Monday, May 23, 2011
If you are a rock music lover, then you probably know what The 27 Club is.
The name refers to the untimely deaths of famed musicians Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain. All died at the age of 27.
It is about as unlucky of a number that there is in that profession.
Fortunately, Matt Kemp is not a musician. He is a ballplayer, who will turn 27 this September. In baseball, 27 is a wonderful age to be. Many consider it the age when a player reaches his peak in terms of athletic ability and performance.
Kemp also just happens to wear 27 on his uniform.
These days, Kemp is about the only player on the Dodgers immune to the trials and tribulations going on with the team. He is having a tremendous season. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be rubbing off on anyone else.
He appears to have reached his full potential, and if everything goes right, he will be a star for the Dodgers for a long, long time.
If everything goes right.
If. Everything. Goes. Right.
Kemp's contract runs out after this season. Nothing would ruin baseball more for me than seeing him wear another team's uniform. Also, with Frank McCourt still insinuating himself on the team, lord knows what additional damage that incompetent could do. All of the Dodgers may end up playing for the Nationals before the season is done.
With that hanging over my head, I thought I'd look into the No. 27, as it pertains to Dodger uniform numbers. Maybe 27 isn't a curse in terms of age in baseball. But it could be a curse in terms of uniform numbers. I am assuming the worst, of course, but I hope Kemp won't suffer the fates of some of the previous wearers of the No. 27 for the Dodgers:
Back in the '30s and '40s, the No. 27 was worn by Brooklyn pitcher Dutch Leonard, and then one of the first rookie phenoms, Pete Reiser.
Leonard began his career with Brooklyn, but was traded away by the Dodgers in 1936. Four years later, he was a 20-game winner for the Senators, and became one of the best pitchers Washington ever had, post-Walter Johnson era, of course.
Reiser became famous for running into walls, a practice that doesn't come highly recommended. In fact, Pistol Pete was so injury prone that he was carried off the field on a stretcher 11 separate times. Reiser's inability to stay out of trouble ON the field, cut short his career.
Later in his career, Reiser switched from the No. 27 to the No. 7, perhaps to rid himself of whatever bad luck the extra "2" held.
No player on the Dodgers picked the number up for a decade. Understandably. But in 1954, a courageous soul stepped forward to don 27.
Tom Lasorda is remembered for wearing the No. 2 as a Dodger manager, but his primary number in the majors as a player was 27. He wore it in 1954 and 1955. He pitched in only four games each year. Although he became a standout pitcher for the International League's Montreal Royals, little went right for Lasorda when he wore 27 for the Dodgers. Eleven earned runs in 13 innings.
Another player wore No. 27 for the Dodgers in 1955. It was Bob Borkowski, an outfielder. The Dodgers acquired him during the season from Cincinnati in 1955. Borkowski hit .105 in nine games for the Dodgers. He was sent down and never returned to the majors.
He looks happy doesn't he? Don Demeter was the first Los Angeles Dodger to wear No. 27. Demeter is known as the player who replaced Duke Snider in the outfield.
Demeter wore the No. 27 in 1958, but then switched to the No. 2. That worked better for him because after hitting .189 in '58, he blossomed into a power-hitter for the Dodgers in '59. A couple of years later, the Dodgers traded him to the Phillies (for almost absolutely nothing), and he hit over 20 home runs in four consecutive seasons for the Phillies and Tigers.
The number didn't reappear on a Dodger player until Los Angeles acquired reliever Phil Regan from the Tigers. In the best performance for the No. 27 since the days of Pete Reiser, Regan went 14-1 with a 1.62 ERA in 65 games for the 1966 Dodgers and led them to the World Series.
Unfortunately, the Dodgers were swept by the Orioles. Regan came back to earth in 1967, and he was dealt to the Cubs in '68 in a trade that Chicago fans are probably still laughing over. Ted Savage? Yeah. The Dodgers were ripped off again in a trade involving No. 27.
With Regan out of the way, Willie Crawford took the number in 1969. He had worn 43 or 47 up until that point.
Crawford is the most similar to Matt Kemp out of all of the Dodgers who wore No. 27.
Crawford was a high school superstar in Los Angeles and expected to tear up the major leagues with the Dodgers. He was signed by a previous wearer of No. 27, Lasorda. Although Crawford exhibited his terrific natural ability with L.A., he was relegated to a platoon role most of his career and never became a star player.
He wore 27 from 1969-75 with the Dodgers. In 2004, he died too young from kidney disease at age 57.
The No. 27 returned to the bullpen after Crawford's trade to the Cardinals.
Elias Sosa wore the number from 1976-77. His final (and most famous) moment for L.A. wearing No. 27 was surrendering the second of Reggie Jackson's three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.
I might have been the only person in America to be excited to pull a card of Joe Beckwith in 1981. After seeing him listed as an upcoming prospect in Dodger yearbooks (no Bowman in those days, folks), I waited for Beckwith to achieve superstar status upon the hill.
But Beckwith didn't have superstar in him. He spent five seasons as a serviceable reliever with the Dodgers. He didn't take the No. 27 to the World Series until he wore it with the Royals in 1985.
Reliever Carlos Diaz wore the No. 27 for the Dodgers from 1984-86. The stats say he had a decent year for the Dodgers in 1985, but I don't remember him doing anything but giving up hits, probably because I held a grudge that the Dodgers dealt Sid Fernandez to the Mets in a deal for Diaz.
Tito Landrum took over the No. 27 with the Dodgers in '87. Used mostly as a pinch-hitter and backup outfielder, Landrum hit just .239 in 51 games before being released in April of '88.
I don't know if there is a baseball card of Landrum wearing an actual Dodger uniform, because the one pictured here sure isn't one.
Landrum also was a minor league teammate of Randy "Macho Man" Savage. You can read his memories about the departed wrestler here.
Mike Sharperson wore the No. 27 longer than anyone besides Willie Crawford. He assumed the number from Landrum in 1988 and wore it until 1993.
Sharperson was the starting third baseman for the Dodgers in 1990 (one day I really have to do a post on the Dodgers' issues at third base). But he played wherever the Dodgers needed him for most of his career. Sharperson actually was an All-Star for the Dodgers in 1992, an atrocious season for L.A. He was the token Dodger that year.
Sharperson died in a car accident in 1996 while driving to San Diego to join the Padres after being recalled. He was 34.
Hoo-boy. Roger Cedeno. For three years, Cedeno was the youngest player in the league because of his significant potential. I have dozens and dozens of Cedeno cards touting him as the next big thing for the Dodgers.
He didn't do much for L.A. wearing No. 27, and then the Dodgers dealt him to the Mets for Todd Hundley (weeeeeee!). With the Mets, he was respectable, but I think everyone was expecting much more out of him.
Todd Zeile took over the No. 27 from Cedeno in 1997. Zeile had the best season of anyone wearing the No. 27 since Phil Regan, hitting 31 homers and driving in 90 runs.
Of course, that meant that the Dodgers would trade him to the Marlins along with Mike Piazza. The No. 27 trade jinx lives on.
In 1999, the Dodgers featured a new ace on the hill. Kevin Brown was signed to a 7-year, $105 million deal by the Fox folks. It was the first $100 million contract in baseball. It was also the biggest "oh my god, what have we done?" moment in my history of fandom.
Brown performed well that first season. Then injuries took over and the contract looked worse and worse every year. Brown, alway the cranky sort, got crankier. Then he became involved in the Mitchell Report, and I've got a bunch of cards of him that I wish would just go away.
Jose Lima was a 180 degree turn from Brown, personality-wise. The flamboyant pitcher enjoyed his best season in five years when he was 13-5 with the Dodgers in 2004. His shutout performance against the Cardinals in the NLDS in '04 is a game I will always remember.
Tragically, Lima died of a heart attack at age 37 exactly one year ago today. Another death too soon for No. 27.
I don't know if D.J. Houlton was ever a bonafide prospect for the Dodgers, but card companies seemed to act like he was. Houlton never got on track after L.A. acquired him and he wore No. 27. He moved on to a playing career in Japan.
James Loney wore 27 briefly in 2006. It remains to be seen whether he'll be traded away and suddenly become a 25-home run guy.
And that brings us to Kemp, who first wore 27 in 2006 and has kept it ever since to become the person to wear it the longest since Sharperson. Kemp hit career home run No. 100 tonight.
The question remains as to what will become of Kemp after he turns 27, and beyond.
Will he fizzle out and not fulfill the potential expected of him like some of the other 27s like Cedeno, Crawford, Reiser and Kevin Brown? That seems doubtful.
Will he be traded away and enjoy great seasons elsewhere like Leonard, Demeter, Regan and Zeile? That is my nightmare scenario.
Will he encounter an untimely death like Crawford, Sharperson and Lima?
Well, now that Kemp is not hanging around Rihanna, I suppose his chances of that happening aren't as likely. With The 27 Club out there, maybe it's best not to even associate with anyone in the music business when you're 27.
Kemp has enough history to deal with in the baseball business.
(Other Dodger numbers: 0, 1, 10, 42)