Norm Larker could always hit, and if the Dodger hadn't already been filled to the brim with quality players in the Majors he might have made an impact on the team long before he finally arrived. Instead, he excelled at every level in the minors over his 8 year stay in the bush leagues.
Standing in his way at 1st base was the beloved Gil Hodges, so it's no wonder he had to wait. Then, during an early May game against the Giants in 1959, Hodges hit a triple in his first at-bat, but strained his neck in the process.
In came Larker as his replacement, and as fate would have it, he would make an immediate impression. In his first at-bat he belted a two run home run, which would be the only runs the Dodgers would need in a 2 to 1 victory. Then, two days later he would hit another dinger.
I wouldn't quite call Gil Hodges untimely neck injury a Wally Pipp moment, but suffice it to say that those early days in May put Norm Larker on the map.
The next season, the man once nicknamed Dumbo because of his big ears by his Dodger teammates, would became the regular starting 1st baseman for the team. Norm "Dumbo" Larker would go on to prove that not only was he ready to supplant the great Gil Hodges, but he would soon contend for the batting crown in the process.
In 1960, he hit .323 with 78 RBI's, record a .798 OPS and a OPS+ of 113. While recording a 2.2 WAR, Larker would go to his only All-Star game and place 15th in MVP balloting. Unfortunately, he would lose the batting title to Dick Groat of the Pirates; needing two hits on the final day, but only getting one.
What he said on that last regular season game of the 1960 season:
"Don't get me wrong. I knew how things stood, all right. I was feeling the squeeze. It wasn't 'just another day', you know. That would make a good story, but that wasn't how I felt. On the other hand, it had to be just another day if I was going to get any hits at all. I mean, you begin thinking about these things, and you can thing yourself right out of them."Below are complete scans of every page from Norm Larker's 1961 Union Oil Dodger Family Booklet. Click any pic to embiggen.
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