Since Casey Blake joined the Dodgers in July 2008, he has been a stabilizing influence on a young team. He never caught a lot of media attention, but Blake has been an integral part of the team. Though his offensive performance declined in 2010, he performed satisfactorily. Some people think Blake would make a good bench player for the Dodgers in 2011, but the Dodgers don't have another third baseman.
Before the Dodgers obtained Blake, they struggled to find a satisfactory third baseman. Since the Dodgers came from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, they've had just two good, long-time third basemen. Ron Cey was a cornerstone of the record-setting nine-year infield. Cey was a terrific offensive force in the lineup. Though he never won a Gold Glove, he was a satisfactory fielder who helped the Dodgers have an outstanding pitching staff in the 1970s and early '80s.
Between the time Cey left as a free agent and when Adrian Beltre made his Major League debut in June 1998, the Dodgers had a revolving door at third base. Though the Dodgers tried to develop third basemen through their Minor League system, for various reasons, these young players didn't work out. Todd Zeile, who lasted barely more than a year, was the best all-around third baseman during this period, but the Dodgers decided to trade him.
Beltre, who was 19 when he made his Major League debut, stabilized the third-base position from 1998 until after the 2004 season, when the Dodgers elected not to re-sign him. Though he did hit as well as the Dodgers hoped until his final season in Dodger blue, he brought outstanding defense to the position.
Third base is known as the "hot corner" because right-handed hitters often pull the ball hard to third base. As a result, the position requires incredible reflexes. Range is also important for third basemen; they also need strong arms. Often opposing hitters attempt to bunt up the third-base line, so third basemen need the ability to run up, bare-hand the grounder and throw strongly and accurately to first while on the move. Beltre is the best third baseman at this that I have seen.
At the time, I thought the Dodgers made a mistake when they didn't re-sign Beltre, because they didn't have another third baseman waiting in the wings. It turned out that I was right. Before Ned Colletti acquired Blake, the Dodgers tried many third basemen, and none was adequate. During the 2005 season, a baseball magazine dubbed Andy LaRoche as the Dodgers' third baseman of the future, but he never had enough offensive production to lay claim to the difficult position. The Dodgers had Blake DeWitt playing third base, but he didn't bring enough offense, either.
When the Dodgers obtained Casey Blake from the Cleveland Indians, I didn't know much about him. He had never caught the attention of the national media. An Iowa native, Blake is among the ten best high-school athletes that state has produced. He attended Wichita State, where he was a two-time academic All-American. Twice he turned down signing with a professional baseball team to remain in school. In 1996, he agreed to a professional contract, after the Toronto Blue Jays drafted him.
He reached the Major Leagues in 1999, but Blake did not become a full-time player until the 2003 season with the Indians. Though he has played in right field, he is a better third baseman.
People who watch Blake play can see his natural athleticism. It is highly doubtful that Blake will ever earn a Gold Glove, because he doesn't have great range, but if he can get to the ball, he will make the play 99 out of 100 times. Blake has remarkable reflexes, enabling him to catch most hard-hit line drives that come his way. His arm is strong and accurate.
Blake doesn't seek the headlines. His quiet personality stabilizes a young Dodger team. Though a few Dodgers coaches wish Blake would be a vocal leader, he chooses to lead by example. I have never questioned whether Blake was giving his all on the baseball diamond or if he cared about winning. He has always given the Dodgers everything that he has to help the team win. He would rather go duck hunting than get media attention.
Offensively, Blake isn't a high batting-average guy. His swing tends to be long, producing many strikeouts. His 17 home runs were third highest on the Dodgers. Though Blake is prone to prolonged slumps, he also gets on hot streaks, during which he can carry the team on his back for a week at a time.
People look at Blake's .248 batting average and his age, 37 in August, and believe that the Dodgers can do better. Though this September, Russell Mitchell, who was the Dodgers' MVP at the Triple-A level, made his Major League debut at multiple positions, including at third base, he was not that impressive. With the uncertain ownership situation, it doesn't figure the Dodgers will be that active in the free-agent market this offseason, and Colletti has many other more pressing needs than finding another third baseman.
Sarah D. Morris is the editor of Sarah's Dodger Place. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.