A longtime Los Angeles Dodger, Bill Russell–no relation to the superstar basketball player of the same name–played a sound shortstop for many years in LA. Teaming with Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes and Ron Cey, Russell gave the Dodgers a long-running infield the likes of which will probably never be seen again… thanks to free agency and such.
Bill Russell took an unusual path to the Major Leagues. Many minor leaguers go through a transformation, learning to play a new position, but most of those players move from a demanding position to one less demanding. Such wasn’t the case for Russell. Signed as an outfielder, Bill was converted to shortstop at the Major League level. He spent several years bouncing around the outfield and middle infield for Los Angeles until he took Maury Wills’ shortstop job in 1972. That year he was the second best hitting shortstop for average in the National League.
Bill settled in at shortstop in 1973 and played in every game for the Dodgers. An All-Star, Russell turned in the excess of 100 double plays and led all Major League shortstops in doubles. The Dodgers won the NL West in 1974 with Bill chipping in a .269 batting average. In the NLCS, Bill’s bat was red hot: he hit .389 and was the only player to triple in the World Series. In the Fall Classic Bill hit .222 but his squad fell to repeat champion Oakland A’s.
An injury limited Russell in 1975, but when he regained his health he made his second trip to the All-Star Game in ’76. He and the Reds’ Dave Concepcion were the only two National League shortstops to hit over .270 that season. The Dodgers returned to the postseason in 1977 with Bill hitting .278 during the regular season. He hit an equal .278 in the NLCS, helping guide the Dodgers to another World Series but like they did in ’74, the Dodgers fell again.
Bill reached his highwater mark in two-baggers during the 1978 season with 32. With a torrid bat, Bill carried the Dodgers in the postseason, hitting .412 in the NLCS and an even better .423 in the World Series, but the Yankees had their number and sent the Dodgers home as World Series losers once again. Determined to get that elusive World Series ring in 1981, Bill hit .313 in the NLCS and led the Dodgers to a Fall Classic showdown with the Yankees once again. This time, Russell and the Dodgers bested the Bronx Bombers and took home the title.
His last great year came in 1982 when he had an amazing 2-to-1 walk to strikeout ratio. His numbers fell in ’83 but the Dodgers went to the postseason and Bill hit a nifty .286 against the Phillies in a losing cause. His days as a regular were over in 1984 when the Dodgers went with youth and placed Bill in a platoon with Dave Anderson. He retired after the 1986 season. The Dodgers, once noted for their faith in managers, named Bill as Tommy Lasorda’s successor but he didn’t last long on the job, piloting the Dodgers for pieces of three seasons.
G 2,181/R 796/H 1,926/2B 293/3B 57/HR 46/RBI 627/BB 483/SO 667/SB 167/BA .263/SA .338