By IAN WILSON
We are very excited to introduce a new series that explores the all-time great players and coaches from professional baseball teams that have come and gone through Alberta.
First to the plate are the Lethbridge Dodgers, a rookie-level squad that operated in the province’s Windy City from 1977 to 1983, winning back-to-back Pioneer League championships during their tenure.
The team ultimately left town after city council voted down a move to allow beer sales at Henderson Stadium, a decision that robbed Lethbridge of both ballpark suds and professional baseball for nearly a decade.
Before we get to it, here are the details on what each all-time team will include. The roster will consist of the following: manager, catcher, first baseman, second baseman, third baseman, shortstop, three outfielders, designated hitter, utility/bench player, middle relief pitcher, closer, and five starting pitchers for the rotation. We’ll craft our own lineup card and set up a rotation after we run through our selections.
There may be some Jim Lefebvre believers out there, but – despite his lengthy amount of time as a base coach, hitting coach and manager in Major League Baseball (MLB) – we’re going with another choice over Lethbridge’s 1978 skipper.
Gail Henley is the only real option here. Not only did he usher in the Dodgers era in L.A. (Lethbridge, Alberta) when they joined the Pioneer League circuit, he also presided over their final campaign. Between those seasons, he helmed the club to titles in 1977, 1979 and 1980. In total, he assembled a 173-105 record during his four years in southern Alberta and never experienced a losing season. Not too shabby for the long-time Los Angeles Dodgers scout who was named the Pioneer League Manager of the Year in 1980.
Backstops at the rookie level are often asked to split duties. It’s a demanding position for first-year pros. When you add in the possibility of being promoted to an affiliate higher up in Single-A or Double-A, it can be difficult for a catcher to stick around on one team for too long.
Enter Gilberto Reyes, who may have been the most talented pitch framer to suit up for the Lethbridge Dodgers. The Dominican product cracked the lineup at just 16 years of age, when he got into a half-dozen games for the team in 1980. A year later, Reyes played 44 games for Lethbridge, where he smacked six homers, scored 28 runs and produced 24 runs batted in (RBI). The organization was impressed enough to bump him up to the Single-A Vero Beach Dodgers of the Florida State League (FSL) to finish the 1981 campaign. Time in the majors followed, with Reyes playing 121 games with the big-league Dodgers and Montreal Expos. His playing days spanned two decades and included stops in Mexico and with independent-league teams.
Yet, despite his impressive resume, we have to slot Reyes in the backup catcher role on this team.
Our pick to strap on the gear for the bulk of the games is Jesse Baez, who never saw time in The Show but was a steady presence for the Lethbridge Dodgers in their inaugural season. Baez was a first-round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox in 1976 but didn’t sign with the club, so the Dodgers took him in the 16th round the following year. In 62 games and 199 at bats for Lethbridge, he hit .302 with a .436 on-base percentage (OBP), three long balls, 39 RBI, 32 runs and 18 doubles. It was a good enough year to warrant an All-Star nod from the Pioneer League. Baez never made it past Double-A, and his best pro season was with Lethbridge.
There are a couple of “Greg”-cellent options to play first sack.
The first is Greg Brock, a lefty bat from Oregon who shredded Pioneer League pitching in 1979. The 13th-round draft pick led the Dodgers in games played (66), home runs (16), RBI (77), runs (61), walks (54), batting average (.356), OBP (.466), slugging percentage (.640), extra-base hits (36), and total bases (158). He paced the offence to a championship title. After he left Lethbridge, Brock rose through the minor-league ranks and played 10 MLB seasons with the Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers, clubbing 110 home runs in 1,013 contests.
During the next season, Greg Smith followed up Brock’s performance with a solid campaign of his own. The Oklahoma-born slugger led Lethbridge in a number of offensive categories, including games played (69), at bats (272), runs (63), hits (99), RBI (58), total bases (139), and batting average (.364). He also stole 10 bases and swatted 18 doubles. Smith ascended to the Triple-A level with the Las Vegas Stars and the Oklahoma City 89ers, but he never broke through to the bigs.
Both players were Pioneer League All-Stars, but we have to give the nod to the Brock star on this one. Those numbers don’t lie, nor does his MLB pedigree.
When you think about second sackers from this era for the Dodgers, it’s natural for Steve Sax to spring to mind. Both he and his brother, Dave, patrolled the middle infield for Lethbridge in 1978. But it was Dave Sax who played second base, while Steve handled grounders at shortstop. During his 39 games for the junior Dodgers, Steve batted a healthy .328 with a .405 OBP. He also scored 24 runs and registered 21 RBI.
It was with the parent club in Los Angeles where Sax developed into an elite hitter and base-stealing threat, claiming the National League (NL) Rookie of the Year Award in 1982, a Silver Slugger Award in 1986 and a pair of World Series rings.
Those achievements aside, there was another second baseman who put it all together for Lethbridge and delivered an All-Star season for the Henderson Stadium faithful. Don LeJohn had a spectacular year in 1977, establishing a Pioneer League record for stolen bases (45) and leading the circuit in bases on balls (69) that season. He also scored a team-best 63 runs and looked every part a lead-off hitter. In addition, LeJohn was the top fielding second baseman in the league, as evidenced by his .949 fielding percentage, 141 putouts, 191 assists and the 38 double plays he helped turn. Go ahead and pencil LeJohn in at the top of our lineup card.
Don’t let the low number of homers fool you – Jeff Hamilton was excellent for the Dodgers in their final season in Lethbridge. The right-handed hitter from Flint, Michigan led the squad in RBI (61), doubles (23), and total bases (130). He also scored 48 runs, batted .335, posted a .382 OBP, chipped in three home runs and stole three bases during his 68 games played in 1983. The Pioneer League took notice and named him an All-Star and the Dodgers were impressed enough to label him team MVP.
After he rose through the minor-league system, Hamilton played six MLB seasons with Los Angeles and was a regular postseason player when the Dodgers captured the World Series in 1988.
The highest profile player to pick baseballs out of the dirt between Henderson Stadium’s second and third bases was Mariano Duncan. The native of the Dominican Republic suited up in 1,279 MLB games for the Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. He was selected as an All-Star in 1994 and helped the Reds and Yanks claim World Series titles in the 1990s. In Lethbridge, Duncan appeared in just 30 games and made 55 at bats in 1982, compiling a .236 average with nine runs and eight RBI.
His time in southern Alberta was less than riveting, so we picked the unheralded Chris Chavez to captain our infield instead. The University of Nebraska alum played in 65 games for Lethbridge in 1981 and made the most of his 223 at bats. Chavez was second on the offensively-challenged club in runs (45) and RBI (38). And while the 17th-rounder’s .265 batting average may not have pointed to an extraordinary hitter, his 61 walks and .422 OBP were the best on the team and indicated a batter with a discerning eye. Chavez – who didn’t play higher than Double-A – also chipped in with 11 doubles and eight swiped pillows.
It was a good vintage for the outfield of the Lethbridge Dodgers in 1978. That year’s team is the source of all three of our grass-trampling selections.
Mitch Webster is an easy pick for the outfield. Not only did he play two full seasons in Lethbridge, he was also very good. The Kansas product put in 110 games for the baby Dodgers in 1977-78 and scored 103 runs for the team. He didn’t hit any long balls, but the switch hitter did steal 31 bases and produced 49 RBI. The 23rd-round pick batted .351 with a .466 on-base percentage in his first year of pro baseball and followed that up with a .319 batting average and a .457 OBP. The makings of a major leaguer were there, even if the power was not. Webster played 1,265 games over 13 MLB seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, Montreal Expos, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland, Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Candy Maldonado also played two years in Lethbridge, where he appeared in 116 games for the Dodgers. In that time, he recorded 87 runs, 81 RBI, 17 homers, 35 doubles and 60 extra-base hits. Like Webster, the “Candyman” had a lengthy MLB career that saw him don the ball cap of nine different teams. The undrafted Puerto Rican worked his way into 1,410 big-league games and picked up a World Series ring with the Blue Jays in 1992.
Rounding out our pasture is Mike Marshall, who also played first base. The sixth rounder from Illinois stood out among a star-studded outfield and a team that featured the Sax brothers in the middle infield. Marshall tied Maldonado for the team lead in home runs, with 12, and found himself atop the team stats for RBI (70) and total bases (138). In addition, he batted .324 with a .395 OBP. Nicknamed “Moose,” he played over 1,000 MLB games, mostly with the Dodgers, and had a career .270 average. Marshall was also a part of the 1988 World Series squad from L.A.
Few players can warrant a mention in the same breath as former NL Most Valuable Player (MVP) and World Series champ Steve Garvey. But Mike Zouras can lay claim to besting one of Garvey’s records. In 1968, Garvey set the Pioneer League home run benchmark by clubbing 20 round trippers. Zouras, a 25th-round draft pick, eclipsed that with 21 long balls in 68 games in 1977 (a record that would stand until Medicine Hat’s Greg Morrison swatted 23 homers two decades later). The third baseman also posted strong numbers in other offensive categories, including RBI (73), runs (57), batting average (.318), OBP (.376), extra-base hits (38) and total bases (168).
Greg Smith, who lost out on the starting first base job and is mentioned above, is our reserve guy. A capable batsman, Smith can fill in at either corner infield position and in the outfield. He’s also got dibs for coming off the bench in a pinch-hitting situation.
The ace of the pitching staff is Rich Rodas, a lefty from California who won the Pioneer League Pitching Triple Crown in 1979. The 6-foot-1 hill topper logged 113 innings for Lethbridge, struck out 148 batters and posted a 1.12 earned run average (ERA). Rodas was a perfect 12-0 and 11 of his 13 starts were complete games. The undrafted pitcher ended up appearing in 10 games out of the bullpen for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1983-1984.
Next up is Charles Jones, a right-handed hurler who led the Pioneer League in strikeouts in 1980 with 115 Ks through 96 innings. A native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Jones went 8-2 in 14 games for Lethbridge and delivered six complete games – three of them shutouts – and an impressive 1.88 ERA.
The most successful graduate of the Lethbridge Dodgers arsenal of arms was Sid Fernandez, an obvious choice for rotation duty based on his performance in 1981. The southpaw from Honolulu, Hawaii – who drew comparisons to Fernando Valenzuela – made 11 starts for Lethbridge and recorded 128 strikeouts in 76 frames. He also went 5-1 with two complete games and a 1.54 ERA. The strikeout total and ERA were tops in the Pioneer League. The 73rd overall draft pick went on to have a 15-year MLB career that included a pair of All-Star nods and a World Series championship with the New York Mets.
Another left-hander who was able to sit guys down via the strikeout was Morris Madden. During 83 innings and 13 starts in 1979, the South Carolina moundsman registered a 6-1 record, 106 Ks, a 2.93 ERA and three complete games. That qualifies him for a starting pitcher role on this team. After a lengthy journey through the minors, Madden managed to get into 16 MLB games with the Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates.
The last rotation spot goes to right-handed pitcher Steve Marsden, who beat out a crowded field of starters that includes Ken Lindsey, James Nobles and Roberto Alexander. Marsden appeared in 15 games for Lethbridge, 10 of them starts. In his 82 innings, he was a perfect 7-0 with four complete games, 81 Ks and a 2.41 ERA. He also helped out the bullpen by picking up a pair of saves. The Wisconsin native didn’t make it past Triple-A – due to a head-on car crash that broke his arm, leg and several ribs – but he was a key part of Lethbridge’s championship club in 1980.
The Alberta Dugout Stories analytics team considered two main candidates for the first call to the bullpen.
One potential option is David Daniel, who pitched in 13 games and racked up 46 innings in 1979. The lad from Lancaster, California seems well-suited for long relief work. The righthander went 4-3 with a pair of saves while assembling a 2.54 ERA and picking up 53 strikeouts.
The other righty we looked at is Bill Scudder, a 1982 alum who tossed in 28 games, ringing up 55 batters and impressing with a 2.70 ERA. Also from California, Scudder posted a 1-6 record and closed out five games.
We ultimately settled on Daniel because Scudder was tagged with a few too many losses for our liking.
There are a few options to close out games, as well.
Curt Reade was a Pioneer League All-Star in 1980 when he picked up seven saves in 19 games for Lethbridge. Yet another arm barner from Cali, Reade collected 36 Ks in 29 innings, while registering a 2.17 ERA.
John Rexrode, of Texas, was a dependable bullpen presence for the Dodgers in 1983. The righty got into 23 games and went 3-1 with six saves and a 2.01 ERA. He was also a K per inning pitcher.
Our selection, however, is Rocky Cordova, who led the Pioneer League in saves with nine in 1977. The Californian (yes, another reliever from the Eureka state!) put in 37 innings of pitching over 20 games for Lethbridge. He went 5-3 with 37 strikeouts and a 2.19 ERA in that time. We fully trust a guy named Rocky to knock out any opposing batters at the end of each game.
- Don LeJohn, 2B
- Mitch Webster, OF
- Candy Maldonado, OF
- Greg Brock, 1B
- Mike Zouras, DH
- Mike Marshall, OF
- Jeff Hamilton, 3B
- Chris Chavez, SS
- Jesse Baez, C
Bench … Greg Smith, 1B, 3B, OF
- Rich Rodas, LHP
- Charles Jones, RHP
- Sid Fernandez, LHP
- Morris Madden, LHP
- Steve Marsden, RHP
Bullpen … David Daniel (RHP), Rocky Cordova (RHP)
There it is – your Lethbridge Dodgers All-Time roster! What do you think? Did we miss any proven performers from the team? Would you make any changes to the club? Sound off in the comments.