I just read Howard Cole’s spin on the Matt Kemp enigma. I think Howard, as always, makes some interesting points but I think it’s too convenient to blame dim witted Donnie for all of Kemp’s woes. Donnie is dumb as a post and not a good manager in most ways, but I don’t really see that he’s the cause for Kemp’s foibles. Besides, blaming Donnie for Kemp’s issues is ignoring the problem. Bottom line, whether he was “stronger” in 2011 or what, he isn’t a very good baseball player in 2014, and hasn’t been in some time.
I look at Kemp’s fall like this…
He was always very athletic and full of potential, but potential isn’t baseball ability. Darren Dreifort was full of potential too. Kemp would do something wonderful, because he was a gifted athlete, but his inexperience in baseball (he was a former basketball player learning baseball) and priorities in general, he wasn’t a natural. The good came with the bad. His baserunning was laughable and frustrating.
Flash to his running into the wall in Colorado. I think to give kudos to Kemp and his idiotic agent for making comments about him “literally running into a wall for the organization” are absurd. No one doubts Kemp’s great play around this time and his intensity running into the wall and getting hurt. But to make it seem like he did this out of some charitable instinct and not the massive contract he was awarded based on his “potential” is enabling at the highest level.
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say Kemp wants to play every day and is upset when he doesn’t, and then chastise the organization for playing him. When Kemp sits, whether it’s for a gaff or precaution, he’s unhappy and wants to play. I agree with Howard, this is praise for an athlete. I want players who want to play. That said, if a player should sit, he should sit. If he’s hurt, or just hurting the team, he needs to sit. I side with the team on this as I’m a fan of the team, not a specific player. Kemp was working on his lauded consecutive game streak and if he were sitting, he’d have ended that. I’m sure it’s revisionist history to suggest Kemp didn’t want to play and Donnie made him. I would guess either Kemp said he was feeling good enough to give it a go or lied to keep his streak going. It’s neither here nor there. The wall and the hamstrings set in motion a different Matt Kemp.
When he did come back, within a short time he was back out due to not sliding at home plate. That was bad baseball, lazy baseball, not his manager’s fault. Kemp has made comments publicly about how he wants to be a Magic Johnson like brand, he loves flashy clothes, flashy cars, a flashy home, flashy girlfriends. Next it will be suggested Donnie set him up with Rihanna, so Kemp could be eye candy on her arms and take shirtless photos on boats. Or that Donnie introduced him to Khloe Kardashian. Or wear gold shoes, take limos with mom to the ESPYs, etc.
It’s pretty obvious that prematurely awarding Kemp a big deal to lock him up made his focus wane. He had arrived. He was a talented player and got awarded early so he would be locked up for 8 years. The deal in terms of years and dollars made sense, and many congratulate Frank McCourt for allowing it to happen. If Kemp had remained Kemp, no one would criticize the deal. But the fact is, when you hand players large sums of money, some will change. Kemp changed.
The wall issue was hard play and unfortunate. Trying to get Kemp out there when he kept insisting he was healthy (he insisted publicly a lot – then recanted when it was apparent he wasn’t – Donnie’s fault?) was not a bad choice. I would say where Donnie went wrong was believing the stories Kemp told him. Playing the brittle one in the middle of the lineup when he was really a 7-8 hitter. Donnie wanted Kemp to be Kemp, just like his fans did.
Now Crawford is hurt and Kemp, who has proven he’s not able to play centerfield (likely due to the ankle problem that hasn’t completely healed), is asked to try left. This isn’t an insult, nor should it be viewed that way. It’s allowing Kemp a position better suited for him in 2014 and hopefully better for the team. In truth, Kemp needs to be a little humble. Left field isn’t a slap in the face, it’s an opportunity.
I would play Kemp every day, assuming he says he’s healthy enough to play every day. If he can’t, then he can’t. My reasons for playing him every day are to give him a chance to get on track and to help the Dodgers win baseball games as well as to possibly get his trade value up and move him.
Kemp and the Dodgers aren’t a love affair. Dave Stewart fanning the flames isn’t helping either. Kemp may never be Kemp again. Maybe a new start will be good for him. It really depends on Kemp. Baseball isn’t rocket science – if you want to play and can help, you play. If you don’t and can’t, you don’t.
The team is a whole lot of mediocre and with Scott Van Slyke and other options out there, it’s not imperative Kemp be happy and love his new position.
This is not a defense of Don Mattingly. I think he’s a poor choice for manager and re-upping him was foolish. He clearly gets frustrated when players have issues with him and he’s a terrible in-game manager. He’s not respected. At some point Stan Kasten will realize this and eat the contract and replace Donnie. Whether that is this year or next is anyone’s guess.
I just see a series of immature decisions from Kemp and don’t blame Donnie for them. If anything, he was too trusting and believed in his player too much. Batting him off the DL in prime slots in the lineup doesn’t sound disrespectful to me. It’s not Donnie’s fault Kemp seems more intent on being a male model and celebrity than a good baseball player. Newsflash to Kemp – you can be both. Derek Jeter is a celebrity and has dated the most beautiful women in the world, but he’s a fundamentally sound baseball player who doesn’t let his personal life interfere with his professional. Again, not everyone reacts to money and fame the same. For a guy who likens himself to a “brand”, maybe his priorities are straight enough to him.
Let’s not try to rationalize it or defend Matt Kemp. Kemp isn’t good anymore. He may be again, but hasn’t been for a long time. The blame was part physical injury, part mental malaise. He has a dumb manager but he’s plenty dumb himself.