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Dodgers' Top 5 center fielders: Gurnick's take

@kengurnick
May 5, 2020

LOS ANGELES -- No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings

LOS ANGELES -- No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. If you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is our ranking of the top five center fielders in Dodgers history. Next week: right field.

1. Duke Snider, 1947-62
Key fact: Snider posted three consecutive seasons with an OPS higher than 1.000.

When you’re in a song title with fellow Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, you top this list. Duke Snider never won an MVP (controversial loss to Roy Campanella in 1955) but was on seven straight All-Star teams and had five straight seasons of at least 40 homers, plus four straight with both 100 RBIs and 100 runs.

• Dodgers' All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF

“Duke never got the credit of being the outfielder that Mays and Mantle were," former teammate Don Zimmer said after Snider’s death. "But Duke was a great outfielder. He was a great player."

Said Mays: “Duke was a fine man, a terrific hitter and a great friend, even though he was a Dodger.”

2. Willie Davis, 1960-73
Key fact: Davis holds the club record with a 31-game hitting streak.

Here’s a leading candidate for most underrated Dodgers player in the Los Angeles era. Willie Davis still is atop the L.A. leaderboard for total bases, at-bats, triples, extra-base hits, plate appearances, runs scored and hits. And he won three National League Gold Gloves. Davis was immensely gifted, which led to unrealistic expectations and a reputation for underachieving. But he was an 18-year Major Leaguer, most of those seasons in the demanding dual role of leadoff hitter and center fielder.

“Willie Davis had great talent,” said teammate Maury Wills. “He could be as good as he wanted to be on any particular day. He was the premier center fielder in the National League.”

3. Matt Kemp, 2006-14, '18
Key fact: Kemp tied the franchise record with home runs in five consecutive games.

When Matt Kemp was young and healthy, like he was as a 26-year-old in 2011, he was about as good as it gets. He was a true five-tool performer, winning an NL Silver Slugger and Gold Glove, named an All-Star and finishing second in NL MVP Award voting to Ryan Braun, who later admitted to using a performance-enhancing substance. Kemp fell one home run short of becoming the Dodgers’ first 40/40 man. Injuries robbed Kemp of some of those skills, and he really hasn’t been a center fielder since '13. He was sent to San Diego for Yasmani Grandal in December '14 during Andrew Friedman’s first offseason in charge before returning in a salary swap for one All-Star season.

4. Pete Reiser, 1940-42, '46-48
Key fact: He twice led the NL in stolen bases.

Here’s another Dodgers patriot about whom we can only wonder what would have been had he not missed three years of his prime serving in the military during World War II. Pete Reiser was an All-Star the two years before he went to war and again the year he returned. He also played the game hard, running into outfield walls fearlessly but often coming up injured. He was also hurt playing for Army teams, and his skills deteriorated because of his physical limitations while still in his 20s.

5. Brett Butler, 1991-97
Key fact: After missing most of 1996 with throat cancer, Butler returned the next year to hit .283 before retiring.

Though he didn’t join the Dodgers until his age 34 season and was overshadowed by the arrival of Darryl Strawberry, Brett Butler was a durable spark plug atop the batting order and a ground-covering center fielder, the combination putting him north of 15.0 wins above replacement for his first four seasons in L.A. When he retired his .392 on-base percentage with the Dodgers ranked third in the franchise’s Los Angeles era.

Honorable mentions
Cody Bellinger might someday top this list, but he hasn’t played there enough yet.

• In both of his Dodgers seasons, Jimmy Wynn was an All-Star, but then he was gone.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.