Los Angeles Dodgers: Retracing Dee Gordon's Rise from Bust to All-Star
A year ago, the jury was still out on Dee Gordon.
He had the potential to be a standout major league player, but his inconsistency at the plate and in the field overshadowed his dazzling speed on the basepaths.
It’s only taken half a season of deliberation for the jury to reach the unanimous verdict that the Dodgers second baseman is the real deal—the jury being those who deemed Gordon worthy of going to his first All-Star Game this season.
"It was an amazing feeling, just where I came from," Gordon told reporters, per the Los Angeles Times. “I almost cried when Donnie told me.”
In a sport where so many fizzle out at the top, Gordon has defied the odds and flipped his downward trend on its head. The result is a performance that has yielded reward and hype for the future for the once highly touted LA prospect.
“It didn't come easy for him. He had to change positions. I think everybody, during spring training, expected him to fall on his face,” pitcher Josh Beckett said. “This is the reward."
While Gordon has finally arrived, it hasn’t been a seamless journey. It’s featured uncertainty, five trips down to the minors, a position change and hours in the gym in the offseason.
In plain terms, hard work and perseverance.
Here’s a look back at the speedy second baseman’s voyage from mediocrity to being an All-Star selection.
On June 6, 2011, Gordon was called up by the Dodgers from Triple-A Albuquerque for a three-game road series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Naturally, his first appearance on the field came on the basepaths, as he was inserted as a pinch runner in the top of the ninth after Juan Uribe slapped a leadoff single.
Gordon flashed his wheels immediately when James Loney smacked a single into right center, on which Gordon bolted to third.
With his father, former reliever Tom Gordon, in attendance, the newly minted major leaguer would score the Dodgers’ only run of the game later in the inning on a ground ball off the bat of Andre Ethier.
First MLB Start
With the Dodgers’ star shortstop Rafael Furcal sidelined due to injury, Gordon would make his first MLB start the following day, June 7, 2011.
Taking his first hacks in a Dodgers uniform, Gordon lived up to his billing, which had hyped him as one of the speediest players in the modern era.
He got off to a flying start, batting 3-for-5 on the game and flaunting his game-changing speed by digging out an infield single. He would also notch his first stolen base and score a run in his first start as well.
With a solid performance from fellow rookie Rubby De La Rosa, who also made his first MLB start that day, the Dodgers won, 6-2.
Making History on the Basepaths
On July 1, 2011, Gordon and his lightning-rod legs made history—not just for the Dodgers franchise but for all of baseball.
In a freeway series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Gordon stole three bases, but it was how he did it that etched his name in the record books.
Each steal he notched that night was of a different base: second, third and even home on a designed pickle play.
He became the first player in Dodgers history since Harvey Kendrick in 1928 and the first player in MLB since Jason Werth in 2009 to achieve the feat.
Slump, Back to the Minors
Although manager Don Mattingly hinted that Gordon would remain in the majors in the wake of an injury to third baseman Casey Blake, Gordon was sent back down to the minors on July 4, 2011, less than a month after he was called up.
The reasoning behind the move was twofold. First, Furcal had just returned from injury back to the shortstop position, and second, Gordon was in the midst of an unflattering slump.
After notching 14 hits in his first 43 major league at-bats (.326 average), Gordon set off on a miserable spell at the plate, hitting safely in only five of his next 39 at-bats (.128 average).
Additionally, he had demonstrated that he needed some major work in the infield. Through 20 games, he had committed five errors, including two errors that yielded runs in the Dodgers’ July 2 loss to the Angels.
Back to the Bigs
With the trade deadline looming near, the Dodgers traded Furcal to the Cardinals and recalled Gordon from Triple-A to give him another chance to shine in the bigs.
However, apart from notching a few stolen bases, Gordon didn’t glimmer in his second stint playing for the Dodgers.
After nine games back in the majors, he was placed on the disabled list for an injury to his throwing shoulder that occurred when he fell during a rundown.
Gordon would miss a total of 20 games due to the injury, but the days he spent rehabbing his injury would prove to be days well spent.
Rookie of the Month
After an unimpressive beginning to his major league career, Gordon returned from his shoulder injury as a new player.
With time for reflection and rest during his stint on the disabled list, he was able to reassert himself as one of the best young players in baseball.
Joining the Dodgers for a long road trip, Gordon immediately gave the Blue Crew a boost with his bat.
On September 1, 2011, his first game back with the Boys in Blue, he went 2-for-5 with his first career multi-RBI game. He never looked back from there.
At the time of his shoulder injury, Gordon’s season average was .234, but within a span of seven games, he catapulted it to .296, notching 16 hits in his first 21 at-bats back from the DL.
In total, he went on to hit .372 with a .398 on-base percentage in the month of September, which was good enough to boost his rookie season stats to .304/.325 in addition to his 24 swiped bags.
His quick turnaround not only impressed the Dodgers but MLB as well, as he was nominated NL Rookie of the Month for September.
Whatever steam Gordon had picked up at the end of his rookie season, he lost in his sophomore season.
In his first three months of the 2012 season, the swift shortstop hit a paltry .225, which wasn’t exactly a continuation of the hot September he had just had the prior season.
Although Gordon continued to steal bases at a steady rate (he finished the 2012 season with 32 stolen bases), he continued to be shaky in the field (18 errors).
That didn’t make him a very appealing player for the Dodgers’ new ownership, which had just taken over in May of that year. In July, with Gordon on the disabled list for a dislocated right thumb, his replacement arrived.
His successor wasn’t just a potential threat to his playing time but a major threat to his tenure with the Dodgers. It wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill player but All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
After returning to the Dodgers squad following a rehab assignment in Triple-A, Gordon didn’t start a single game for the Blue Crew and was only used as a pinch runner by Mattingly.
His sophomore season ended with a .228/.280 line, making his future uncertain.
On the Backburner
With Ramirez secured at shortstop, Gordon began the 2013 season in Triple-A but would have his chance to recapture his starting spot at shortstop when Ramirez was sidelined for the month of May with a hamstring injury.
After being called up, though, Gordon faltered in his return to the bigs, hitting only .175/.278 and striking out 16 times in 63 at-bats.
In light of his poor play, the Dodgers optioned him back to Triple-A before Ramirez even came off the DL. Gordon would spend two months in the minors before being recalled again as a result of another Ramirez injury.
Gordon fared decently during the stretch of games as Ramirez’s substitute but was put on the backburner once Ramirez returned. He was again designated for assignment.
He was brought back to the majors when rosters expanded in September but was mainly used as a pinch runner.
In a total of 98 at bats in his third season with the Dodgers, Gordon hit .234/.314 and stole 10 bases, a measly total for him.
A Position Opens
In a few games at the latter stages of the 2013 season, Gordon had played a few innings at second base after being inserted into the game as a pinch runner. His role with the Dodgers was trending toward that of a utility man, as he also took balls in the outfield in preparation for the Dodgers’ playoff run.
That flexibility would prove vital to Gordon’s future.
Although Mark Ellis had been solid for the Boys in Blue at second base, the front office let him enter free agency after the season, and he was picked up by the St. Louis Cardinals.
That left a vacancy at second base—a vacancy that appeared to be Gordon’s for the taking.
However, the Dodgers soon after signed Cuban middle infielder Alex Guerrero to a hefty four-year, $28-million contract, which suggested Gordon would remain on the backburner.
He wasn’t about to accept that fate, though.
Second to None
With an uncertain season on the horizon, Gordon took fate into his own hands by working hard in the offseason, including adding 15 pounds to his 5’11” frame.
After he had good spring training at second base, the Dodgers opted to go with Gordon over Guerrero as their everyday second baseman.
However, with the possibility of Guerrero being called up and supplanting him in the future, Gordon needed to impress the Dodgers in order to maintain a starting spot and a position on the major league roster.
And impress he did.
Gordon began the 2014 season on a tear at the plate, bringing his average to as high as .357 after a tremendous 5-for-6 effort in early May.
His offensive production wavered from May to mid-June, but he found his groove at the dish at a crucial time for the Dodgers, who were chasing the San Francisco Giants in the NL West pennant race.
To complement to his offensive production, Gordon has also demonstrated greatly improved fielding in the first half of the season. He is currently third in MLB in double-plays turned (53) amongst all second basemen.
Gordon’s tumultuous journey with the Dodgers has now culminated in his first All-Star appearance. It certainly did not come easy for him, but he’s proved just how integral hard work and perseverance can be.
At the All-Star break, he is hitting .292/.344 with 105 hits, more than he had in his past two seasons. He also leads MLB in stolen bases (43) and triples (nine).
On July 15, Gordon will be in Minneapolis at Target Field alongside fellow Dodgers Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Yasiel Puig a year after he was in the middle of an assignment to Triple-A for playing poorly under the spotlight.
Now, he shines under that spotlight. If it can keep up with him, that is.
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