1. How the Dodgers Could Fix Themselves
The Dodgers are stuck in neutral. Matt Kemp’s mind is stuck in 2011, the year he finished as runner-up to Ryan Braun in the NL MVP race.
Little of the math surrounding this most expensive team in baseball history adds up, including, still, the four-outfielders-for-three-positions equation.
For a time, early in the season, keeping Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig did make sense, perfect sense, even though many disagreed. Because Kemp opened the season on the disabled list following last year’s ankle surgery, and because Crawford is good for at least one trip to the DL, if not a couple, every summer there was no good reason why the Dodgers should have rushed into ridding themselves of any of the outfielders.
Now? There is.
Two months into another season testing skipper Don Mattingly’s crisis-management skills, the Dodgers have had enough time to settle in that it has become apparent that something has got to give.
That something should be Matt Kemp.
Go ahead, Dodgers. Trade him. Today. Tomorrow. Sometime between now and the July 31 trade deadline.
But in the name of all things holy and Tommy Lasorda, pull the trigger.
Kemp always has been more about style than substance, which was tolerable as long as he was playing in 159 games and swiping 34 bags (2009) or playing in 161 games while hammering 39 homers, driving in 126 runs and stealing 40 bags (2011).
But since shoulder and ankle surgeries, Kemp is not the same player. Not even close.
What’s worse, he still carries himself as if he is. And that diva demeanor is no small part of what’s threatening to sabotage the 2014 Dodgers from the inside out.
If he’s not grumbling about getting shoved over to left field even after his sloppy center field play made the move as obvious as mustard on a Dodger Dog, then he’s arguing with Puig in the dugout. Or getting himself ejected from a game in which Puig already had been scratched with an injury and the Dodgers needed all hands on deck.
The Dodgers signed Kemp to an eight-year, $160 million deal a month after his special 2011 season, and the returns have been almost all downhill ever since.
At 29, this is not to say that Kemp cannot be a key contributor on a winning team, or even a great player, again. But it is no guarantee.
And what the Dodgers must ask themselves as they work to win right now is, are they willing to wait for Kemp when there is no guaranteed return?
Especially when he grumbles when he’s not in the lineup (somebody must sit when all four outfielders are healthy), and especially when he chafes that the Dodgers have taken center field away from him?
If they’re not careful, these Dodgers have a chance to move from disappointing to toxic. They were at that intersection last year, too, and went 42-8. They are not going to go 42-8 again.
Moreover, the world has changed, permanently, for both Kemp and the Dodgers: He is not going to be their centerpiece player, most likely, ever again. Not with the bolt of lightning that is Puig in a Dodgers uniform.
For all of these reasons, the only way the Kemp/Dodgers relationship can be salvaged is if Kemp pulls off one of the most unexpected feats of his career: If he shrinks his ego enough to fit nicely into this Dodgers’ clubhouse.
So far, he has shown neither the willingness nor the ability to do that.
He is hitting .419 (13-for-31) over his past 10 games. That ought to pique the interest of somebody out there.
2. Derek Jeter, All-Star
It is absolutely no surprise that Derek Jeter now is fewer than five million votes from surpassing Ken Griffey Jr. for the all-time All-Star vote record.
Jeter’s final-year surge continues with 1,810,451 votes in the latest balloting announced Monday evening, outdistancing White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez (1,568,620) for the starting shortstop nod.
Now, presumably, Jeter’s lead will hold.
Question is, should it?
Quick answer: No, it shouldn’t.
At least, not with World Series home-field advantage now attached to the game’s outcome.
Scrap that, and I’ll gladly argue that Jeter should start. I’ll lead the parade. That Tuesday night next month has every chance to be as magical as Cal Ripken’s final All-Star Game in Seattle in 2001 (minus Tommy Lasorda nearly getting skulled, of course!).
Initially, I was on board when commissioner Bud Selig attached World Series home-field advantage to the Midsummer Classic, for one very simple reason: Baseball’s All-Star Game easily remains the best of any sport, and there is no reason it should be allowed to become irrelevant even if it is just an exhibition.
But when baseball started encouraging players to tweet during the game two years ago, that’s when the point was hammered home: You cannot have it both ways. You cannot have the outcome have real meaning while treating the rest of the game like a circus.
Detach the World Series from the All-Star Game, and Jeter absolutely should start in his final year. But that’s the only way.
3. Remembering Tony Gwynn, and Ted Williams
Stories flowed like base hits this week after the sad, too-early passing of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, and few can beat the memory of Gwynn tenderly aiding Hall of Famer Ted Williams during first-pitch ceremonies at the 1999 All-Star Game in Fenway Park.
It was Gwynn whom Ted Williams Jr. quietly had asked earlier in the day to make sure to help steady his dad during the ceremonies. That night, as two of the greatest hitters ever highlighted the Boston All-Star Game, the moment became magical.
Gwynn grew up in Southern California as a huge Ted Williams fan, anyway. When he was little, his father purchased Tony and his two bothers Ted Williams baseball gloves and Ted Williams cleats from Sears. As the years passed, after Tony and Ted met at the 1992 All-Star Game in San Diego, they became quite close, and Tony told him about the Ted Williams gloves.
“I asked him once, ‘As great a player as you were, why did you not get along with people in Boston?’” Gwynn told me two Aprils ago when we talked about the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. “He said, ‘Stupidity on my part, and people making more of things than there were.’”
Gwynn told me that he thought that the proud and stubborn Williams, though he never would admit it, regretted not tipping his cap to the cheering Fenway fans after he homered in his last career at-bat.
“He just ran into the dugout,” Gwynn told me. “I think it bothered him.
“That night [in Fenway at the ’99 All-Star Game], he tipped his cap. He threw that first pitch, and then he hugged Carlton Fisk. You’d have never thought there were any problems that night.”
Bob Gibson was there. Stan Musial. Willie Mays. Hank Aaron. Many players who would be named to the All-Century team at the next summer’s All-Star Game in Atlanta.
During the first-pitch ceremony, the All-Stars about to play flocked to the mound in an impromptu act that remains moving to this day. Gwynn remembered Williams beaming, and talking with several players—especially Mark McGwire.
“Ted asked Mark if he ever smelled the burn of the wood when he fouled a ball off,” Gwynn told me. “I just started laughing because the first time we met, he asked me the same thing.
“He wanted to know what kind of bat speed Mac had. He knew that if Mark didn’t smell that burn, then he didn’t have enough bat speed.”
4. Kansas City Singin’ the Blues No More
Winners of seven consecutive games starting the week, the Royals had gained five games on the Tigers in June despite the month being only half over. If that continues much longer in Motown, the Tigers will be put on serious notice.
The Royals’ heretofore spotty offense finally is producing, averaging 6.4 runs per game during the winning streak, and clubbing 14 homers, 37 doubles, two triples and producing a .426 slugging percentage in their past 16 games into Monday.
Compare that to just 21 homers, 3.8 runs per game and a .348 slugging percentage over their 52 games before May 29.
Eric Hosmer has three homers in his past seven games and has hit safely in five in a row, and Mike Moustakas is hitting .250 with a .455 slugging percentage since his return from a Triple-A stint on May 31.
5. Tigers Striped
While going 7-16 from May 19 through June 12, the Tigers got just eight quality starts in 23 outings. Four of them were produced by Anibal Sanchez, while Justin Verlander was 1-of-5.
6. Cardinal Statement
While sweeping the Nationals over Father’s Day Weekend, the Cardinals not only produced an impressive series that sent signals all the way to Milwaukee that they’ve got plenty of fuel left in the tank, but Matt Adams and his father combined to play a big league joke on Matt’s mother.
The details, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's outstanding Cardinals beat writer, Derrick Goold: After Matt blasted his second homer in two days Saturday with his father visiting for the weekend, the two phoned home and Matt told his mother that his dad “is moving in and staying with me” because of Adams’ power surge.
So, because of that, Matt told his mother she would have to care for the family dog, a boxer named Milo, for the rest of the season.
Alas, after Adams pounded his third homer in three days Sunday, he said that his father would still be going home.
As for the Cardinals, who shipped phenom Oscar Taveras back to Triple-A Memphis when Adams was activated from the DL, they played some of their best baseball of the season.
Matt Holliday’s swing is returning, lefty Jaime Garcia is throwing well and, after taking two of three in Toronto two weekends ago, the Cardinals are showing signs of establishing some consistency for the first time this season.
7. When 98 Wins Is Haunting
The Nationals had won 10 of 13 games before landing in St. Louis over the weekend and looked as if they were about to take charge in the NL East. In fact, I just about wrote that here last week.
Ah, I still believe that in the end, the Nationals will be the team to beat in the NL East. They’ve just got too much talent, and with Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Wilson Ramos and Doug Fister all back, and with Gio Gonzalez due to return this week and Bryce Harper due back next month, they will only get better and better.
But one thing they’ve taught us is, after winning 98 games and compiling the best record in the majors two years ago, things still aren’t going to come as easily as some expect.
“Winning 98 games is not easy to do,” Zimmerman told me when we talked last week. “It doesn’t happen very often. I think because we were young and because we were talented—and we still are a very talented team—people automatically assume, ‘If they were young and won 98 games, then for the next four or five years they should win 98 games every year.”
“We try. We want to win 100 games. There’s nobody in here that doesn’t want to win every game they play. But in a baseball season, it doesn’t matter if you win 98 games or 88 games or 108 games. Obviously, you want to win your division. And if you can’t do that, you’ve gotta fight like hell for that Wild Card. The goal is just to make it into the playoffs.
“Too many people get caught up in five games over .500, 10 games over .500, or this big of a division lead in June, which is silly. You’ve just got to get hot at the end of the year and, if you’re not in first place, keep yourself in striking distance so when that run comes it's not wasted.”
8. Line of Succession in Philadelphia
When Jimmy Rollins passed Mike Schmidt’s Phillies record of 2,234 hits Saturday, our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau were quick to pinpoint the five pitchers who surrendered hits to both Schmidt and Rollins in their careers:
David Cone, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and John Franco.
9. Old-Timer This, Hoss
There was a time when baseball staged all kinds of old-timers' games. The Yankees still do. Luke Appling once homered (albeit, over a shortened fence) in the Cracker Jack Old-Timers' Series when he was 75.
So if those old games ever come back, just keep this in mind: Don’t invite Hall of Famer Robin Yount.
Speaking at a press conference Friday in Milwaukee in conjunction with the Brewers’ annual Wall of Honor ceremonies, despite Hank Aaron sitting nearby and stating that he loved the games, Yount essentially said to take your old-timers' games and shove them.
“I will tell you what,” Yount, 58, said, via Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Bob Wolfley. “When somebody is very recognizable in a certain organization, a player the kids have heard their parents talk about…then you have an old-timers’ game and this guy hasn’t touched a ball or bat for 10 or 15 years. He’s out of shape. And you ask him to go try to play baseball and the youngsters say, ‘Dad, that’s the guy you told me was so good?’
“And I know that’s funny, but I am being very serious. I don’t think you want to have that memory put into that kid’s mind. They’re disappointed.”
Young continued: “I mean that sincerely. I don’t like old-timers’ games for that reason right there. And so if we have one here, I ain’t playin’. So don’t ask me to come.”
Funny thing is, Yount is in great shape and looks like he could still play.
9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week
Ah, Tony Gwynn. It was a privilege to know you, and we will never forget you….
“Sometimes when you're doing simple things around the house
“Maybe you'll think of me and smile
“You know I'm tied to you like the buttons on your blouse
“Keep me in your heart for a while
“Hold me in your thoughts, take me to your dreams
“Touch me as I fall into view
“When the winter comes keep the fires lit
“And I will be right next to you
“Engine driver's headed north to Pleasant Stream
“Keep me in your heart for a while
“These wheels keep turning but they're running out of steam
“Keep me in your heart for a while
-- Warren Zevon, Keep Me In Your Heart
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.
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