Welcome back to my new series for Dodgers Nation, the Dodgers NL MVP Annals! In each installment, I will take an in-depth look at every single MVP season by a Dodger and the player who won it. The Dodgers franchise can currently lay claim to 13 National League MVP winners, won by 11 different players. These span from 1913 to 2014, starting in the lean nascent days in Brooklyn to the Guggenheim Era in Los Angeles today.
When you think of Dodger greatness by position, you likely think of pitching first and foremost. It’s a legacy so rich and longstanding that Jon Weisman recently published an entire book detailing the franchise’s lineage on the mound. Whether during periods of irrelevance or frequent World Series appearances, the Dodgers never lack for brilliant hurlers.
One mind-boggling way of measuring that legacy is to consider how rare it is for a pitcher to win league MVP, and yet of the 13 Dodger NL MVP’s, four of them are pitchers. The most recent, of course, was Clayton Kershaw’s historic 2014 campaign. It was a season so dominant, so magisterial, that I’ll be touching on it twice this year – first in recapping his historic no-hitter on its fifth anniversary, and then later in his own MVP Annals piece.
90 years before Kersh took home MVP, the first Dodgers pitcher to earn the highest individual honor was a heat-throwing right-handed Iowan by the name of Charles Arthur Vance. Better known as Dazzy for his dazzling fastball while playing semi-pro ball in Nebraska, his path to Dodger greatness was one fraught with adversity. Originally debuting in 1915 for the Pirates, he floated around the minors due to constant arm injuries for years, failing in his brief stints in the majors.
By the time he was 31 years old before the 1922 season, with ten years in the minors under his belt, it would seem his chance at major league greatness had passed him by. In today’s game especially, if you’re 30 or over, you’re basically on your way out. But he managed to impress at Brooklyn Robins’ (as they were called then) spring training enough to earn a rotation spot. It was a spot he would maintain all the way until 1932 (when the team finally adopted the Dodgers name full-time), amassing a string of pitching mastery the likes of which are still incredible today.
If anything, Vance was basically the Clayton Kershaw of his time. Comparable to how Kersh dominated the league in strikeouts year in and year out in the 2010s, Dazzy was the definitive strikeout artist of the 1920s. He led the league in punchouts a mind-boggling seven years in a row from 1922-1928, and won three ERA crowns for the Robins.
The best of these years was easily 1924. Vance won the elusive pitching Triple Crown, leading the league in wins (28), ERA (2.16) and strikeouts (262). At one point in the season, he won 15 straight, and also threw 30 complete games. He set a league record for K’s in a nine-inning game when he struck out 15 Chicago Cubs. Not only was he the first in Dodger franchise history to win NL MVP; he was the first National League pitcher period to win it, a feat unmatched until Carl Hubbell won it nine years later in 1933. He and teammate Burleigh Grimes ranked first and second in strikeouts, which wouldn’t happen in the NL until none other than Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale did it in 1960. Vance didn’t receive a physical trophy for his feats, but rather $1,000 in gold coins.
The only downside to Vance’s feats in a Dodgers uniform is that they happened right during the franchise’s early nadir. During his tenure from 1922 to 1932, Brooklyn didn’t win a single pennant, often languishing in the National League cellar. He would have to go to St. Louis to win a World Series in 1934, right before he came back to the Dodgers one more time in 1935 to conclude his brilliant, improbable career. Twenty years after retirement, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955, six years before his passing in 1961.
Even if he didn’t get to take the mound in a World Series for Brooklyn, Dazzy Vance’s pitching legacy remains something to behold almost a full century later. He stands as one of the earliest, if not THE earliest, bastions of the franchise’s unrivaled pitching royalty. His ability to attain his greatest heights after a slew of injuries is an especially appreciable trait today, as many current Dodgers pitchers have battled through frequent injury to (for lack of a better word) dazzle on the mound.
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