The Durable Dodger Infield

This article was written by Bill Schroeder

This article was published in 1980 Baseball Research Journal

Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey
The Dodger infield that came to stay
Nothing flashy, but steady and true
Dating way back to Seventy-Two

No, there’ll never be a real poem written about these four players, but they do deserve some recognition as the major league team infield that played together the longest. They just finished their eighth season as Los Angeles regulars, with Steve Garvey at First, Davey Lopes at Second, Bill Russell at Shortstop, and Ron Cey at Third. This is a remarkable achievement considering that players get traded, get released, get injured, and get shuffled to other positions.

Certainly, the Dodger quartet, in spite of its longevity, is not the most famous infield. The Chicago Cubs of 1906-10, of course, had a more publicized, but less deserving, infield of Frank Chance, Johnny Evers, Joe Tinker, and Harry Steinfeldt, the latter having gained some notice in recent years as the answer to a familiar trivia question. This combination was broken up when Steinfeldt was traded to the Boston Bravesin 1911.

Connie Mack had his famous S 100,000 infield of Stuffy McInnis lB, Eddie Collins 2B, Jack Barry SS, and Frank “Home Run” Baker 3B, but this group lasted for only four years, 1911-14. In 1915 Collins was traded to the White Sox and Baker sat out the season. This was a very classy infield, which would now be valued at considerably more than it was some 70 years ago.

The Detroit infield of 1933-37 had a couple of big names with Hank Greenberg at first base and Charlie Gehringer at second. They were grouped with Billy Rogell at short and Mary Owen at third. They helped lead the Tigers to the AL pennant in 1934 and 1935. The keystone of this infield — Gehringer at second and Rogell at short — did not miss a game for three years, from August 1932 to August 1935. In 1934 the four infielders knocked in a total of 462 runs. All but Greenberg played the full schedule, and he missed only one game. He was not so fortunate in 1936 when he was out almost the full season with a broken wrist. Greenberg was back in 1937 but the next year the quartet was broken up when Owen was traded to the White Sox.

The Brooklyn Dodgers of 1948-52 had a pretty enterprising infield with Gil Hodges at first, Jackie Robinson at second, Pee Wee Reese at short, and Billy Cox at third. The fielding at the corners was about the best in the National League. It was not the most stable group by position because Cox also played a little at short and Robinson played some at first and third and also in the outfield when Jim Gilliam came up in 1953.

In 1968-72 the Baltimore Orioles had Boog Powell at first, Dave Johnson at second, Mark Belanger at short, and Brooks Robinson at third. Powell fielded surprisingly well in spite of his bulk, while Johnson won three Gold Gloves, Belanger two, and Robinson five in this five-year period. The great fielding combination was broken up when Johnson was traded to Atlanta for the 1973 season.

The longest service infield prior to the Dodgers of 1973-80 was the Chicago White Stockings of 1883-89. It started out with Mgr. Cap Anson 1 B, Fred Pfeffer 2B, Tom Burns SS, and Ned Williamson 3B. In 1886 Burns shifted to third and Williamson moved to short in an apparently smooth transfer that lasted through 1889. Williamson, nearing the end of his career, played with Chicago in the Players’ League in 1890.

All four of the current Dodger infielders came up through the L.A. farm system, playing with Spokane and/or Albuquerque. However, they never played together at any one time in the minors. Russell and Garvey came up to the Dodgers first in 1969, Bill playing in the outfield and Steve making pinch hitting appearances only. In 1970 Russell again played in the outfield and Garvey filled in at third and second. In 1971 Russell played at second, the outfield, and short, and Garvey played at third, but not full time. The next year Russell was the regular at short and Garvey played 85 games at third where he made a league-leading 26 errors. Ron Cey, who came up just briefly in 1971, played 11 games at third at the end of the 1972 season. Davey Lopes, the oldest of the quartet, was the last one up, playing 11 games at second at the tag end of 1972. That same season Garvey also played three games at first base.

In 1972 the Dodger infield was Wes Parker 1B; Lee Lacy, Bob Valentine and Bill Lefebvre 2B; Russell at short; and Garvey and Valentine 3B. Most of these positions were up for grabs in 1973. Parker retired and Bill Buckner moved in from the outfield to take his place. In mid-season Garvey started playing first and Buckner went back to the outfield. Lacy started at second but shortly lost out to Lopes. Cey soon became the regular at third, and Russell retained his shortstop position. Although all four had played in the Dodger infield late in 1972, the first boxscore to show Garvey 1B, Lopes 2B, Russell SS, and Cey 3B was on June 13, 1973 and the next one was on June 23 of that year. In the last half of that season they were regulars at those positions and continued so through the 1980 season.

Of course, there were times when injuries laid off one or the other. Russell, who had played the full 162-game schedule at short in 1973, was out almost 21/2 months with injuries in 1975 and wound up playing only 83 games at short. In 1980 Bill missed most of the last month of the season with a broken finger. In 1976 Lopes went on the disabled list at the start of the season and got into only 100 games at second plus 19 in the outfield. Garvey was the steady player, taking part essentially in the full schedule at first base 1975-80 and having some excellent batting seasons as well.

Cey, although he never batted .300, had some good power seasons, including 1977 when he hit 30 homers and knocked in 110 runs. Lopes, the premier base stealer with the best theft percentage in the majors, surprised everyone by hitting 28 homers in 1979. The Dodger field captain for part of this period, Lopes was a Gold Glove winner at second base in 1978. Garvey won Gold Gloves at first base from 1974 to 1977. It also should be pointed out that Cey tied a league record in 1979 with only nine errors at third.

These four infielders have played in three championship series and three World Series, 1974, 1977, and 1978, and each has played in the All-Star game at least three times. Yet they have not achieved as a unit the renown they deserve.

There follows a listing of the number of games each played at his position from 1972 through 1980.