Dodgers: Honoring Legends Dazzy Vance and Zack Wheat

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 26: General view of Dodger Stadium before fans arrive for the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs on August 26, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 26: General view of Dodger Stadium before fans arrive for the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs on August 26, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

The Dodgers Ring of Honor features the retired numbers of 10 former players, and the ceremonial tribute to Vin Scully, the greatest broadcaster ever.

The Dodgers policy is to only retire a uniform number if a player was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and consequently add him to the Ring of Honor.  The only exception was made for Jim Gilliam who died suddenly and tragically in 1978 while serving as a Dodger coach.  There are two Brooklyn Dodger Hall of Famers who played most of their career in an era before players wore numbers, but made their mark on Dodgers history–RHP Dazzy Vance and Outfielder Zack Wheat.  It’s time for the team to add these two players to the Ring of Honor.

But they didn’t wear numbers for most of their career, you say?  Let’s take a look back at their careers, and then I’ll opine how the Dodgers can properly honor them.

Born in Iowa in 1891, Dazzy pitched in the majors for 16 years and spent about  26 years in professional baseball.  Dazzy spent the majority of his career with Brooklyn, suiting up for the 1922-1932 seasons, and once again in 1935 to finish his career as a Dodger at the age of 44.  He did not find success in the big leagues till his age 31 season!  This is remarkable once you digest his Hall of Fame numbers here shortly.

Vance posted unremarkable numbers in his twenties bouncing around from the Pirates to the Yankees, while pitching for various minor league ballclubs.   As recounted by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), Vance suffered through a “dead arm” through the early part of his career till an accident yielded some unforeseen luck.   The story has Vance banging his arm on a table by accident during a poker game.   Apparently the pain was so bad Vance had to see a doctor.

There is no solid account of what procedure the doctor performed but according to SABR, baseball analytics pioneer Bill James believes the doctor must have cleared out bone chips.  After this procedure, Vance turned his career around, and embarked on a run of 187 wins and 127 losses over an  11 year period with Brooklyn.  Overall he finished his career with 197 wins.  Vance won twenty games three times and 18 games twice.  He led the league in ERA three times, led in strikeouts 7 times, and averaged 255 innings per season, even topping 300 innings once!

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Dazzy won the pitching equivalent of the Triple Crown in 1924 while leading he National League in wins, ERA, and strikeouts, and that season was the first NL pitcher to win the MVP award.  In 1955 Dazzy Vance was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  He passed away in 1961 at the age of 69.  Dazzy holds the all-time WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for Dodgers pitchers, ranks third in Dodger history in wins , and fifth in strikeouts all time.

Zack Wheat was born in Missouri in 1888, and patrolled the Brooklyn outfield for 18 of his 19 seasons in the majors from 1909-1927.  Wheat was amongst a handful of U.S. professional athletes at the turn of the century with a Native American background.  Wheat began playing professional baseball at the tender age of 19, and made his major league debut at 21.  He led the NL in batting in 1918 with .335 batting avg, and had nearly 3000 hits in his career.  Wheat was known as  a slugger with just 132 home runs, as he played during the infamous “Dead Ball Era”.   Wheat was also known as an outstanding defensive outfielder.

Wheat finished his illustrious Dodger career at the top or near the top of many Dodgers all-time offensive categories: fourth in all-time Dodgers WAR, tied for sixth for batting average, and first in games played, at bats, plate appearances, hits, singles, doubles, and triples!

Wheat was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1959 by the Veteran’s Committee.  He passed away in 1972.

These two ballplayers solidified their place in Dodger history with the excellent numbers they posted, and their admission into Cooperstown.  To honor Dazzy Vance and Zack Wheat, I propose the Dodgers place their names in the Ring of Honor, each paired with the classic Brooklyn Dodgers “B”.  We can make a case for so many other Dodgers players that deserve some sort of recognition for their contribution to the team’s storied history.  However, there are only two of those players that spent most of their careers as a Dodger AND are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  It’s time for Dazzy Vance and Zack Wheat to take their place in the Dodgers Ring of Honor.

Next: Do the Dodgers need to add more pitching?

Special thanks to Baseball Reference for statistical data and SABR biographers Charles F. Faber and Eric Enders for background information.