Matt Kemp would have never imagined a better start to a baseball season.
At the 14-game mark of the 2010 campaign, the Los Angeles Dodgers' center fielder was a terror at the dish, batting .333 with seven home runs and 20 RBI.Calculated over the course of the season, that's a pace of 81 HR and 231 runs batted in.
Anyone with a shred of common sense knew that Kemp wouldn't maintain those numbers, but at the end of April when the Dodgers were 9-14 and in last place in the NL West, the blame game began—and most of the fingers were pointing toward Kemp.
On April 27, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti appeared on KABC Radio's "The Peter Tilden Show," and when asked about the dismal performance of his team, Colletti was quick to give fault to Matt Kemp.
Colletti told Tilden that Kemp's defense and base-running were below average, and speculated aloud whether Kemp's new contract, a two-year, $10.95 million deal he signed in his first season of arbitration eligibility, might have made Kemp a little too comfortable.
Eventually Kemp and Colletti met behind closed doors, and when asked if everything was fine, Colletti stated, "It's fine with me." Kemp refused to comment about the details of the meeting.
As if the episode with Colletti wasn't enough to play havoc with Kemp's psyche, just two weeks later on May 12, Tony Jackson of ESPN added fuel to the fire.
During an ESPN Sports Nation chat session, Jackson conveyed: "I have it on good authority, not from Colletti but from others, that if anything, Ned understated the issues with Kemp. This kid is really full of himself, to the point that it is an issue in the clubhouse."
Later on in the same program, Jackson went on to say: "Kemp has been somewhat difficult with the media almost from the time he came to the big leagues. What I'm hearing now is that he is difficult for some of the coaches to deal with, that he gets his dander up when they try to offer him advice on certain things. I do know that one coach, I can't say who, has gone so far as to recommend to the front office that they trade him."
Jackson used the expression "kid" to describe Kemp. If any "kid" has to deal with that type of mental bashing from his own general manager, much less the press, it's quite obviously going to affect his performance on the field.
During the course of the following 28 games after the Colletti incident, Kemp's all-around numbers suffered drastically—he had one home run, five runs batted in, and a .254 average in that span.
Kemp's normally stellar glove went south throughout that time frame as well, most notably when he completely missed a liner off the bat of Ryan Doumit of the Pirates on April 29.
Although the scorers ruled the hit a triple, Kemp could have easily kept the ball in front of him. Doumit's extra base hit accounted for the only two runs of the game, as the Dodgers lost, 2-0.
Sure, there are reasons why Major League Baseball players earn the huge salaries they do. Having the ability to deal with negativity from the fans, the media, other players, and coaches comes with the territory; and a player having broad shoulders is crucial to success in the big leagues.
"Kids" earning $5.5 million a year in professional sports need to grow up fast if they want to have successful careers.
Yet the press' criticism of Kemp didn't stop with Tony Jackson.
In his June 25 column for Fox Sports, Ken Rosenthal came out and stated bluntly that Ned Colletti "needs to trade center fielder Matt Kemp."
Rosenthal added: "Colletti was correct, if impolitic, when he said in late April that Kemp’s defense and baserunning were below-average. Kemp’s offense this season isn’t so hot, either, and his attitude, for some in the Dodgers’ organization, remains an issue."
It's difficult to comprehend how Rosenthal arrives at his opinions, since he really doesn't spend all that much time around the Dodgers squad—unless he was taking a sip from Tony Jackson's cup.
To add insult to injury, Rosenthal goes on to suggest that Los Angeles could trade Kemp to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Melky Cabrera and a young pitching prospect.
So far this season, Cabrera is batting .269 with two HR and 21 RBI; and his benchmark year was in 2009 with the New York Yankees, where he finished with a .274 average, 13 homers, and 68 batted in while appearing in 154 games.
These numbers are hardly comparable to Kemp's 2009 crusade, as he finished with a .297 average, 26 home runs, and 101 RBI, with 97 runs scored and 34 stolen bases to boot.
And at this point in the season, a young pitching "prospect" really wouldn't benefit the Dodgers at all. If anything, Los Angeles needs to acquire a hard-nosed veteran who could come in and make an immediate impact in the starting rotation.
That being said, the Seattle Mariners are in the market for a few proven hitters, but it would be senseless to sacrifice a player of Kemp's caliber for the rights to rent Cliff Lee for a three month period.
Only Rosenthal knows why he chose to feature Kemp and the Dodgers on this particular day. To blindly begin a fishing expedition by saying, without warrant, that Colletti "needs to trade Matt Kemp" certainly reflects Rosenthal's lack of professionalism.
The truth is that Kemp, although not a "kid," is only 25 years old. He's learning the game. He'll have his ups and downs, and he will make his share of mistakes. But with every single repetition, and with each additional game under his belt, he'll only get better—both mentally and athletically.
Kemp is putting forth the effort. On game days, he's the first player at the ballpark working on fundamental drills; and during off-days he can usually be found at home watching film, analyzing his strengths and weaknesses.
Many have the opinion that his relationship with recording artist Robyn Rihanna Fenty is negatively affecting his performance on the field; but all that changes when he steps onto the diamond—it becomes a totally different world, unless one is being held under the microscope of a certain general manager.
It's one thing to be poked a few times by members of the media, but to be publicly criticized by one's own boss can create a scar that's eternal.
Knowing that he is under the close scrutiny of Colletti, and having the sense that every single at-bat and every play in the field could have a bearing on his future with the club, will certainly lead to hesitation and pensiveness in his performance.
Five years from now, Kemp will look back on this entire experience and probably just laugh, but yet see it as a very valuable learning tool in his career.
He just won't be wearing Dodger Blue.
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