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Matt Kemp

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To discuss the personality that is Matt Kemp is to look at society as a whole, it seems. Kemp is the sports embodiment of modern celebrity. His talents (in the past, hopefully again) have been off the charts, but his appeal and fans’ attraction to him go well beyond hitting and base stealing. Kemp is one of the most beloved players in Major League Baseball for all the reasons baseball wants him to be. Kemp’s attraction from fans has to do with his marketability, which like all popular celebrities – actors, musicians, reality “stars”, etc. – relates to their appearance. Matt Kemp fans are as much – if not more – fans of Matt Kemp’s looks and fashion as his baseball abilities.

When you speak honestly about Matt Kemp, it’s hard not to come off sounding negative. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. offer the worst in people. On the surface, and if used “responsibly”, these social media outlets can become connection to a community of people who are either friends, or become virtual friends through a shared interest, be it knitting, recipes, Miley Cyrus, or baseball. It’s a much more sophisticated and powerful version of the AOL chat rooms from many years ago.

The Internet empowers people, makes them feel invincible and oftentimes say things they would never otherwise say. It allows for bullying, name calling, and sometimes threats. And it ties into carnal urges and animalistic traits that surface at sporting events, MMA fights, heated political discussions, arguments about religion, etc. The cyber communities tend to cause more problems than not, which leads to my much repeated mantra, “The Internet had a nice run… time to pull the plug on it.” Anyway, I digress, but I think to discuss modern celebrity, you need to loop in the most commonly used connection people have to them and one another.

People may disagree (of course they will – if I say, “It was a nice day in Los Angeles, mid-70s, clear blue sky, perfect!” someone would call me a “hater” or explain why I’m wrong – without much actual explanation, mind you), but I think if Kemp was not Kemp, he would not be nearly beloved as he is. Let me explain. Years back there was a guy named Matt Luke who played for the Dodgers briefly. It was during that malaise period where the only “stars” that came through a Dodger fan’s life was if they came up through the farm. The team did not spend and you wouldn’t see a big name unless someone came here to die, essentially. You might see Rickey Henderson, Greg Maddux, Robin Ventura, etc., but they were ready for the glue factory.

Matt Luke was never a very good player, but at the time, I and my friends – yes, the good doctor has friends – would get excited about anyone that came along that might possibly help the Dodgers. I always rooted for the underdog; the little known prospect, the nobody who pushed his way into a call up, etc. Like many longtime fans, I could list dozens of names of mediocre to crappy Dodgers that either captured my imagination or had me campaigning for them. Matt Luke was one such guy.

Luke wasn’t pretty; in fact he had some sort of disfigurement or medical condition that scarred his face. Because of this, I empathized with him, though at the time (a more innocent and accepting time than today, mind you), I heard jokes at his expense. I bring up Matt Luke because I feel if Matt Kemp (interesting connection of two Matts, kudos to me!) looked like Matt Luke, he wouldn’t have nearly the adulation he does from fans, mostly female.

I understand that great players need not be beautiful – Joe DiMaggio, for example, was funny looking and loved – but nowadays I think it matters more, and certainly turns up the spotlight by the social media and MLB PR machine. For the reasons noted in my opening, our society has become obsessed with cool. Looks, fashion, swagger, tattoos, all the flashy, superficial things that the media pushes down our collective throats. Matt Kemp is very much tailor made for this time in history, as is Yasiel Puig, and other Dodgers, big leaguers, and athletes across different sports as well. Style over substance, I say, and am immediately bullied by trolls for being old and out of touch.

I think being called a “hater” – a word indicative of the Internet culture and social media phenomenon in general – is misused and convenient for those who have little originality or intelligence. You can further assume this by looking at their photo/s on these social media sites. A Justin Bieber-wannabe with a brand new cap, bill straight, sticker on, duck lips, poor attitude, perhaps bad tats, gauges, shirt with some aggressive statement on it, etc. The person’s writing is maybe in all caps, misspelled with many typos or slang shortcuts, and they’re quick to become short tempered and call you names. Their parents are no doubt embarrassed by them, their girlfriends more vapid than they are and worthless feeling to the point they feel they need to be with this weasel, and as for their future – well, they’re nearly unemployable and will end up in rehab, then someday a publicly funded home where a new generation of bully will be working as an orderly and mock this person’s sagging skin and poor tattoos, and perhaps even suffocate them in bed with a pillow.

A person who would use the term “hater” and fits this description also would support Matt Kemp merely because of Kemp’s style, not anything based in firm data and truth.

Kemp is an interesting player because he’s a guy who came to baseball late; actually desiring to be a basketball player (yo) and was overly enthusiastic about trying to goad new “owner” Magic Johnson into a one-on-one game. At first it struck me as funny, but then it continued. And continued. And continued. Kemp should have been focused on baseball, but was more interesting in challenging a retired basketball great, now a very successful businessman, into street hoops. Say the game occurred – would Kemp feel great beating an old, somewhat out of shape Magic? And if Magic won, what would it prove?

Since he came upon the scene in Los Angeles, Kemp has been curious for the following reasons – lots of athletic talent that COULD transfer the baseball field if properly honed, a beautiful face that made women (and men) swoon, lots of fashion that include expensive suits, sunglasses, gold athletic shoes, trips to the ESPYs by limo with his blinged out mom, dating Rihanna, getting back with Rihanna, dating or at least befriending Khloe Kardashian, bold statements to the press, and of course a mix of great baseball play, poor baseball play, and seemingly constant injuries.

If Kemp looked like Matt Luke, I doubt seriously he would get not only all the mad props (yo) but respect he apparently has. I understand women love baseball and there are many who know as much – more – than any man, but that often is derailed by the legion of females who claim to be “fans” but seemingly just want to fuck Matt Kemp. Or Andre Ethier. Or Paco Rodriguez. I see less interest in fucking Hanley, Uribe, Mark Ellis, AJ, or Charlie Steiner, for example. I think appeal is tied with looks – physical appearance, clothing, style, and swagger – more than anything else. Because of this, Matt Kemp is always about to have a “big year”, come back and save we Dodger fans, etc. It’s all based on the superficial, not anything factual related to his current state of readiness to play baseball.

Kemp’s career goes like this, to me…

– Big talent, rushed to bigs, didn’t really understand how to play baseball
– Learning curve, athletic ability proving so great he was worth dealing with mistakes
– Seeming desire to improve, if only for a big payday (talk of being a “brand” like Magic)
– Production improving, team counting on him as few stars around during bankrupt McCourt nightmare
– Massive 2011, should have won the MVP but MLB didn’t like the Dodgers record
– 2012, hot start, big injury

Flatline

– Then secrecy or misinformation about state of injury (shoulder)
– Hamstrings
– Body brittle and falling apart
– Long rehab
– Comeback
– Poor hitting ability, lack of discipline, physical limitations, strikeouts, strikeouts, strikeouts
– Lack of baseball smarts, hurts ankle so now three injury factors to contend with (shoulder, hamstrings, ankle)
– More surgery
– Rehab. Promises of coming back only when 100% healthy, not rushing (like last time)
– Talk of how “swole” he is, boasts that he’s as good as anyone on the roster even though he can barely walk
– Limited spring training, just starting to run, a little outfield in minor league games and now…
– Ready to go. 100%!

Of course in between all that he received a massive contract, which was deserved, based on 2011 but it also seems Matt Kemp wanted that contract so he could play some baseball and mostly concentrate on that “brand” he wants. Life after baseball, the whole thing.

Like any Dodgers fan I want Kemp to do well, but I am not blinded by his looks, smile or wardrobe. I think Kemp’s “usefulness” or more appropriate, the team and fans’ dependence on him, has passed. At one point he was Batman, and Ethier was Robin and there were no other heroes around to help much. Now, under Guggenheim, the roster is loaded with superstars, albeit many injured ones, guys also suffering from Kemp-itis, or whatever mindset modern athletes who are now celebrities get when they’ve received their massive, long-term contract. Nowadays, while a healthy Kemp, even somewhat healthy Kemp, would help the Dodgers a lot, it’s not as important as it was in years past. The Dodgers are now Hanley’s team (from a position standpoint), and A-Gone’s. Puig is flashy and exciting, Uribe, AJ and Ethier all steady, and there are other supporting characters – old, young – who can be counted on, if even in part. Matt Kemp isn’t the star anymore, and until he can show he is healthy and capable of remaining healthy, and going out there every day, or most days, he won’t be the star. Not in my mind anyway.

All of this infuriates people who either want to sleep with Kemp or admire how he wears his cap (slightly askew). I am a lifetime Dodgers fan, and I will be that until I leave the Earth. I am not blindly loyal to any one player, no matter how much I admire him. Take, for example, how I was duped in the Mitchell Report era by favorites Eric Gagne and Paul LoDuca. Both of them were my heroes and I loved rooting for them. Both came up through the system and both reinvented themselves into important big leaguers. Gagne was a mediocre starter, “bulked up” and came back an imposing closer with a starter’s arsenal. He was crazy fun to watch – 100 mph fastball, big rainbow curve, 62 mph change – filthy! I recall fondly Vin laughing with glee as Gagne embarrassed good major league hitters.

LoDuca was a Dodgers minor league lifer who finally got his chance and became a clutch performer and fan favorite. He was short, ordinary, loved his deceased mom who took him to all his practices and games as a kid, and man, did he own big bad Randy Johnson. This 5 foot nothing little Italian would plant RJ fastballs into the left center field pavilion – it was magical.

I did not like these players because of their style (though Gagne created one with his baggy, frumpy uniform, goggles, dirty hat and goatee) but because they were amazing players – especially during an era where Dodgers fans were handed off from uncaring owner to uncaring owner like unwanted foster children. I liked them because they were good ballplayers and fun to watch. Then, as you know, the Mitchell Report came out and both my heroes were users. LoDuca, the little guy who was such a wonderful story, who willed himself to the bigs, and then into All-Star games, was actually a pusher – getting other players, including Gagne, to use. I was heartbroken. Hell, I even had a LoDuca jersey – which eventually was given to Goodwill as I was too disgusted to look at it.

My point is if I could survive two players I loved watching as much as Gagne and LoDuca disappointing me, and yet still being a Dodgers fan, Matt Kemp does not have a chance. Kemp had better be clean, focused and prepared to play. I don’t want to hear about excuses, especially after announcing this time he would take it slow and come back only when ready. All of a sudden, not even the first domestic home game played, he declares he’s ready to go. Fine, that’s wonderful, but he better be ready. If he gets hurt quickly, makes excuses, or hits the DL again in 2014, I will call it out. I have a right to, as does any Dodgers fan. I am not blinded by the smile, the street lingo or the cool way he operates. All I see is a guy who got a massive payday and seems less interested in baseball than kids in the system hungry to prove they belong.

I am all about the name on the front of the jersey, less so the name on the back.

I have nothing personal against Kemp and acknowledge his entire career to date – the good, the less good, the great, and what I think the embarrassing.

I wish Kemp were “old” and “boring” like baseball players from the past. I wish he would have the smarts of those players and the heart. I am continuously chided for appreciating fundamentals, baseball smarts, heart, integrity, consistency and hard work. The folks who get on me are oftentimes young and ignorant, so I wear their insults with a badge of honor. Baseball, unlike football or basketball, is not so much a sport as it is a game. The skills are important, but more than pure athleticism a player needs discipline and engrained in their DNA rote memory skills so they barely need to think about what to do in any given situation. It’s why Derek Jeter has been an amazing big leaguer, for example. Matt Kemp has all the physical tools in the world, but until he knows how to slide at home plate, act humble, bite his tongue at times, etc., he hasn’t truly got it.

Jeter has a laundry list of celebrity hotties a mile long he’s gone through – handing out gift baskets with his autograph to the ladies he goes through. Kemp chose Rihanna – twice. Forget the fact that it’s a questionable selection, but you have to wonder what Rihanna sees in Kemp. Remember, this is the woman who has several times picked Chris Brown, who punched her face in. If she’s attracted to that kind of person, and has gone back several times, what does that say of Kemp? I don’t mean to infer for one second he’s abusive. I am saying if a moron like Rihanna chooses you, she must see questionable traits she gravitates toward, whether it’s ego, flashiness or just being cool enough to be on her arm when the paparazzi is snapping photos.

I wish Matt Kemp all the best in his rushed comeback of 2014 as it could help the Dodgers win baseball games. I don’t dislike him so I will smile and cheer if he does well. For example, I hated Gary Sheffield and did not cheer when he did well – I was happy for the runs he drove in that helped the Dodgers win games and me as a fan get enjoyment. Kemp is not on my shit list. I just think I’m being very realistic in saying he’s a long way from the contract-hungry MVP runner up in 2011 and luckily the Dodgers success no longer ties to him being on the field. That said, imagine if he were anything like he was in the past? The rest of the league, it would seem, would be in very deep shit.

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