Dodgers' Top 5 GMs: Gurnick's take

June 23rd, 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 general managers in the history of their franchise. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only.

Although they might have held different titles at the time, below is Ken Gurnick's ranking of the top five with the responsibility of general manager in Dodgers history.

Dodgers' best: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | Bench | RHP | LHP | Relievers | Managers

1. Branch Rickey, 1943-50
Key fact: In addition to a career in baseball, Rickey survived tuberculosis, played professional football and commanded a World War I Army chemical training unit that included Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson.

Rickey already had made an impact by winning a World Series with the Cardinals when he came to the Dodgers in 1943. He brought with him the innovations that put the Dodgers on a trajectory toward dominance -- a deep farm system, cutting-edge equipment technology and processes, fledgling statistical analysis and, of course, a determination to shatter the sport’s color barrier.

Part-owner, president and general manager at the time, Rickey lost a power struggle with Walter O’Malley in ’50 and joined the Pirates. He never won a World Series with the Dodgers, but they wouldn’t have had Jackie Robinson and the Boys of Summer without him. Buzzie Bavasi, Al Campanis and Walt Alston were all protégés of Rickey.

"I may not be able to do something about racism in every field, but I can sure do something about it in baseball," Rickey said.

2. E.J. “Buzzie” Bavasi, 1951-68
Key fact: Bavasi began his Dodgers career as a $35-a-week assistant to GM Larry MacPhail.

Bavasi inherited the Boys of Summer and a bountiful farm system from Rickey, so he had a head start. That said, after winning two World Series in the 1950s, he reloaded the roster to win two more in the 1960s. With Bavasi in charge, the Dodgers won those four World Series and eight pennants in 18 years. He got the job when O’Malley bought out Rickey’s ownership share. Among his great moves, Bavasi hired a relatively unknown Alston as manager, which worked out pretty well.

“The wheels are always turning in Buzzie’s head,” Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray wrote. “He’ll work for you 24 hours a day. This is because the man doesn’t sleep.”

3. Al Campanis, 1968-87
Key fact: Campanis ended his career as general manager of an independent league team, the Palm Springs Suns.

Campanis’ professional demise for racist comments ruined an otherwise remarkable career of recognizing talent and carrying on the fundamentals he learned from his mentor, Rickey. Campanis held virtually every role in the actual game -- player, coach, manager, scout, scouting director and GM. As a scout, he was credited for the signing of Sandy Koufax and Roberto Clemente (lost in the Rule 5 Draft), enough for legendary status. Then as GM, Campanis put together four pennant-winning clubs, including the 1981 World Series champions. He was Robinson’s double-play partner in Triple-A. He spearheaded the Dodgers’ windfall scouting initiative in the Caribbean. He learned from NFL executives how to master the amateur Draft. He selected Tommy Lasorda to succeed Alston, one Hall of Famer following another. He literally wrote the textbook on “The Dodger Way to Play Baseball.”

“Al Campanis was a good guy,” Robinson told “Boys of Summer” author Roger Kahn. “He was very good on integration when it counted.”

4. Andrew Friedman, 2014-present
Key fact: After graduating from Tulane, Friedman spent five years working on Wall Street.

With the Guggenheim ownership group’s ample resources, president of baseball operations Friedman and his regime have made the Dodgers a perennial powerhouse through a productive farm system, marquee trades and unearthing market inefficiencies while implementing analytical processes. No, it’s nothing like the old-school methods of past regimes, but it works well enough in today’s game to result in five consecutive postseason appearances and two pennants since his arrival.

5. Fred Claire, 1987-98
Key fact: A cancer survivor, Claire is a tireless advocate for City of Hope Medical Center.

Claire is the last Dodgers GM to win a World Series. After the 1987 season, he signed Kirk Gibson, boldly swung a controversial three-team trade with the A’s and Mets for Alfredo Griffin, Jay Howell and Jesse Orosco and turned around an 89-loss mess. The next decade was a mixed bag and Claire was undermined when News Corporation executives traded away Mike Piazza, but his central role in the ’88 miracle shouldn’t be overlooked.

Honorable mention
The first two division titles in the Dodgers’ seven-year stranglehold came with Ned Colletti as GM, and he passed along a winning operation when he was moved aside for Friedman. He’s still having an impact, as he was GM when the Dodgers drafted Clayton Kershaw, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Joc Pederson and when they signed Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen.