Los Angeles is the city of stars. Granted, the vast majority of those idolized individuals are outside the sports world. But the City of Angels has decided to honor an athlete who was perhaps as big as any actor, actress or musician.
August 24, or 8-24, was declared Kobe Bryant day in L.A. Bryant is quite possibly the biggest sports star Southern California has had, playing all 20 years in purple and gold and being part of five Laker championship teams.
Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar had this to say about L.A.’s newest holiday:
Among his astonishing list of accomplishments, Kobe Bryant’s 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers ranks him No. 1 all-time for NBA players who played for a single franchise, and ‘Kobe Bryant Day’ is the City of Los Angeles’ way of thanking him for his single-minded dedication to excellence, the fans and the entire City and region of Los Angeles. For 20 years, we were all the beneficiaries of Kobe’s incredible talent and legendary work ethic, and on 8-24 we’ll gather to say, ‘Thank you, Mamba.”
Obviously a large contingent of the Dodgers fan base supports the Lakers, and takes great pride in Bryant. What if L.A. was to name a day after a Dodgers great? Let’s rank ‘em.
Jackie Robinson already has a day, so he is exempt here. The same goes to the great Vin Scully, who is seeing the honors continue to pour in, and among those have been day acknowledgements. The city will almost certainly give him such a treatment after he leaves the booth.
5) Kirk Gibson
If we did this list based on overall contribution, it becomes a “top five Dodgers” ranking. Instead, let’s drift from that mindset, at least in this instance.
There’s no question why Gibson would be considered. A heavy underdog against the Oakland A’s, one swing of a bat flipped a script. In the ninth inning down 4-3, he cranked a game-winning two-run homer. Gibson didn’t register another at-bat in that series, but he helped deliver the Dodgers’ last world championship.
Gibson only played three years with the Dodgers, but that one play justifies his place here, especially considering how long it’s been since the team has claimed a title. That swing, the call and the reaction of Dodger Stadium are iconic moments in franchise history. Fans of every team know that moment. It is one of the most extraordinary events in sports history. If you ask me, that’s worth a day.
4) Fernando Valenzuela
Again, this isn’t a list of the best Dodgers. Instead think of the external impact on L.A. With that criteria, Valenzuela is an easy choice.
Fernandomania swept Los Angeles during the 1981 World Series run. Valenzuela’s famous 8-0, 0.50 ERA start fueled it, but he became more than just a pitcher. The large Latino community of Southern California rallied behind the Mexican superstar. Few players have captured fans’ hearts the way Valenzuela did.
He won over a demographic in a way few could. He was a true Hollywood heartthrob. In honor of a career featuring six All-Star appearances, a Cy Young and Rookie of the Year in 1981 (the first to accomplish such) and his significant cultural impact, Valenzuela is deserving of a multitude of dedications.
3) Tommy Lasorda
This is where we move more towards the “best.” To this day, the Dodgers are missing Lasorda’s fire in the dugout.
Bryant was praised for his longevity, but Lasorda’s ties to Los Angeles go even deeper. He managed the Dodgers from 1976-1996 before moving into a front office role. The franchise won the division in eight of his 20 seasons and went to the World Series four times, winning two of them.
Lasorda was representative of the Dodgers the way Bill Belichick is to the current New England Patriots or how Greg Popovich is to the San Antonio Spurs. Sometimes the coach can be arguably the biggest star. Lasorda’s lengthy career, success and continued involvement with not just the organization, but the city, makes him a strong candidate for this honor.
2) Clayton Kershaw
The Lakers were dominating the headlines on and off the court during the Bryant era. The Dodgers weren’t exactly a pillar of success, but that changed upon Kershaw’s arrival.
The latest portion of Dodger success has been headed by the team’s ace. The awards list goes on and on, but as I’ve written before, Kershaw is the ultimately ambassador of the Dodgers and Los Angeles. With Bryant retired, he is the undisputed most recognizable L.A. athlete.
But he wouldn’t tell you. Kershaw has conducted himself with class since he’s been in blue. Young pitchers from California to Georgia idolize him. The next generation of Dodger fans will be telling their children about watching the Texas native take the mound. Oh yeah, and he is on pace to be the best pitcher ever. That’s pretty good too.
The lone thorn in Kershaw’s side is a World Series ring. While a title has eluded him to this point, the franchise is in excellent position to come through for him before he hangs them up.
As with the next person on the list, greatness cannot be overlooked. He may not have the glamourous personality or rings that Bryant had, but Kershaw has been better at his craft than Bryant was at his. Both have had a heavy influence on the upcoming athletes. By the time he retires, it would be crazy for Kershaw NOT to have a day in his honor.
1) Sandy Koufax
There isn’t a substitute for championships. As sensational as Kershaw is and should continue to be, he can’t be No. 1 yet. Koufax truly defines the Dodgers franchise.
Four championships (two championship MVPs), seven All-Star showings, three Cy Youngs. He led the National League in ERA for five seasons in a row. Koufax spent his entire 12-year career with the Dodgers. Part of that career was in Brooklyn, but his best years came on the west coast. At age 36, he became the youngest Hall of Famer in baseball history. His No. 32 is retired, but L.A. could justify going another step and naming a day in Koufax’s honor.
Koufax is widely considered the best player in franchise history, and maybe the greatest pitcher of all-time. The love isn’t exclusive to Dodger fans either – Sports Illustrated named Koufax its favorite athlete of the 20th century.
Fascinatingly enough, Koufax was the opposite of the stereotypical L.A. household name. His modesty stood out to those around him. Similar to Kershaw today, if one wants to draw those parallels (let’s face it – we’ve been doing it for a long time now).
To truly understand Koufax, Sports Illustrated ran a story in 1999 sure to open one’s eyes to him as a man.
Koufax will always be synonymous with the Los Angeles Dodgers. For that, he deserves his own day more than anyone else to have worn the uniform.