Off Base
Walter Alston would be 100 today

December 1, 2011 4:02 p.m.

On the 100th anniversary of his birth, today we pay homage to the great Walter Alston, arguably the best manager in Dodgers history, and unquestionably the most accomplished.

Though compared to the other major sports baseball allows for the longest of memories, for some reason, when it comes to Smokey, there’s a rather unfortunate lack of appreciation. Well, no longer. Not if I have anything to say about it. And I do.

For a franchise that dates to 1884, that required nine name changes before finally settling on “Dodgers,” and that endured 71 championship-less seasons before a certain young man from Darrtown, Ohio came along, October disappointment was simply a part of life.

The “lost-the-last-game-of-the-season” line is an expression for today; a good thing too, because 71 is a lot of “lost-the-last-game-of-the-seasons.”

The Brooklyn Robins won National League pennants in 1916 and 1920, losing in the World Series to the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians, respectively. After a 20-year stretch without a league flag (sound familiar?), the Brooklyn Dodgers won the 1941 pennant, only to lose to the Yankees, four games to one.

Another Dodger pennant in 1947, followed by another defeat at the hands of the Yanks in the Series, this time in seven games. Then a five-game Fall Classic loss to New York in ’49, a full-seven defeat in ’52 and a five-game loss in ’53. Each to the New York Yankees.

That’s the Yankees over the Dodgers in the World Series four times in seven years, if you’re scoring. Alston replaces Charlie Dressen in 1954, and bam, the very next year the Dodgers are champions of the world. Coincidence? I think not.

From there, we’re talking another NL crown in 1956, World Series victories in 1959, 1963 and 1965, and two more pennants,  in 1966 and 1974. That’s seven pennants – good for fifth place in baseball history, behind Casey Stengel, John McGraw, Joe McCarthy and Connie Mack – and four world championships, of which only McCarthy, Stengel and Mack have more.

Alston won 2040 games as the Dodger skipper, which puts him in tenth place on the all-time list. For easy comparison, Tommy Lasorda won 1599, with of course, half as many rings. Earl Weaver won 1480, Miller Huggins 1413, and Whitey Herzog, who just went into the Hall of Fame last year, 1281. Also for comparison, Tony LaRussa stands in third place with 2728 wins, behind only McGraw’s 2763, and Mack, with his little 3731.

Winning percentage? For example, try Lou Pinella .517, Dick Williams .520, Lasorda .526, LaRussa .536, Joe Torre .538, Sparky Anderson .545, Bobby Cox .556. Walter Alston .558. With a lifetime mark of 2040-1613.

Walter Alston, 23 years at the helm in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, on 23 one-year contracts. Seven National League pennants and four World Series triumphs for the Dodgers. Forgotten by some, perhaps, but proudly celebrated here, on his 100th birthday. Thanks for the memories, Smokey.

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