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Dodgers

Dodgers Dugout: Who are the three best third basemen in team history? (Plus voting results for the three best second basemen)

Los Angeles Dodgers
Ron Cey in 1980.
(Getty Images)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and it’s time to continue selecting the all-time 40-man roster for the Dodgers.

The all-time team, third base

Before we get to third basemen, let’s again lay down the ground rules on who is eligible for the polls.

First, we are only counting what they did as a Dodger. Frank Robinson is one of the greatest players of all time, but he only played one season with the Dodgers, so he won’t be appearing here.

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Second, position players had to play at least 500 games with the Dodgers, or have had such an iconic moment or season with the team that it wouldn’t make sense to leave them off. (It’s the Kirk Gibson rule.)

Third, only games played since 1901 count. My apologies to those who played before then.

Fourth, players who competed at multiple positions will be listed at the position where they played the most games for the Dodgers. For example, Jim Gilliam played multiple positions for the Dodgers, but he played the most games at second base, so he was listed there. Pedro Guerrero played more games at third base than in left or right field, so he will be listed there.

Finally, you can vote for three players at each position. There will be a link to a site where you can make your selections at the end of each player list. With that, let’s get to it. There are 12 third basemen who meet the criteria for the Dodgers.

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Let’s look at them using three stats: OPS+ (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, which compares them to the league-average hitter each season, making it easier for us to do cross-era comparisons; a league-average hitter will have an OPS+ of 100), WAR (wins above placement, which shows career value) and defensive WAR (which gives a general idea of how well they fielded). Those three stats don’t give a complete picture, but it should give you an overall sense of the value of each player. I encourage you to do further research on each player if you are unsure about them.

OPS+

Pedro Guerrero, 149

Justin Turner, 141

Ron Cey, 125

Adrian Beltre, 108

Mike Sharperson, 108

Cookie Lavagetto, 105

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Jimmy Johnston, 102

Dave Hansen, 100

Frenchy Bordagaray, 98

Joe Stripp, 97

Lenny Harris, 91

Billy Cox, 82

WAR

Ron Cey, 47.7

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Pedro Guerrero, 32.7

Adrian Beltre, 23.4

Justin Turner, 23.3

Jimmy Johnston, 17.5

Cookie Lavagetto, 12.1

Joe Stripp, 9.4

Billy Cox, 5.9

Mike Sharperson, 5.9

Dave Hansen, 3.4

Lenny Harris, 3.3

Frenchy Bordagaray, 2.6

Defensive WAR

Ron Cey, 11.0

Adrian Beltre, 8.2

Justin Turner, 3.4

Billy Cox, 2.1

Joe Stripp, 0.9

Mike Sharperson, -0.3

Jimmy Johnston, -1.2

Dave Hansen, -1.4

Lenny Harris, -1.4

Cookie Lavagetto, -2.1

Frenchy Bordagaray, -3.7

Pedro Guerrero, -6.3

A closer look at the players (statistics are with Dodgers only):

Adrian Beltre (1998-2004, .274/.332/.463): Beltre is the best defensive third baseman the Dodgers have ever had who never seemed to click offensively — until an amazing 2004 season, when he hit .334 with 48 homers and 121 RBIs. He finished second in MVP voting that year. Sadly, that would be his last year as a Dodger, as management at the time (owner Frank McCourt and general manager Paul DePodesta) didn’t make a big effort to sign him. “I think it was more the GM than anything,” Beltre said earlier this year. Beltre blamed himself for telegraphing that he didn’t want to leave. “It was a mistake on my part to show it too much, that I wanted to stay back then. They wanted to use that against me in the negotiation.” (Read more about Beltre and his time with the Dodgers in a great article by Andy McCullough.) The Dodgers spent many years seeking an adequate replacement for Beltre, something they were never able to do until Justin Turner came along.

Frenchy Bordagaray (1935-36, 1942-45, .286/.336/.379): How can you not love a guy with this name? (His given name was Stanley George Bordagaray.) And Bordagaray had the personality to match the name. Once, his cap came off when he was chasing after a ball during an exhibition game. Bordagaray stopped to get his cap and then resumed chasing the ball. In another game, he was tagged out at home because he didn’t slide, costing the Dodgers a run. Why didn’t he slide? He had a cigar in his back pocket he didn’t want to ruin. Fed up with him, the Dodgers sent him to Cincinnati only to reacquire him six years later. By this point he had settled down, but the bigger problem was he wasn’t very good. It’s entirely possible he wouldn’t have been in the majors at all if so many good players weren’t off fighting World War II. He fielded .885 in 1943 and .886 in 1945, his final season in the majors. He was supervisor of the Ventura parks and recreation department for several years until he retired in 1988 and died in a Ventura nursing home in 2000. He was 90.

Ron Cey (1971-82, .264/.359/.445): Cey is almost criminally underrated by those who grew up outside of L.A. He was good for 20-30 homers, 70-90 walks and 80-100 RBIs every year and played a solid third base. He was a direct contemporary of Mike Schmidt, so he often got overlooked when it came to discussing the best third basemen during his era. But the Dodgers made four World Series with Cey as the starting third baseman, and he had a huge part in the team getting there each time. Then he was traded to the Chicago Cubs and helped them win their first division title in many years in 1984.

Billy Cox (1948-54, .259/.320/.370): Cox was a member of the “Boys of Summer” Dodgers but had the misfortune of being traded to Baltimore just before the 1955 season, when Brooklyn finally won the World Series. Cox was a good fielder but below-average hitter. He served for four years in the military during World War II as a member of the 814th Signal Corps. The Signal Corps laid wire and set up communication centers for the advancing troops, which meant he was often in the middle of combat zones. One time, while playing for the Pirates, the sound of a fireworks display that was set off while he was on the field reminded him of his time in the military and he ran to the dugout for cover. And how good was Cox on defense? Perhaps teammate Carl Erskine put it best: “He had such quick hands that it seemed as though he had four gloves instead of one.” Cox died at the age of 58 from esophageal cancer. The baseball field in his hometown of Newport, Pa., is named for him.

Pedro Guerrero (1978-88, .309/.381/.512): You can make an argument that Guerrero is the best hitter in Dodger history. He is fifth in OPS+ and had at least 1,000 more plate appearances than the four people ahead of him on the list. He hit .320 in 1985, then blew out his knee on an ill-advised slide in spring training of 1986. He came back in 1987 to hit .338. He had power, hitting 30+ homers three times (back when that really meant something) and had a good eye at the plate. Defensively, however, he was brutal. He was not a good fielder at third, and hated playing there, but you have to give him credit for going out there whenever he was asked. On April 3, 2017, Guerrero had a stroke while in New York. According to his wife Roxanna Jimenez, doctors said Guerrero was in a coma, declared him brain dead and asked her to consider taking him off life support. She refused. Two days later, Guerrero woke up and has made a miraculous recovery. He still has memory problems and moves slower than he used to, but he makes appearances at autograph shows.

Dave Hansen (1990-96, 1999-2002, .262/.357/.372): At one point it looked as if Hansen could be the third baseman of the future, but after he hit .214 in 132 games in 1992, the Dodgers quickly gave up on that and turned him into a pinch-hitter. He hit .362 in 1993 and .341 in 1994. After spending the 1978 and 1998 seasons with the Cubs, he came back to the Dodgers and again was a standout pinch-hitter. Of his 1,230 career games, 703 were as a pinch-hitter. He is sixth on the all-time pinch hits list with 139 and shares the record (with Craig Wilson) for most pinch-hit home runs in a season with seven for the Dodgers in 2000.

Lenny Harris (1989-93, .279/.333/.341): Harris played only five seasons of his 18-season career with the Dodgers and was often platooned with Mike Sharperson, who is also on this list. Harris’ best season was in 1990, when he hit .304 in 137 games. He didn’t have much power, but he could play everywhere and was an excellent pinch-hitter, finishing his career with a still-record 212 pinch-hits. He is currently a coach in the Cincinnati Reds’ organization.

Jimmy Johnston (1916-25, .297/.350/.377): Johnston offered a good batting eye (371 walks compared to 229 strikeouts) and speed (164 steals), but not much else. He was sort of the Kiké Hernandez of his day, with at least 100 games played at five positions. There’s not a lot of information about Johnston available, but he was with the team for 10 seasons, so he must have been doing something right. After his playing days ended, he managed the minor league Chattanooga Lookouts for a while, then was a building maintenance man and the starter at the Brainerd Golf Course in Chattanooga. He died on Valentine’s Day in 1967, 41 years after he retired. For more on Johnston, read this article by John Shearer at chattanoogan.com.

Cookie Lavagetto (1937-41, 1946-47, .275/.372/.384): Lavagetto was the main third baseman for the Dodgers from 1937 to ’41 and made the All-Star team four times. He had an incredible batting eye, walking 370 times while striking out only 155 times in that span. His career was derailed by World War II, as he served four years in the Navy during what would have been his prime. When Lavagetto was young, Oakland Oaks owner Cookie DeVincenzi took an interest in him and signed him to a contract, so Lavagetto’s new teammates started calling him “Cookie’s Boy,” which eventually was shortened to just “Cookie.” His real first name was Harry. When he returned from the Navy, his skills had eroded enough to where he played only two seasons. But he had one great moment in him still. In Game 4 of the 1947 World Series, Bill Bevens of the Yankees had a no-hitter against the Dodgers in the ninth inning. Bevens had walked eight Dodgers, and the Yankees led 2-1. With one out, Bevens walked Carl Furillo, then got Spider Jorgensen to foul out. Al Gionfriddo ran for Furillo and stole second. Bevens intentionally walked Pete Reiser, and Eddie Miksis ran for Reiser. Manager Burt Shotton then sent up Lavagetto to pinch-hit for Eddie Stanky. Lavagetto hit Bevens’ second pitch off the right-field fence, scoring Gionfriddo and Miksis with the winning runs and ending Bevens’ no-hitter. Lavagetto died in 1990 at the age of 77.

Mike Sharperson (1987-93, .287/.363/.373): Sharperson was more of a utility player than a third baseman, appearing at every infield position and in right field with the Dodgers. His best season was 1992, when he hit .300 and made his only All-Star team. He was a guy you could put in for a player who needed a day off and know you were going to get a solid performance. Those types of players are very valuable to a team over the course of 162 games. He would often platoon with another player on this list, Lenny Harris. On May 26, 1996, Sharperson was killed in a one-car crash at the junction of the 15 and 215 freeways. He was driving from Las Vegas, where he was playing for the triple-A Las Vegas Stars, to San Diego, which had just recalled him from the minors. Witnesses said it appeared he was about to miss the turn onto the 215 connector and tried to get over at the last second. His car hit a dirt median and Sharperson was ejected through the sun roof. Sharperson was only 34.

Joe Stripp (1932-37, .295/.335/.384): You look at his .295 average and think he must have been pretty good, but keep in mind this was during the lively ball era. After Stripp retired, he opened up a baseball school in Orlando, Fla., which was considered one of the best baseball schools in the country in the 1940s and ’50s. Stripp died in Orlando in 1989 at the age of 86.

Justin Turner (2014-current, .305/.383/.505): I don’t think there’s much I can say about Turner that I haven’t said over the last four years. He is their best hitter and the heart of the offense. In my opinion, there are four solid candidates to vote for as your top three third basemen. The fun part will be seeing which three come out on top.

Now it’s time for you to vote. Remember to vote for three. You can click here to vote, or you can email me your three choices. Ties are not allowed, and you have to vote for three. Vote for more or fewer and your vote won’t count.

Next week: Shortstop. I’m predicting a landslide win for Greg Gagne.

Who were the three best second basemen?

You voted. Here are the results, after receiving 13,476 ballots:

1. Jackie Robinson (named on 98.16% of ballots)

2. Davey Lopes (89.4%)

3. Jim Gilliam (87.7%)

4. Jim Lefebvre (8.2%)

5. Steve Sax (7.4%)

6. Jeff Kent (3.3%)

7. Eddie Stanky (3.2%)

8. Charlie Neal (2.1%)

9. Tony Cuccinello (0.3%)

10. George Cutshaw (0.2%)

11. Mark Grudzielanek (0.1%)

12. John Hummel (0.1%)

The 40-man roster so far:

Catchers

Roy Campanella

Mike Piazza

Mike Scioscia

Infielders

Steve Garvey

Jim Gilliam

Gil Hodges

Davey Lopes

Wes Parker

Jackie Robinson

Coming up

December 18: Shortstop

Dec. 26: Left field

Jan. 2: Center field

Jan. 8: Right field

Jan. 15: Wild-card

Jan. 22: Starting pitchers

Jan. 29: Relief pitchers

Feb. 5: Managers

And finally

Cookie Lavagetto wins Game 4 of the 1947 World Series. Watch it here.

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me and follow me on Twitter: @latimeshouston.


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