Thursday, October 27, 2011

3 More Dodgers Named to L.A. Times Top 20 Sports Figures List

Last week I had post about Walter O'malley being named the L.A. Times #13 Greatest Sports Figure in L.A. history.  Over the last few days a few more Dodgers have been named to the list.

#11 Greatest Sports Figure in L.A. History - Tommy Lasorda

There have been few figures in L.A. sports history who have been as larger-than-life as former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. You either love him or love to hate him, but it's almost guaranteed that everyone has some sort of opinion.

After serving four seasons as third-base coach, Lasorda became the Dodgers manager on Sept. 29, 1976, upon the retirement of the legendary Walter Alston. All Lasorda did in his 20 years as manager was win 1,599 games, two World Series championships (1981 and 1988), four National League pennants (1977, 78, 81 and 88)  and seven division titles (1977, 78, 81, 83, 85, 88, 95). The Dodgers also led the division when the rest of the 1994 season was canceled because of a labor dispute.

His final game was a 4-3 victory over the Houston Astros on June 23, 1996. The following day he drove himself to the hospital complaining of abdominal pains, and in fact he was having a heart attack. He officially retired on July 29, 1996. His 1,599 career wins rank 16th in MLB history.

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997 in his first year of eligibility and the Dodgers retired his uniform number, 2, on Aug. 15, 1997.

#10 Greatest Sports Figure in L.A. History - Jackie Robinson

It was interesting to watch the votes come in for Jackie Robinson, particularly through the comments on our original blog post asking for votes. As soon as someone would vote for Robinson, it seemed someone else would chime in, chastising the person for not realizing Robinson never played with the Dodgers in L.A. Which just goes to show how a man can be remembered for one thing almost to the exclusion of everything else. When you think Jackie Robinson, you think "broke the color barrier in baseball" and have to be reminded of his outstanding legacy as one of the greatest athletes in UCLA history.

Robinson was UCLA's first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football and track. He was one of four black players on the 1939 UCLA Bruins football team (Woody Strode, Kenny Washington and Ray Bartlett were the others). 

In track and field, Robinson won the long jump at the 1940 NCAA men's outdoor track and field championship, jumping 24 feet, 10 1/2 inches. 

In basketball, Robinson won two consecutive conference scoring titles.

He hit less than .200 with the Bruins baseball team, making baseball his worst sport at UCLA.

Robinson was also a standout athlete at Pasadena Muir High and Pasadena junior college.

Robinson's life after UCLA could fill several books. He is a more-than-worthy addition to this list. As former UCLA chancellor Norm Abrams once said: "He was the first athlete in UCLA history to letter in four sports in the same year, but it is his abiding dignity and unshakable conviction that we most appreciate and that made him a true champion. The entire Bruin family treasures his legacy."

#9 Greatest Sports Figure in L.A. History - Fernando Valenzuela

Fernandomania. That's all you have to say to Dodgers fans to bring a smile to their face as they remember the glory days of Fernando Valenzuela.

Fernandomania was born in 1981, when Valenzuela started the season 8-0 with five shutouts and an earned-run average of 0.50. He became a sensation with the fans, drawing sellout crowds at Dodger Stadium, with ticket sales increasing whenever he pitched in other stadiums too, as fans wanted a glimpse of his unusual delivery, with his eyes looking skyward before delivering the ball to the plate. Valenzuela finished 1981 with a 13-7 record and a 2.48 ERA, leading all pitchers in complete games (11), shutouts (eight), innings pitched (192.1) and strikeouts (180). Valenzuela pitched a complete Game 3 of the World Series against the New York Yankees and helped the Dodgers win their first World Series title since 1965. After the season, he was named rookie of the year and won the Cy Young Award, still the only person to accomplish win both in the same year.

Valenzuela was the ace of the Dodgers staff from 1981 to 1987, with his best season coming in 1986, when he finished 21-11 with a 3.14 ERA and led the league in wins, complete games and innings pitched, finishing second in Cy Young Award voting to Mike Scott of the Houston Astros.

At the 1986 All-Star Game, Valenzuela made history by striking out five consecutive American League batters, tying a record set by Carl Hubbell in 1934.

In 1988, Valenzuela won just five games and missed much of the season. He went 10-13 in 1989 and 13-13 in 1990, which was the season of his last great moment, when on June 29, 1990, he threw a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Valenzuela was released by the Dodgers just before the 1991 season. He played part of that season with the Angels and bounced around baseball until retiring after the 1997 season with a career mark of 173-153.

He is currently a member of the Dodgers' Spanish-language broadcast team.

Interesting how Jackie Robinson made the list for the great career he had at UCLA since he never played for the L.A. Dodgers.  Nice to see Fernando crack the Top 10.  You gotta think Sandy Koufax will be Top 5.

True to the Blue!

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