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DODGERS VS. YANKEES Today-Sunday at Dodger Stadium

The Last Hurrah

After the Dodgers beat the Yankees in 1981 Series, Lopes was broken up from Garvey, Russell and Cey

June 18, 2004|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

Three games and two losses into the 1981 World Series, Tom Lasorda altered his batting order. Nothing major, really. The Dodger manager dropped Dusty Baker from third to fifth, with Steve Garvey and Ron Cey moving up one spot in the lineup.

With that switch, the infielders that played together longer than any in major league history occupied the top four spots. Davey Lopes batted first and Bill Russell second, followed by Garvey and Cey.

With that lineup, the Dodgers won the next three games. The World Series championship was theirs. The infielders never would play together again. There would be no fanfare, no farewell, just the cold reality of a winter trade.

"To say they were going to break up exactly after that? No, I didn't know that," said Vin Scully, voice of the Dodgers for 55 years. "But I did realize it was kind of borrowed time."

The Dodgers and New York Yankees play tonight at Dodger Stadium, their first meeting since Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey earned their rings and took their bows in the '81 Series and for the first time during the regular season. Tough to imagine today, but the Yankees sat out postseason play for the next 13 years.

Memories abound from that fall, from Fernandomania extending its run into October and Cey, Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager splitting the World Series MVP award three ways to Yankee owner George Steinbrenner allegedly slugging two men in a Los Angeles hotel elevator and tagging Dave Winfield as "Mr. May" after a one-for-22 Series.

But the collection of moments blurred into the joy of victory for the Dodgers, in particular for the infielders who had lost the World Series to the Oakland Athletics in 1974 and to the Yankees in 1977 and 1978.

"I used to go to bed at night and say in my prayers, dear God, if you can see it in your heart to put us in another Fall Classic, please let it be against the Yankees -- because we want them real bad," Lasorda said.

The infielders would play on beyond 1981, elsewhere for all but Russell, but each would retire with that single championship ring.

"That was the ultimate in my career," Garvey said. "To beat the Yankees made it doubly sweet."

Said Lopes: "We had better teams in '77 and '78 and didn't do it, but the World Series is a flip of the coin. I don't think we won as many World Series as we felt we were capable of winning, so it was nice to at least get one and get the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings off our backs."

This was not an infield of dreams. At first, this was not even an infield.

Lopes and Russell were center fielders, but the Dodgers converted Lopes to second base and Russell to shortstop. Cey and Garvey were third basemen, and Garvey got to the majors first, but the Dodgers moved him across the diamond because he couldn't throw across the diamond.

On June 13, 1973, in an otherwise forgettable 16-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, Garvey replaced Willie Davis in the fourth inning, Tom Paciorek moved from first base to center field, and the infield quartet played together for the first time.

By the time the Dodgers broke them up -- after a record run of 8 1/2 years -- Garvey was an All-Star eight times, Cey six, Lopes four, Russell three.

"We didn't even know we were establishing a record until someone went through the archives and found out there was such a thing," Lopes said.

The late Al Campanis, then the Dodger general manager, thought it better to dump a player a year too soon rather than a year too late. By the 1981 World Series, Lopes was 36, Cey 33, Garvey and Russell 32.

The playoff roster included Steve Sax, 21, a second baseman highly and loudly praised by Campanis. The presence of Sax, and the hype about his future, left Lopes sipping bittersweet champagne.

"I really wasn't too enthused," Lopes said. "I really didn't get too much enjoyment out of it, because I knew it was my last year there. It was just a matter of being satisfied that you got something done.

"I knew I was getting traded. I didn't know so much about the other guys, but I knew there were people pumping Sax. It was inevitable I was going to be the guy to go."

And so he went, 101 days after the Dodgers' victory parade, traded to the Oakland Athletics for a minor leaguer. Cey and Garvey played one more summer in Los Angeles, after which Cey was traded to the Chicago Cubs for two minor leaguers and Garvey left for the San Diego Padres as a free agent.

Russell evolved into a utilityman after the Dodgers gave his job to Dave Anderson and Mariano Duncan, then retired after the 1986 season. The other three played into 1987 -- Cey with the A's, Garvey with the Padres, Lopes with the Houston Astros.

"We were broken up, at the very least, two years too soon," Garvey said. "They went to the playoffs in '83, but they lacked the leadership we provided. Same thing in '85. It would have been nice to play at least two more years together."

Said Lasorda, the Dodger manager from 1977 to '96: "Everybody has to go sooner or later. I even had to go."

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