This is the second piece in a two-part series that covers the greatest Dodger player from each decade. The first article covered the timeframe from the 1910s to the 1950s. This one will cover the 1960s through the 2010s.
1960s: Sandy Koufax
Lifetime Stats: 165-87 record, 2.76 ERA, 2,396 K’s
3-time Cy Young Award winner (63’, 65’-66’) and 1963 MVP
Threw four no-hitters including a perfect game
Inducted into the Baseball HOF in 1980
The greatness of Sandy Koufax doesn’t need to be explained to any baseball fan. We all know who he was and what he did. Considered one of the best pitchers in baseball history, his dominant stretch in the early 1960s is one of the greatest 5-6 year periods you’ll find for any pitcher. Unfortunately, due to injury, Koufax had to hang it up after the 1966 season and missed the last three years of the decade. Even so, his greatness during that seven-year span makes him not only the greatest Dodger player of the 1960s, but very possibly the greatest Dodger of all-time.
It would be a shame to not at least mention Don Drysdale, who very well could be on the Mount Rushmore of all-time great Dodgers. The Hall of Famer played his entire career with the team, including every year of the 1960s. Unfortunately, he played alongside one of the greatest pitchers to every play, so he probably never got the recognition he deserved.
Honorary Mentions: Don Drysdale, Willie Davis, Jim Gilliam, Maury Wills
1970s: Don Sutton
Lifetime Stats: 324-256 record, 3.26 ERA, 3,574 K’s
Franchise leader in Win (233), Strikeouts (2696), IP (3,816) & Shutouts (52)
Inducted into the Baseball HOF in 1998
It’s hard to think that someone with the resume of Don Sutton could get lost in the shuffle of great players, but that’s what it feels like at times. Make no mistake though, Sutton was one of the best to do it during his 23-year career, 16 of which came with the Dodgers. He’s the all-time team leader in Wins, strikeouts, innings pitched, and shutouts. During the 1970s, he made four All-Star teams and finished in the top five for Cy Young voting five times.
It was a tough call to pick Sutton over other players like Steve Garvey and Ron Cey, who both deserve recognition too. They played almost the entire decade of the 70s with the team, and were huge contributors.
Honorary Mentions: Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes
1980s: Fernando Valenzuela
Lifetime Stats: 173-153 record, 3.54 ERA, 2,074 K’s
1981 Cy Young Award winner and Rookie of the Year winner
Another decade and another extremely close call here. Fernando gets a slight edge of Orel Hershiser because he pitched in every year of the 1980s, while Hershiser didn’t make his Dodgers debut until 1983. Both players were great though and are neck-and-neck in multiple categories.
If you’re old enough to remember Fernandomania, it was a spectacle. Dodgers fans came out to see Fernando in huge numbers, and deservedly so. He burst onto the scene in 1981 and was as dominant as you’ll ever see a rookie pitcher. We went on to win both the ROY and Cy Young awards that year and helped lead the Dodgers to their first World Series Championship since 1965.
Honorary Mentions: Orel Hershiser, Pedro Guerrero, Kirk Gibson
1990s: Mike Piazza
Lifetime Stats: .308/.377/.545, 427 HR
1993 Rookie of the Year winner
12-time All-Star (5 with the Dodgers)
10-time Silver Slugger Award winner
Inducted into the Baseball HOF in 1998
I originally went with longevity and listed Eric Karros here, who played the entire decade of the 1990s for the Dodgers. Karros was a very good player and still holds the Los Angeles Dodgers record for most homeruns. But I kept coming back to Mike Piazza’s stats, and it was just too much to ignore. Sure, he was traded mid-way through the 1998 season, but the offensive numbers he put up from 93’-98’ were phenomenal, especially for a catcher.
Piazza never batted under .318 or had an OBP lower than .370 in any full season with the Dodgers. His career .966 OPS with the team is best all-time (min of five years w/ Dodgers) and he has the highest single-season bWAR in franchise history (9.0.) Even if it was just a five and a half year stretch, Piazza had a historic run with the club.
Honorary Mentions: Eric Karros, Raul Mondesi, Ramon Martinez
2000s: Eric Gagne
Lifetime Stats: 187 Saves, 10.0 K/9
2003 Cy Young Award Winner
MLB record 84 consecutive Saves
Although Eric Gagne played seven seasons for the Dodgers in the 2000s, it was really just the success he had over a three-year span that made his legacy. After converting from a starter to a reliever in the 2002 season, Gagne transformed himself into an elite closer, and was the best the game had to offer during the 02’-05’ span.
He won the N.L Cy Young Award in 2003, which is not very common for a reliever. He also set a major-league record when he converted 84 consecutive save opportunities from 2002-2004. Eric Gagne was truly “lights out” during his reign.
Honorary Mentions: Adrian Beltre, Shawn Green
2010s: Clayton Kershaw
Lifetime Stats: 158-69 record, 2.42 ERA, 2,324 K’s
3-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 MVP
MLB record four consecutive season’s leading in ERA
Lowest current ERA among starters in MLB history (2.42)
Ok, so there’s still another half year to go before this decade is in the books. But I think it’s fairly safe to appoint Kershaw the greatest Dodger player of the last decade. He’s this generation’s Koufax. When it’s all said and done, Kershaw will be in Cooperstown with many of the other Dodger players we’ve listed here. He’ll also hold many franchise records when he’s done playing, and already has some. His 62.6 career bWAR is the most for a pitcher in Dodgers history, and he’s 4th in strikeouts with still plenty of years to play.
Honorary Mentions: Kenley Jansen, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig
That concludes our list of the greatest Dodger players by decade. But with a new decade starting next year, who will be the next player to claim that title? Cody Bellinger? Corey Seager? Walker Buehler? Only time will tell… but it’ll be fun to witness.