By Cliff Corcoran
The Dodgers and Yankees have had more Rookies of the Year than any other teams in baseball, and both added to their totals Monday night when Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger and Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, each of whom broke his league's rookie home-run record this year, won the awards unanimously. This is the third time that a Dodger and Yankee have won the Rookie of the Year in the same season, joining 1996, when Derek Jeter and Dodgers outfielder Todd Hollandsworth won, and 1981, when lefty starters Fernando Valenzuela and Dave Righetti won.
Yet while the Yankees have had more Rookies of the Year than any team other than the Dodgers, breaking a tie with the A's with Judge's win, the Dodgers have had twice as many as the Yankees.
Bellinger is the 18th Dodger to win the award. That's 18 out of the 71 National League winners. More than a quarter of all NL Rookies of the Year have been Dodgers, including four in a row from 1979-82, and five in a row from 1992-96. In fact, a Dodgers player has won the Rookie of the Year the year after another Dodgers player as often as any Yankee has won it at all. It's fitting, then, that the first player ever to win the award was a Dodger (Jackie Robinson in his landmark 1947 season), and that the award was renamed in his honor 40 years later.
How did the subsequent careers of all of those Dodgers Rookies of the Year stack up? Time will tell for Bellinger and his immediate predecessor, 2016 unanimous NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager. As for the 16 Dodgers Rookies of the Year who have played their last Major League game, here's how I rank them:
16. Joe Black, RHP, 1952
Prior to the 1951 season, the Dodgers sent $11,000 to the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro American League for two future Rookie of the Year Award winners: infielder Jim "Junior" Gilliam and Black. Black reached the Majors first and edged out Hall of Famers Hoyt Wilhelm and Eddie Mathews in the Rookie of the Year voting for a season in which he threw 142 1/3 innings over 54 relief appearances plus two late-September starts, posting a 2.15 ERA (171 ERA+) while winning 15 games and saving (per retroactive calculations) another 15. Moved to the rotation at the end of the season, Black started three games for Brooklyn in the 1952 World Series, beating the Yankees with a complete game in Game 1 only to be the hard-luck loser in Games 4 and 7. Black finished third in the NL MVP Award voting that season.
Instructed to expand his repertoire the following spring by manager Chuck Dressen, the 29-year-old Black lost his feel for his fastball and was never that dominant again. He posted a 5.33 ERA in 1953, spent most of 1954 with Triple-A Montreal, was traded to the Reds in June 1955 and was out of baseball after the 1957 season.
15. Todd Hollandsworth, LF, 1996
The fifth of the Dodgers' five consecutive Rookies of the Year from 1992-96, Hollandsworth felt like the diminished returns of a fourth sequel from the start. Hollandsworth put together a respectable 12-year career for eight teams, but 1996 was his only qualified season. He didn't hit in 1997, was hurt for most of 1998, and eventually settled in to a role as a fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter on a tour of the NL (plus half a season with Cleveland). In his career, he hit .265/.335/.442 in 239 pinch-hit appearances, a hair better than his career rates.
14. Steve Howe, LHP, 1980
A talented lefty reliever, Howe worked a scoreless 3 2/3 innings to earn the save in the decisive sixth game of the 1981 World Series, was an All-Star in '82 and posted a 2.17 ERA (162 ERA+) in his first four seasons with the Dodgers. However, struggles with substance abuse derailed his career multiple times. Howe missed a month and a half of the 1983 season and was suspended for all of '84. After struggling upon his return in '85, he was released and landed with the Twins. He spent '86 with the unaffiliated Class A San Jose Bees, reemerged briefly with the Rangers in '87 and then violated his treatment program and was again released. Banned from the Minors until 1990 and the Majors until '91, Howe got a proper second act with the Yankees from 1991-96, posting a 2.85 ERA (149 ERA+) in the first four of those seasons but struggling in the latter two, by which time he was in his late 30s.
13. Ted Sizemore, 2B, 1969
A Minor League catcher, Sizemore switched to second base in Spring Training in 1969 and was adept enough at the position to put together a 12-year career as a good-field, no-hit second baseman. To be fair, he hit well enough in his first two seasons with the Dodgers (96 OPS+), but he never had any power. Traded to the Cardinals after the 1970 season, he worked deep counts in the two-hole while Lou Brock piled up stolen bases. After a brief return to L.A. in 1976, he served as the starting second baseman on the 1977 and '78 Phillies teams that lost the NLCS to the Dodgers, but he was finished after nine games with the Red Sox in 1980.
12. Jim Lefebvre, 2B, 1965
The voters gave the Rookie of the Year to the wrong second baseman in 1965. The Astros' Joe Morgan was superior, though Lefebvre did hit .400 in that year's World Series after the votes were in. Lefebvre made the voters look a bit smarter with an All-Star sophomore season, hitting 24 home runs and posting a 126 OPS+, but he didn't come close to that kind of power again until he signed with Japan's Lotte Orions after the 1972 season and hit 29 home runs in his first year in Nippon Professional Baseball. Lefebvre spent his last four professional seasons with the Orions, cutting his Major League career short at eight years, but he managed to be an average hitter and a capable fielder at second and third in those eight seasons. He later managed five-and-a-half seasons with the Mariners, Cubs and Brewers, and would occasionally moonlight as a bit player in popular television series in the 1960s and '80s.
11. Eric Karros, 1B, 1992
On the back of the baseball card, Karros' 284 home runs, including five seasons of 30 or more, all accompanied by triple-digit RBI years, look impressive. When you place his production in context, coming from a first baseman whose peak fell in the years after the 1994 strike, didn't draw an excess of walks, rarely hit for impressive averages, was below average in the field and only twice slugged above .480, he proves to have been an unexceptional player. By career bWAR, he ranks above only Black and Hollandsworth among the 16 men on this list. Seager has already passed him, as well (13.5 to 10.2). Failing to do better at first base during Karros's 11 seasons at the position was likely one reason the Dodgers had so little success in the 1990s. Still, he hit .300/.365/.560 in his limited postseason opportunities (55 plate appearances with the Dodgers and 2003 Cubs, the latter of whom were eliminated by Hollandsworth's Marlins) and he outlasted the bottom five men on this list in terms of service to the Dodgers.
10. Hideo Nomo, RHP, 1995
A sensation when he arrived from Japan at the age of 26 in 1995, Nomo's historical significance, effectively opening up the Major Leagues to NPB players, is much greater than this ranking. However, his Major League career was marked by inconsistency and only flashes of brilliance after his legitimately excellent rookie year. As a rookie, "the Tornado" led the NL with 236 strikeouts while posting a 2.54 ERA (149 ERA+) in 28 starts and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting. However, his effectiveness declined in each of the next three seasons, leading to a trade to the Mets in June 1998. After two more years adrift, he landed with the Red Sox and opened the 2001 season with his second no-hitter (the first was for L.A. in 1996) then proceeded to lead the AL in strikeouts that season with 220. He returned to the Dodgers in 2002 as a free agent and had two solid seasons before the bottom dropped out in 2004, after which he still held on until his age-39 season in 2008.
9. Steve Sax, 2B, 1982
A late-season injury replacement for incumbent second baseman Davey Lopes in 1981, Sax rode the bench during L.A.'s 1981 title run, but he broke up the Longest Running Infield the following year by prompting a trade of Lopes to the A's. Sax rewarded the Dodgers' faith by making the All-Star team and winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award. A contact hitter with speed who played the game with arguably too much intensity, Sax once broke his third-base coach's thumb when celebrating a walk-off home run, battled the yips in 1983 and was a bit too reckless on the bases early in his career. Still, he made five All-Star teams, averaged 39 steals per season at a 72 percent success rate from 1982-92, hit .282 over that span with a 96 OPS+ and was the starting second baseman on the 1988 World Series champions. He later had two of his best seasons for two of the worst teams in Yankees history
8. Raul Mondesi, RF, 1994
Best remembered for having an all-time great throwing arm in right field, Mondesi hit .300/.340/.512 (128 OPS+) from 1994-97 while winning two Gold Gloves and making his only All-Star team in 1995. "The Buffalo" also averaged 27 home runs and 24 stolen bases per season from 1995-2003, but he was never truly a star-level player again after 1997. His fielding fell off, as did his batting averages, and, like Karros, he didn't walk enough or hit for enough power to stand out as a hitter on the left side of the defensive spectrum in the late '90s and early '00s. The Dodgers did well to send him to Toronto for Shawn Green after the 1999 season. After two years with the Blue Jays, Mondesi never again played a full season for a single team, passing through the Yankees, D-backs, Pirates, Angels and Braves before retiring.
7. Don Newcombe, RHP, 1949
One of the first African-Americans in affiliated baseball, Newcombe pitched in the Negro National League as a teenager before joining the Dodgers' Class B affiliate in 1946. He reached the Majors in 1949 and went 17-8 with a 3.17 ERA (130 ERA+) in 244 1/3 innings and tied for the NL lead with five shutouts. He then struck out 11 Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series, only to be a hard-luck loser (he more deservingly lost Game 4). Newk was an All-Star and a horse for the Dodgers in his first three seasons with the team, but he famously couldn't hold the lead in the final playoff game against the Giants in 1951. After Bobby Thomson's home run off Ralph Branca ended the Dodgers' 1951 season, Newcombe was drafted into the military, losing his age-26 and -27 seasons to military service. He struggled in his first year back in 1954 but was an All-Star and a World Series champion in 1955, despite losing his only World Series start that year.
In 1956, Newcombe was the NL MVP and the first-ever recipient of the Cy Young Award. That season, he went 27-7 with a 3.06 ERA (131 ERA+) in 268 innings. He was never that good again. Newcombe would have solid seasons in '57 and, after a trade to the Reds, '59, but he was stuck in Triple-A in an attempted return to the Dodgers in 1961. In 1962, at the age of 36, he hit .262/.316/.473 with 12 home runs as an outfielder and first baseman for the NPB's Chunichi Dragons. Newcombe holds a revered position in Dodgers history as the ace of Brooklyn's "Boys of Summer" and in Major League history as the first African-American pitcher to star in the Majors.
6. Rick Sutcliffe, RHP, 1979
Despite his Rookie of the Year win in 1979, Sutcliffe didn't really become a star until the Dodgers traded him to Cleveland after finding little use for him on the way to their 1981 championship. "The Red Barron" led the AL with a 2.96 ERA in 1982, made his first All-Star team in 1983 and in 1984 went 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA after a June trade to the Cubs, becoming the only player ever to win a Cy Young Award after switching leagues midseason. Sutcliffe spent seven more years in Chicago, making two more All-Star teams and finishing second in the 1987 NL Cy Young Award voting for a season in which he led the league with 18 wins. After shoulder injuries shorted his last two years with the Cubs, he threw 237 1/3 innings and won 16 games for the 1992 Orioles, but that was his last gasp of effectiveness. He finished his 18-year career with 171 wins.
5. Jim Gilliam, 2B, 1953
Acquired along with Joe Black, Gilliam debuted a year later, pushing Jackie Robinson to third base, leading the Majors with 17 triples and becoming the first Dodger to win the Rookie of the Year Award the year after a teammate. A slick fielder, Gilliam drew a ton of walks. He had 100 as a rookie, 90 or more in four other seasons -- including an NL-best 96 in 1959 -- and 1,036 against just 416 strikeouts in his career. Gilliam was an everyday presence in the Dodgers' lineup from 1953-63, bouncing between second and third in the second half of his career and spotting in the outfield, as well. Named a coach after the 1964 season, he was pressed back into active duty by a slew of injuries and proved to be a valuable part-timer for the '65 club.
Junior played in seven World Series and won four championships, though his best World Series performances, by far, came in '53 and '55. He also made two All-Star teams and twice finished in the top six in the NL MVP Award voting. After retiring for good, he served as a Dodgers coach from 1967 until his death from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 49 just before the 1978 World Series. The Dodgers retired No. 19 in his memory.
4. Frank Howard, RF, 1960
The Aaron Judge of his day, Howard was a 6-foot-7, 255-pound slugger who hit 382 home runs in his 16-year Major League career, many of them tape-measure shots. Hondo experienced his greatest success in his early 30s with the expansion Senators, much of it under the tutelage of manager Ted Williams. Over five seasons, from 1967-71, "the Capital Punisher" hit .278/.374/.533 (164 OPS+) while averaging 40 home runs, 103 RBI, and 85 walks per season, making four All-Star teams and ranking in the top eight in the MVP voting three times.
With the Dodgers, his numbers were more muted, in part due to limited playing time, but he still slugged .535 from 1961-63, and averaged 33 home runs per 162 games from 1960-64, the latter his final season with L.A. Howard hit .273/.352/.499 (142 OPS+) and was worth 51.2 wins above replacement with his bat alone in his career. Unfortunately, his fielding was often brutal, which dragged down his overall value and was one reason the Dodgers never fully unleashed him on the league. Since a back injury ended his career in 1974, he has had a long career as a Major League coach and instructor.
3. Fernando Valenzuela, LHP, 1981
After throwing 17 2/3 scoreless innings in his Major League debut in 1980 at the age of 19, Valenzuela ignited Fernandomania by opening the 1981 season with eight straight complete games, five of them shutouts, four with double-digit strikeout totals. Reality, and the strike, intervened thereafter, but Valenzuela remains the only player ever to win the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award in the same season, and he capped that season by going 3-1 with a 2.21 ERA in five postseason starts, helping the Dodgers win their first championship since 1965.
Valenzuela's brilliance didn't end there. He averaged 266 innings and 14 complete games per season from 1982-87, including 21 wins and 20 complete games in 1986, and a 2.45 ERA (141 ERA+) in 1985, figures that bested his 1981 marks. He finished in the top five in the Cy Young Award voting four times in that six-year span, was an All-Star every year from 1981-86 and added a Gold Glove in '86 and Silver Sluggers in '81 and '83.
All of those innings seemed to catch up to him in 1987, still just his age-26 season, but Valenzuela gave the Dodgers a farewell gift with a no-hitter in 1990. Released the following spring, he returned to his native Mexico in 1992 to pitch and play first base in the Mexican League, then tagged five more years onto his Major League career, proving a capable rotation filler for the Orioles, Phillies, Padres and Cardinals through the age of 36. A decade later, he made a brief comeback in the Mexican Pacific Winter League, and he is now a prominent voice on the Dodgers' Spanish-language broadcasts.
2. Mike Piazza, C, 1993
Piazza was nothing less than the greatest hitting catcher of all time. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006, Piazza was a 12-time All-Star and 10-time Silver Slugger who launched 427 home runs and hit .308/.377/.545 (142 OPS+) in his career. After crushing his Rookie of the Year competition in 1993 (he, too, was a unanimous selection, as was Mondesi), he finished in the top six in the NL MVP Award voting each of the next four seasons and had two more top-seven finishes after being traded to the Mets (via the Marlins) in 1998. Criticized as a poor defensive catcher during his career, Piazza inarguably had a subpar throwing arm, but he retroactively grades out as an excellent pitch-framer and was a good pitch-blocker, as well, suggesting that he was actually underrated for most of his career. As such, this No. 2 ranking may be similarly unfair, but the top man on this list is a special case.
1. Jackie Robinson, 1B, 1947
Given the importance of Robinson breaking the color line in 1947 and all of the additional stressors, challenges, expectations and obstacles he had to contend with, not only in that season but in subsequent seasons, it's almost impossible to measure Robinson's career against that of any other Major Leaguer. Further complicating matters is the fact that he was 28 in his rookie season, with his most athletic years already behind him.
Even still, Robinson's career was undeniably great. In his 10 seasons, he hit .311/.409/.474 (132 OPS+). He won the 1949 NL MVP Award for a season in which he was worth a whopping 9.6 bWAR, and he was worth 9.7 bWAR two seasons later. In his six All-Star seasons, 1949-54, he hit .327/.428/.505 (145 OPS+), while averaging 81 walks against 28 strikeouts and 20 stolen bases per season at an 83 percent success rate at a time when his 37 steals in 1949 were enough to lead the Majors. He was also an elite fielder at second base before Gilliam pushed him off the position. Per bWAR, Robinson was worth 61.5 wins above replacement in 10 seasons to Piazza's 59.4. That doesn't account for the revisionist view of Piazza's pitch framing, but it speaks to just how great Robinson was at his peak. From 1949-53, he led the Majors, pitchers included, in bWAR, averaging 8.4 wins above replacement per season. By way of comparison, Bellinger was worth exactly half that this season.
It will be fascinating to see just how high on this list Seager and Bellinger can climb in the ensuing decades, but it seems unlikely that anyone will ever eclipse Robinson atop it.
* * *
Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.