what team is this: the 1974 national league champion los angeles dodgers
why this team?: this was the fist dodger team to win the pennant in the post-koufax era, and the last of walter alston's career. they won 102 games to finish four games ahead of the cincinnati reds in the national league west, and beat the pittsburgh pirates in four games to win the national league pennant. unfortunately, they lost in the world series to the oakland a's, four games to 1.
which players are featured: bill buckner, davey lopes, don sutton, al downing, ron cey, steve garvey, and tommy john
why these players?: with these guys, we have a pretty good representation of the team, although there were some others that could have/should have been featured as well. for instance, steve yeager and bill russell will be included in the set later on, but for some reason were left off of the dodgers' 1974 subset.
bill buckner was the team's primary left fielder in 1974. yes, that was billy buck climbing the outfield fence chasing hank aaron's historic 715th home run, but more on that later. buckner had what may have been his finest season in los angeles in 1974. he hit .314 in 145 games, scored 83 runs and had 30 doubles and 7 home runs. in the postseason, he hit a solo home run in game 3 of the world series, but was otherwise pretty well contained by the pirates and the a's.
davey lopes was, obviously, the dodgers' second baseman in 1974. in his second full season, lopes scored 95 runs, hit 10 homers, and stole 59 bases. he scored 6 times in the postseason, and also stole a total of 4 bases, but hit only .182 in the dodgers' 9 postseason games combined.
don sutton was one of the aces of the staff in 1974, but finished second on the team in wins (19) to andy messersmith (20). sutton was 19-9 for the second time in three years, and he finished 4th in the cy young voting which was an improvement over his 5th place finishes in the two previous seasons. his 40 starts led the league, and he threw a one-hitter against the padres in may during which the only hit against him was an infield single off the bat of johnny grubb. sutton was 3-0 in the postseason, with wins in game 1 (by shutout) and game 4 of the nlcs, and game 2 of the world series. sutton also started game 5 of the fall classic but earned a no-decision in 5 innings of work.
al downing's claim to fame (or infamy?) may be why he was included in this set. as the memorable moments card details, downing gave up home run number 715 to hank aaron in april of 1974. on the season, downing was just 5-6 with a 3.66 era. he did manage to pitch a 2-hit shutout against the giants in september, and he threw 4 innings of scoreless relief in his lone nlcs appearance. downing was called upon to start game 3 of the world series, and took the loss even though just one of the three runs he allowed was earned.
ron cey manned the hot corner for the dodgers in 1974. he was named to the all-star team (as a starter, no less) for the first time, and hit 18 homers with 97 rbi on the season. and, the 88 runs he scored in 1974 turned out to be his career high. cey hit .316 in the nlcs with 3 doubles and a solo home run, but in the world series, he managed an average of just .176 with no extra base hits.
steve garvey, the dodgers' first baseman, broke out in a huge way in 1974. like cey, garvey established his career high in runs that year (he scored 95 times) and became an all-star for the first time. garvey earned his berth in the starting lineup for the national league as a write-in at first base, and he went on to nab mvp honors in the game. garvey also earned league mvp honors thanks to his 200-hit, 21/111/.312 performance at the plate for the dodgers. he also won the first of four consecutive gold gloves. and then there was the postseason. garvey hit .389 with a double, two homers, and 5 rbi in the nlcs and then hit .381 in the world series, although he did not have an extra base hit against the a's. there was no mvp of the nlcs until 1977, but if there were such an award in 1974, garvey might have earned an mvp trifecta.
tommy john was having a marvelous year in 1974 until he injured his elbow. he was 13-3 with a 2.59 era after making 22 starts - the last of which resulted in a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow. john, of course, missed the postseason, but did have surgery to repair his elbow and the rest is history. i find it fascinating that even with john's injury, the dodgers still only used a total of 13 pitchers over the course of the 1974 season. and, four of those pitchers appeared in 4 games or less! for the record, geoff zahn filled john's spot in the rotation for the remainder of the season.
the stadium on the back is...?: dodger stadium, where the boys in blue have played since 1962. right venue, but the photo is from the 90's at the earliest.
did upper deck get it right?: first and foremost, jim wynn is missing. and, andy messersmith and mike marshall would have been appropriate players to feature as well. i believe messersmith no longer signs, and marshall only signs for a large amount of money, so it makes sense why they are left out when we remember that there is an autograph parallel for every base card in the set. wynn, however, is a good signer (and is included in this year's topps archives release). while garvey netted the league mvp, wynn was arguably the best player on the team in 1974.
let's address the photos of the players featured. i am frankly disappointed here. the buckner is probably correct given his facial hair when compared to his 1975 cards, but the lopes, sutton, cey and garvey images are not from 1974. the downing and john photos are inconclusive. sutton's photo is from 1969 at the latest, given the 'los angeles' across his chest. the dodgers stopped using that on their away grays after the 1969 season and only returned to it in the early 2000's. lopes and cey are wearing uniforms from the late 1970's/early 1980's (i would say late 70's given the lack of a patch on lopes' left sleeve) and the double flap helmet identifies the garvey image as early 80's for sure.
is this team timeless?: the team boasted the national league's cy young award winner (marshall) and mvp (garvey), yet i don't know if i would consider this a timeless team. the dodger teams of the latter half of the 1970's and into the early 1980's seem more worthy of the title. what do you think?