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Dodgers infield recalls glory days

Dodgers infield recalls glory days

LOS ANGELES -- The infield that played together at Dodger Stadium for a record 8 1/2 years was back together again on Monday, sans Davey Lopes, the second baseman, who cancelled at the last minute.

They last walked off the field as a unit in their Dodgers uniform nearly 25 years ago. The Rat went first, to Oakland, leaving Ron Cey, Bill Russell and Steve Garvey to break in Steve Sax for a year. The Garv then jumped to the Padres, the Penguin to the Cubs and Ropes eventually into retirement.

"It's hard to believe that 25 years has gone by so quickly," Cey said before he and the bunch were honored with a special award by the Southern California Sports Broadcasters during their annual luncheon at the posh Lakeside Golf Club. "But it has. Where did it all go?"

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The last time they were in the starting lineup together was Oct. 18, 1981, at Yankee Stadium -- in the sixth game of the World Series. Manager Tommy Lasorda, almost on instinct, penciled them in at the top of the order -- Lopes, Russell, Garvey and Cey.

"Unusual," Cey said. "It didn't happen very often. But I don't think he did it on purpose. Just a fluke."

Ironically, when the game ended and that group had its only World Series championship, Cey wasn't on the field. He had to pull himself out in the sixth inning, feeling the after-effects of the beaning he took courtesy of a Goose Gossage fastball in Game 5. With two out and nobody on in the ninth inning and a 9-2 victory secure, Lopes committed an error on the last ball hit to him as a Dodger. Bob Watson then flied out to Kenny Landreaux in center, ending it.

"It was a great night for all of us," said Cey, who shared the MVP Award of that series with Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager. "We had come close so many other times. For us to put the final earmark on our career together, was, I believe, our ultimate achievement, and certainly mine."

As only the Dodgers can, they will celebrate the 25th anniversary of that World Series victory all season, culminating with a grand reunion of the team on Sept. 16. Last year, it was the 50th anniversary of the those 1955 Boys of Brooklyn, who finally vanquished the hated Yankees after losing to them in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953.

This year, it will be the Lads of Los Angeles, who were finally able to overcome those Damn Yankees after World Series losses in 1977 and 1978. Add a five-game trouncing by the Oakland A's in the 1974 Fall Classic and the road for the core of that team, "The Infield," was finally complete.

"As a whole, I always thought we were greater than our individual parts," Garvey said on Monday.

During their years together, they were responsible for four pennants, one title, 21 All-Star appearances, five Gold Gloves, a National League MVP, an NL Championship Series MVP and that share of the 1981 World Series MVP.

Their time together began on June 23, 1973, during the final years when the reserve clause bound players perpetually to each Major League team and free agency wasn't even a dream. It was just before the second game of a doubleheader against the Big Red Machine in Chavez Ravine, and the late Walter Alston meandered over to Garvey in the clubhouse and asked him if he'd ever played first base.

"Sure," Garvey, the heretofore third baseman with an erratic arm, responded to the legendary skipper.

Garvey never missed another game there -- regular or postseason -- until after his Dodgers tenure ended in 1982. His infieldmates didn't play all the games, but they were around for most of them.

"If we had been playing together today, we would've been part owners of the team," said Russell, who later went on to manage the Dodgers.

Those were the Dodgers of Walter O'Malley and later his son Peter. The O'Malley family wrested the franchise from Branch Rickey in 1950, and held on against the rising tide of baseball's swelling economics for more than 45 years. Their managers for most of that time were Alston and Lasorda. Their general managers were Buzzy Bavasi, Al Campanis and Fred Claire, who introduced the boys on Monday.

"You can't think about any one of the names without thinking about all four names," Claire said about the quartet.

All that consistency has given way to the current state of affairs at Dodger Stadium where the ownership, general manager and managers seem to change now with the swiftness of a Sandy Koufax fastball.

Garvey and Cey work in marketing for the Dodgers under owners Jamie and Frank McCourt, who see great value in tying the present to the past. Then again, the pair is a reminder of a much better time. The Dodgers captured the World Series title again in 1988. But since then, they've won just one postseason game.

"What people want is a reminder of what it was like," Cey said. "The more you can see past successes of the team, it gives the fans hope. When you're in the moment, you don't reflect. But can you imagine what it would be like for the Dodgers to go to the World Series in this era four times in eight years? This city would be turned upside down."

Twenty-five years ago these guys were there. They turned the city upside down. The sum of their composite parts.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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