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Dodgers' infield of the 1970s had a lasting impact

Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes and Bill Russell played together more than eight years, a big league record. They didn't always get along but they look back fondly.

June 23, 2013|By Gary Klein

The infielders trotted gingerly onto the diamond, Dodger Stadium suddenly taking on a 1970s vibe.

Steve Garvey stood at first base, Davey Lopes at second, Bill Russell at shortstop and Ron Cey at third — as if they'd never left.

A Dodgers infield that played together for more than eight seasons — a major league record — reunited for an inning during a recent old-timers game.

On June 13, 1973, Garvey entered a game at Philadelphia as a defensive replacement at first base. It marked the first time the quartet played collectively at the positions that would define them.

Ten days later, 40 years ago Sunday, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium, they all started.

By the time the Dodgers defeated the New York Yankees in Game 6 of the 1981 World Series at Yankee Stadium, the foursome had combined for 21 All-Star game appearances, four National League pennants and a World Series championship.

It wasn't always a smooth ride, but the disco-era Dodgers infield endured like no other in baseball history.

Free agency and the sport's evolving financial structure make it improbable that any group will equal its longevity.

"I wouldn't think," former manager Tom Lasorda said, "it could ever happen again."

The shortstop

Lopes, Garvey and Cey were college players when the Dodgers drafted them in 1968. But it was Russell, drafted as a high school player two years earlier, who reached the major leagues first.

He debuted in 1969 and played mainly as an outfielder and second baseman during his first three major league seasons. But with shortstop Maury Wills approaching the end of his career, Russell also spent winters in the Instructional League working on infield skills with Lasorda and the late Monty Basgall, a longtime Dodgers coach.

When he replaced Wills in 1972, Russell played one of the game's most demanding positions while essentially learning on the job. Manager Walter Alston and Lasorda, who succeeded Alston with four games left in the 1976 season, showed patience.

Others did not.

"I made a lot of mistakes and the press and fans let me know it," said Russell, 64. "But becoming conditioned to that was a big thing — to show them I could play at this position."

Jerry Reuss, who pitched for three teams against the Dodgers before joining them in 1979, saw Russell as "a center fielder playing shortstop," a defender not as flashy as others but, like all of his infield teammates, savvy about the game's nuances.

"They knew when to position themselves a little step this way or a step back or a step in," Reuss said. "And more times than not their intuition was correct."

Russell played his entire 18-year career with the Dodgers and was a three-time All-Star. Also a former Dodgers manager and coach, he now works for the commissioner's office, observing umpires mainly at Dodgers and Angels games.

It's been a long, rewarding journey for the Kansas boy, who had never flown on an airplane before being drafted by the Dodgers.

"We accomplished more," he said of the enduring infield, "than we ever dreamed of."

Corner to corner

Last month, Garvey stood with his son near the visitors' dugout at Dodger Stadium, the teen sporting a Bryce Harper jersey.

Garvey, 64, coached Harper on a Palm Desert-based travel ball team several years ago. He had come out to the stadium to say hello to the young Washington Nationals star.

Garvey's rise to stardom was not nearly as quick as Harper's.

Garvey broke into the majors as a third baseman, but a shoulder injury during his football-playing days at Michigan State affected his throwing. In 1972, his second full season, he committed 28 errors in 85 games.

"Some of those throws were a little wide or a little low," Garvey said. "It was almost divined that I ended up at first base."

In the first few months of the 1973 season, Garvey was used mainly as a pinch-hitter and late-inning outfield replacement. But injuries to other outfielders forced Alston to make a move.

Lasorda said he proposed that Bill Buckner move from first base to the outfield — as did Buckner.

"We were having trouble scoring runs," Buckner said. "I told Alston, 'You know, Garvey can play first base. I'll move to the outfield.' I just wanted to win."

On June 23, after the Reds beat the Dodgers in the first game of a doubleheader, Garvey started at first in place of Buckner. He produced two hits while batting fifth in a lineup that included Lopes in the leadoff spot, Cey hitting fourth and Russell seventh.

Garvey eventually became a fixture. In 1974 he was the National League most valuable player and helped lead the Dodgers to the World Series against the Oakland A's. On Sept. 3, 1975, he played in the first of 1,207 consecutive games, the fourth-longest streak in major league history.

Garvey signed as a free agent with the San Diego Padres after the 1982 season and helped them reach the 1984 World Series.

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