Three years ago, I wrote a story in The LA Sentinel saying why the Dodgers needed to keep Matt Kemp instead of trade him. At the time, Kemp was talented but raw. He struck out a lot, and despite his power, some in the Dodgers organization felt he'd be worth more giving him up instead of banking of his promise.
In the article, I asked the team to wait and see because I felt Kemp was far too valuable to part with, and that if he ever put it together, he'd reward the team for its loyalty. All I can say now is I'm glad the Dodgers didn't because now they have Kemp on the hook for the next eight years for $160 million.
I'm proud of Kemp for not just his on-field performance—one of the best I've ever witnessed as a Dodgers fan—but also for becoming a leader in the clubhouse. When I covered the Dodgers closely in 2008 and 2009, Kemp was young and uncomfortable in the spotlight. He clashed with Jeff Kent, and he was a source of frustration among fans. It didn't make matters better that after his great 2009 season, he dated Rihanna and then turned into the old Kemp in 2010.
It would've been easy for him to sulk, but instead he worked harder. According to Don Mattingly, he became a bigger leader this year and was front and center when the media came looking for quotes. When the team was floundering in off-field drama over Frank McCourt's divorce and the MLB takeover, Kemp led the team by example with his play and attitude.
I attended a game this year, and during pregame workouts, I noticed how Kemp and a few others walked to the stands and signed autographs. In the midst of a tough season, I appreciated that effort because it'd be easy to ignore the fans. It showed me that Kemp was leading by example and his presence in the clubhouse was magnetic.
My favorite Kemp moment in 2011? I could pick his walk-off home run vs. Atlanta on April 25 that I watched before work. I could say the entire second half of the season, where his push toward 40-40 along with Clayton Kershaw's dominance made every game watchable. Instead, I'm picking his two-home run game versus Cincinnati on June 4.
He hit a solo home run in the seventh inning. Then, with the bases loaded in the eighth, he hit a grand slam to cap a five-run comeback on the road. The Dodgers won in 11 innings, but watching that game showed me Kemp was ready to put the team on his back and inspire everyone to play better.
That's the beauty of "soul power"—the nickname I give every power shot by him and black ballplayers. It's contagious because everyone loves soul, and Kemp is fast on his way to becoming a beloved Dodger on and off the field.
He's a rich man because he never quit—not even when the team was ready to give up on him twice. He kept fighting, and his contagious presence inspired others. I loved watching the Dodgers get a walk-off hit because Kemp would be the first one off the bench to tackle someone, with pure joy on his face. The Dodgers are his team, and he, Kershaw and hopefully Andre Ethier will be leading this team into the next decade.
He was a big reason why Dodgers fans kept loving this team because no matter what, he kept producing. Now he has the richest contract in Dodgers and National League history. If this is the last act of Frank McCourt, it'll be a bright sign in the stained legacy of his ownership.
Congrats to Soul Bro. No. 27; it's been great seeing you grow. Thank you for the memories past and future, and here's hoping you get one more reward next week from the baseball writers.