Dodgers Trade Davey Lopes, Break Up Longest-Tenured Infield, 1982

Evan Bladh, Jr.

While unfortunate, when the Dodgers wrapped up their World Series championship following the strike-shortened 1981 season, it was highly likely that their infield, intact for 8 1/2 seasons, would be dismantled. Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey had manned the Chavez Ravine crushed brick since June 13, 1973. The group won four pennants and one World Series in the process, eventually ousting the dynasty that was the Cincinnati Reds.

Davey Lopes had an abysmal 1981 campaign. In that 110-game season broken into first and second halves, L.A.’s leadoff man batted a lackluster .206 with an equally sub-par .289 on base percentage. He was 36 years old. In the wings waited the club’s minor league prospect, Steve Sax, a hustling young star in the making. Sax wouldn’t disappoint in his debut season of 1982, as he became the fourth consecutive Dodger to take home the Rookie of the Year trophy.

It looked to be the beginning of the end to a fine career for Lopes. And it was time. Trade possibilities were few, and on February 8, 1982, in one of the worst deals of his career, Al Campanis sent Lopes to Oakland in a straight trade for a minor league shortstop named Lance Hudson.

Hudson’s Dodger career turned out to be short-lived, with its peak being a .276/.326/.313 mark at Lodi that first year. Hudson returned to Lodi to start the 1983 season and struggled to a .213/.234/.262 line before being banished to Walla Walla, of the Northwest League. He was out of baseball by 1990, having never advanced beyond AA-ball. Lopes, on the other hand, would spend another five years in the big leagues, contributing to two division winners, the 1984 Cubs and 1986 Astros.

A fan favorite in Los Angeles, Lopes was a four-time All Star, from 1978 through 1981, and he was one of the all-time best in stolen base percentage. Among players with over 550 steals, only Tim Raines (84.7 percent) has a higher success rate than Lopes' 83 percent. 

Many Dodger fans remember Lopes for his club record five stolen bases in a single game, in an August 24, 1974 win versus the Cardinals at Chavez Ravine. Many remember the 38 consecutive steals streak in 1975, which broke Max Carey’s 53-year old major league of 36 straight. Vince Coleman surpassed Lopes’ mark when he stole 50 straight in 1989.

After the trade, Lopes started hitting again. Perhaps he felt slighted. Maybe he had an axe to grind. Whatever it was that motivated him, it worked. What is of little doubt is that Davey surprised everyone, playing up until age 42.

Following a serviceable three-year stint with the A’s, Lopes hit .284/.383/.420, while stealing 47 bases in 51 attempts (92.2 percent) in 1985 as in Chicago Cub. At 40.

A lifetime .263 hitter, Lopes batted a consistent .265 over his final five seasons in A’s, Cubs and Astros uniforms.

It wasn’t Campanis’ finest work, but Lopes’ weak 1981 season forced the longtime general manager’s hand. The proverbial “it’s better to trade a year too than a year too late.”

Evan W. Bladh has contributed hundreds of pieces to various Dodger blogs over the years. Currently working in federal law enforcement. His career has spanned 30 years in nine different states and over 20 countries, all the while following the Dodgers with a fanatical curiosity.

Photo, Davey Lopes, by David Blumenkrantz.