SI Vault
William Leggett
May 19, 1969
After the disastrous 1968 season Los Angeles' 57-year-old manager, Walt Alston, vowed to find some hitters. He did, and his wolf pack of postteeners has transformed the Dodgers
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May 19, 1969

Some Kids Make A Sad Man Happy

After the disastrous 1968 season Los Angeles' 57-year-old manager, Walt Alston, vowed to find some hitters. He did, and his wolf pack of postteeners has transformed the Dodgers

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The game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs had moved into the 12th inning at Wrigley Field in Chicago last week and once again the Dodgers had the go-ahead run at second base. Inning after inning it had seemed that the Dodgers were about to score, but again and again they had failed. The young man leading off second was Ted Sizemore, a 24-year-old with less than one month of active duty on a major league team and fewer than 300 games behind him in the minors. Sizemore had reached second base by means of his third hit of the day, a single, and by a sacrifice bunt. But with two outs he knew one thing—he was going to go home on any ball hit through the infield.

Sizemore looked in toward the batter's box at Willie Crawford, a 22-year-old left-handed hitter who had been given $100,000 of Walter O'Malley's money five years before in hopes that someday he would become a Dodger hitter strong enough to propel a pitched baseball beyond the limits of the infield. Crawford swung. He punched a line drive to left field and Sizemore took off as fast as his churning legs could carry him. He flew around third and came to the plate in a long slide, beating the throw from the outfield. Having gone across home plate once and been ruled safe by the umpire, Sizemore rose and went back and touched home plate again. "I was going to try to score," Sizemore said, "even if I was thrown out by 100 miles, and I went back to touch the plate just to make sure that there wouldn't be any doubt about it."

On the cover of this week's issue Ted Sizemore is the young man on the immediate right of Walter Alston, the manager of the Dodgers. The smile on Alston's face has been put there not only by Sizemore but by Bill Sudakis (far left), Bill Grabarkewitz (right, and pronounced gruh-bark-uh-witz) and a group of other young Dodgers who have helped to make the race in the National League's Western Division currently more exciting than any of the other three divisions in baseball. At the end of last week the Dodgers, predicted to finish the season in the low-rent districts, were making like a contending team. Seldom in recent seasons has Alston's smile been as wide.

The entire Dodger team was doing weird things. One day Alston sat down with his lineup card and a ballpoint pen and wrote the names of five youngsters in starting positions. Sizemore, Sudakis and Grabarkewitz played second, third and short, Bill Russell played right field and John Miller played first. Their average age was 23, and even at the end of a season it is rare that five rookies appear in a big-league lineup at the same time.

In one inning Los Angeles scored nine runs against the Pittsburgh Pirates, something no Dodger club has done in 14 years. "Has anyone checked," asked Pittsburgh Manager Larry Shepard, "to see if water is still going over Niagara Falls?" Los Angeles was even hitting home runs and had more than San Francisco and Atlanta, supposedly the power teams in the Western Division. Normally the Dodgers survive on nothing stronger than flower power, but five of them—Sizemore, Russell, Wes Parker, Andy Kosco and Tom Haller—were hitting between .280 and .310, and L.A. fans of long standing were wondering just what this young and strange team is all about.

The Dodgers had barely been heard from since the Baltimore Orioles swept them aside in the 1966 World Series. During the past two seasons they finished a total of 49� games behind the St. Louis Cardinals, and attendance in Chavez Ravine tumbled more than a million after Sandy Koufax retired and Maury Wills was dispatched to Montreal by way of Pittsburgh. The only Dodger left from the days of Brooklyn was Don Drysdale, who gave the team its few hours in the sun last year when he pitched 58? consecutive innings without giving up a run.

But while almost nobody noticed it, the current success of the Dodgers started to take hold in the dying days of the 1968 season after Drysdale had been hurt. Following his brilliant spurt, a shoulder injury put him on the disabled list for the final six weeks of the season. Los Angeles was in 10th place with 30 games remaining and everything seemed futile. But some of the younger Los Angeles pitchers got a chance to work and they immediately began to prove that they could throw both hard and well. Bill Singer, only 25, Don Sutton, 24, and Alan Foster, 22, pitched brilliantly during the final month. Singer and Sutton won nine games and lost only three while Foster compiled an earned run average of 1.69. Equally as important was the arrival of Sudakis from the farm team in Albuquerque, where for two years he had shown excellent power.

Like Jim Lefebvre, Wes Parker and Paul Popovich, Sudakis was a switch hitter, and Walter Alston loves switch hitters. In fact his grandson Robin (for Roberts) Dean (for Dizzy) Ogle, a high school sophomore in Ohio, also switch-hits, thanks to Alston's instruction. Sudakis began to hit as soon as he wiggled into a Los Angeles uniform and, combined with the pitching of Singer, Sutton and Foster, the Dodgers won 20 of their final 30 games to finish the year in seventh place. When the season ended, though; Alston counted up the total number of runs his club had scored during the year and was amazed. The Dodgers had managed to touch home plate only 470 times, and Alston knew that when the spring of 1969 arrived he was going to have to find some hitting somewhere.

With one-sixth of this season completed, Los Angeles has already scored 140 times—almost twice as often as in 1968—and much of the credit for this can be attributed to a crash course during spring training. When the Dodgers went to Vero Beach they did so with an approach totally different from past springs. The emphasis was placed on hitting, and Dixie Walker was hired as a batting instructor. He spent hours in the cages with both young and older players. "Never before," says Wes Parker, "had there been so much lime spent on hitting. We would hit until blisters developed on our hands. Dixie talked to us in his own quiet way about what to do with each pitch."

Like several other teams, Los Angeles purchased one of the new pitching machines that can deliver curveballs, but unlike the rest, the Dodgers used the machine in games. A pitcher would take the mound and go through his entire motion—but the machine did the pitching. Its dials would be set to throw right-handed curves for five or six innings and then left-handed curves for five or six more. Under this system the pitching staff was not worn out by throwing too much batting practice, and the hitters got as much hitting as is possible in games of 10 and 12 innings.

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