Pick the best Dodgers shortstop

Pick the best Dodgers shortstop

LOS ANGELES -- Every ballplayer on a team is equally important, but it's usually much harder to take your eyes off the shortstop as he smothers a hard-to-reach grounder, defies gravity to snag a line drive, finagles a double play with an acrobatic ball flip and generally makes impossible plays look elementary-school easy. A strong shortstop is the glue that holds an infield together.

It's been 50 years since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, and Chavez Ravine has seen some electrifying shortstops in that time. Now it's time for fans to pick their favorite. In conjunction with the Dodgers 50th anniversary in L.A., fans can vote for their favorite shortstop this month to join the All-Time Roster. There will be a chance to vote for other positions in the upcoming months, and the final roster will be announced in 2008.

The selection is up to fans, and the elite list of shortstops they can choose from includes a defensive wall named Cesar Izturis, a steady pro named Alfredo Griffin, an unyielding iron man named Bill Russell, and a base-blazing speedster named Maury Wills.

Below is a list of the four candidates and a brief summary of their playing days in Los Angeles.

Cesar Izturis

A consistent contact hitter and impenetrable infielder, Izturis blossomed into an All-Star and Gold Glove shortstop during his five years as a Dodger.

Izturis had his best season with the Dodgers in 2004, when he boasted a batting average of .288 with 32 doubles, nine triples, 62 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. It was the same year that he picked up a Gold Glove after posting a .985 fielding percentage as the Dodgers won the National League West title.

The following year, Izturis earned his first All-Star berth and was on track for an equally impressive season, hitting .348 through June 1, but an elbow injury resulted in Tommy John surgery and cut his season short. It was his final full season in Los Angeles, where he accumulated a .260 average and averaged just 12 errors per season before his injury.

Alfredo Griffin

Griffin was a steady, everyday shortstop, and during his four years with the Dodgers, he played in 472 games, which ranks fifth all-time in games played by a Los Angeles shortstop. A former co-AL Rookie of the Year, Griffin joined the Dodgers in 1988 after he was already established as a solid shortstop.

Despite fracturing his cheekbone in his first season with Los Angeles, Griffin's reliable glove work helped the Dodgers win the World Series over Oakland in five games.

Known more for his glove than his bat, Griffin collected 760 putouts as a Dodgers and accumulated a .964 fielding percentage.

Bill Russell

In 1969, Russell was one of the Dodgers' most promising young outfielders, compared with the likes of Willie Davis. When the Dodgers needed a shortstop, however, they looked to Russell, who was athletic enough to make the transition to the infield.

For 12 years Russell was a rock at shortstop, where he turned 909 double plays and played 1,747 games, and he became the all-time Los Angeles leader in games played with 2,181 overall. During that time, Russell was part of the Dodgers' longest-lasting infield combination, a unit that became the heart of the team's annual pennant drive. A three-time All-Star, Russell helped the Dodgers to three World Series, and won once.

When a finger injury forced Russell to retire, he spent another decade coaching the Dodgers, eventually taking over as manager for Tommy Lasorda in 1996.

Maury Wills

A speedy infielder with a quick bat and even quicker hands, Wills was an obvious fit for shortstop, but it took him awhile to get there.

The skinny ballplayer struggled through eight years in the Minors, where he bounced between positions. He tried his hand at pitching and catching a few times, but it was Don Zimmer's broken toe, not Wills' fastball, that got him a break halfway through the 1959 season.

Wills didn't make an overpowering first impression. He led NL shortstops with 40 errors in his first full season, but had undeniable speed. In 1962, only his second full season, Wills set a new Major League record with 104 stolen bases and was caught stealing just 13 times. That same year, he posted a career-high 130 runs with 48 RBIs, won his second Gold Glove and was named National League MVP over Giants superstar Willie Mays.

Although '62 was Wills' best season, he continued to lead the league in stolen bags for the next three seasons. He averaged 63 stolen bases from 1960-65, and retired with a total of 586 stolen bases. Wills also helped the Dodger win two World Series during his 14-year career.

Becky Regan is an associate reporter at MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.