to say “See, they can’t handle it.” Robinson never had a misstep.
MLB honors Robinson by having every player in the majors wear No. 42 every April 15. I think the best way for older fans to honor him is to explain to their children or grandchildren just who he was and why he should never be forgotten.
Often overlooked in the discussion of Robinson’s historical importance is that he was a really good player. Bill James, in his “Historical Baseball Abstract,” lists Robinson as the fourth-greatest second baseman of all time. But let’s have those who played with or against Robinson talk about how great he was as a player:
—Former manager Charlie Dressen: “Give me five players like Robinson and a pitcher and I’ll beat any nine-man team in baseball.”
—Duke Snider: “He was the greatest competitor I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen him beat a team with his bat, his ball, his glove, his feet and, in a game in Chicago one time, with his mouth.”
—Former St. Louis Cardinals great Red Schoendienst: “If it wasn’t for him, the Dodgers would be in the second division.”
—Pee Wee Reese: “Thinking about the things that happened, I don’t know any other ballplayer who could have done what he did. To be able to hit with everybody yelling at him. He had to block all that out, block out everything but this ball that is coming in at a hundred miles an hour. To do what he did has got to be the most tremendous thing I’ve ever seen in sports.”
—Hall of Famer Frank Robinson: “You ever hear people talking about him as an offensive player or defensive player? It’s a shame, really. It’s something that’s been overlooked. He was spectacular and he was sound and he did things that other players couldn’t even think about.”
--Joe Black: “When I look at my house. I say ‘Thank God for Jackie Robinson.’”
--Ralph Kiner: “Jackie Robinson was the best athlete ever to play Major League Baseball.”
--Branch Rickey: “There was never a man in the game who could put mind and muscle together quicker and with better judgment than Jackie Robinson.”
Note: I received 8,382 ballots from newsletter readers who sent me their choices for 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. Today, on opening day, I’m revealing Nos. 1 and 2. Feel free to revisit any of the top 25 all-time Dodgers.
My top-10 ballot
1. Jackie Robinson
2. Vin Scully
3. Sandy Koufax
4. Don Drysdale
5. Roy Campanella
6. Clayton Kershaw
7. Duke Snider
8. Pee Wee Reese
9. Dazzy Vance
10. Fernando Valenzuela
You’ll get No. 1 in a few minutes. On Friday, we’ll take a look at the season opener.