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Third Base Isn't Dodgers' Charm : Baseball: Since Cey was traded before '83 season, 23 players have been tried there.


Since the Dodgers ended 10 years of relative stability at third base by trading Ron Cey to the Chicago Cubs before the 1983 season, 23 players have tried their hand there.

Remember Rafael Landestoy and German Rivera? Tracy Woodson and Phil Garner? Eddie Murray logging two games there in 1989?

Is the hot corner too hot for the Dodgers to handle?

For the ninth season since Cey's departure, Manager Tom Lasorda will try to find the right combination while making several critical decisions:

--Can Jeff Hamilton come back from a serious shoulder injury without surgery?

--Can Stan Javier, the team's best outfielder last year, play third base?

--What happens to last year's platoon of Mike Sharperson and Lenny Harris, who provided solid play but little power?

Lasorda already has clouded the picture by saying the job is Hamilton's if his shoulder is healed, while making a personal appeal to Javier to leave the outfield, where he is odd man out after the signings of Darryl Strawberry and Brett Butler.

And, of course, Harris and Sharperson are still on the team, competing for time at second and third, with a possible push from rookie Dave Hansen.

"Really, there's no explanation" for the revolving door at third, Cey said this week. "It seems like the Dodgers are bending over backward to get this monkey off their back, and the harder they try, the worse it gets."

But it's not as if this is anything new.

From the time the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958 until Cey arrived in 1972, 43 players were tried at third, from the likes of Dick Gray and Charlie Neal and Bart Shirley to an end-of-the-line Ken Boyer to a scatter-armed Steve Garvey and an enigmatic Dick Allen, who would deliver a most-valuable-player season as soon as the Dodgers traded him to the Chicago White Sox--where he resumed being a full-time first baseman in '72.

During that period the only third basemen who put down any roots were Jim Gilliam, who switched from second to third in the early 1960s; and Jim Lefebvre, who helped anchor the Dodgers' all-switch-hit infield in the late 1960s.

After playing a handful of games in 1972, Cey took up residence at third the next season, staying there for 10 years and playing more games than all but a few players in the Dodgers' century-long history, accounting for 224 home runs, 842 runs batted in and six All-Star Game appearances.

It tells you something about the mercurial history of L.A. Dodger third basemen that only Gilliam played even half as many games as Cey at third, and Hamilton--who has put in one full season there--ranks fourth in games played at that position.

Cey, who had the advantage of having played for Lasorda in the minors, joined shortstop Bill Russell, second baseman Dave Lopes and Garvey at first in the longest-running continuous infield in baseball history.

But the game has changed since Cey's day.

"I never looked at it like (I was) stabilizing a position," he said. "If I got a chance, I was going to make the best of it. We had (the same) eight guys go out every day.

"The Dodgers used to nurture young talent. They brought us along through the minors, and we formed the nucleus of the club. It's a different game now. Baseball is leaning more toward platooning and feeding stats into a computer. Guys have to be able to play more positions and move around."

In the 1950s and '60s and even into Cey's era, third base was a position teeming with clean-up-type run producers with gold gloves--such perennial all-stars as Eddie Mathews, Mike Schmidt, Ron Santo, Tony Perez and Boyer. That's no longer the case.

"I couldn't begin to tell you . . . why someone has not handled the position (for the Dodgers) with regularity," said Cey, who keeps an eye on his old team as a cable TV analyst. "But it's throughout baseball. Today there are not a lot of names that come to the fore.

"To me, the prototype third baseman is (San Francisco's) Matt Williams, who hits for power, has great hands and a strong arm. Tim Wallach of the Montreal Expos has been solid. Those two are probably the best combination offense-defense guys in the National League. Chris Sabo is also a fine player at Cincinnati."

None of which solves the Dodgers' problem of finding the right third baseman. Since Cey was traded, the Dodgers have had proven hitters, Pedro Guerrero and Bill Madlock, but haven't come up with a slick fielder who could hit with power and drive in runs.

In 1983, Guerrero played 157 games at third, hit .298 with 32 home runs and drove in 103 runs, helping the Dodgers win the Western Division title. He also committed 31 errors. By 1985 he was playing most of his games in the outfield and later switched to first.

For pennant insurance that year the Dodgers got Madlock, who hit .360 in September and helped clinch another division title. The next year, as the full-time third baseman, Madlock hit .280 with 60 RBIs and 26 errors. He was traded to the Detroit Tigers after 21 games of the 1987 season.

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