Monday, May 27, 2013

Move Over Bison, Here Comes El Jaguar !

Back when Don Mattingly was being a calm and quiet manager, it was understood that he expected one of the Dodger players to step up and be a leader in the locker room.  Mattingly properly understands that things work out best for a team when the players police themselves and gain motivation, energy and momentum from each other.

At the beginning of this season that guy was supposed to be the Bison, Matt Kemp.  Unfortunately, Kemp's been mired in a horrible 2013 season and he just hasn't been able to fill that role.

Make no mistake, a guy doesn't have to be hitting .375 and wear the Triple Crown to be a team leader.  A player who put up big numbers in a past season can still be a team leader in a later season when he's slumping.  Dodger fans saw that after Kirk Gibson's World Series heroics.  His past leg injuries took their toll, and his numbers and playing time steadily decreased.  However, to the team, the fans and the media, Gibson remained the Dodger's de facto leader and inspiration. 

 Kemp fits that pattern.  He's been coasting off of his vapors from an MVP-caliber 2011 and one super month in 2012, and he's been given the benefit of the doubt for a long time.  For too dang long in my opinion.  That benefit of the doubt has resulted in an automatic granting of that leadership position to Kemp by Mattingly, the media, and even the fans. 

Unfortunately, much like that other favored L.A. son, Andre Ethier, Kemp has not been handling this season's woes very well at all.  Kemp frequently lets his emotions get away from him, and he lets us all see it.   Far too often we don't get the Bison running over opposing teams, we just get a blind and lost bull busting up a china shop.

This past weekend, when he was lifted in a late game, double-switch by Mattingly (after striking out twice earlier),  he responded by angrily yelling at the manager and throwing his glove against the dugout wall, which was then followed by more fussing and shouting in Mattingly's direction, in plain view for all to see. 

Matt Kemp reacts after yet another strike out.       (Photo: MLB)

As I mentioned in my earlier post about Andre Ethier, this is exactly the way a selfish, spoiled youngster handles disappointment; not a professional, and certainly not a leader of men. 

Which brings me to the man who is establishing himself as the new Dodger's leader, Adrian Gonzalez -" El Jaguar".  Since Kemp is called the Bison, and I'm not enough of a Padre fan to know if Gonzalez had a nickname with the Padres - and even if he did, who wants to use a San Diego nickname anyways - I've decided upon calling Adrian  "El Jaguar".

Since his home run on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium, Adrian Gonzalez has been rock steady and has consistently come through for the Dodgers time and time again.  As of tonight, Gonzalez leads the Dodgers in just about EVERY offensive category!  He leads in B.A.(.337), H.Rs (6), doubles (11), RBIs (37), OBP (395), and hits (55).   In tonight's game while Kemp was dropping balls that were inside his mitt and going 0 for 5 with 4 strike outs, El Jaguar went 4 for 4 and scored 4 runs in a close 8-7, come-from-behind win over the Angels.

                                                                                                                              (Photo: Mark J. Terrill, A.P.)

As I mentioned earlier, it's not just big numbers that make a guy a leader.  However, at the crux of things, it does all come down to leading by example.  When Gonzalez suffered a neck injury at the start of this month, Mattingly rested him for a game against the Giants.  Later in that same game Gonzalez was called upon to come off the bench and pinch hit, sore neck and all.  El Jaguar immediately struck with a base hit that scored 2 runs.

After Don Mattingly called out the team for a lack of grit last week, Gonzalez had Mattingly's back  and underlined his manager's points that talent alone does not a champion make. Mattingly has always been loyal to his players, and Gonzalez went on record as being loyal to his skipper.

After that, we in the public haven't heard a lot from Gonzalez except the crack of his bat racking up  more hits and RBIs.  Watch Gonzalez these days when he gets on base (if he's not too busy trotting around all of them).  When he gets on, he looks over into the Dodgers dugout and mouths a solid, "Let's Go!" to the rest of the team.  I'm willing to bet he's doing the same thing behind those closed Blue Clubhouse doors.

 THAT'S what a team leader does. 


  1. Good write-up on our best hitter. Gonzalez has been a beast for us and I also like some of his quotes with the media. He not only is sticking up for his manager but, he also defending Kemp which a good leader should do when one of his teammates is having a tough go of things. Very happy that the trade with Boston is working out for the most part. Besides Beckett, everyone of those guys that the Dodgers traded for has been productive.

    1. I appreciate the comment and the compliment. Thanks to point out what Gonzalez said about Kemp in that same interview. That was true class.

      You're also spot on about the Boston trade paying off very well.