Close on the heels of his announcement he was going for a 50-50 season, from the first pitch Opening Day Matt Kemp opened up 2012 with Hall of Fame type dominance. You couldn’t pitch to the guy. While Kemp finished 2012 with only 23 home runs and 9 steals and batting .303, Kemp went a long way in proving his importance to the Dodgers and the city of LA, which is why he is number 6 on our countdown.
It’s easy to blame his appearance on PTI’s “5 Good Minutes” for ending his epic start, but the injuries he sustained over the course of the season are more likely the cause. A hamstring injury and re-injury ended Kemp’s 399 consecutive games streak on May 15th. Then a wall in Colorado further derailed the last month of the All Star’s season.
Kemp had an MVP season in 2011 regardless of how the votes finally stacked up. The Dodgers were not supposed to be a good team, yet at the end of 162 games the Dodgers were above .500, and only 2.5 games behind the second place Giants. Kemp carried the team that year with a slumping Andre Ethier, and what is there to say about Juan Uribe that hasn’t been said. Kemp turned 2011 into an 8 year, $160 million deal last November.
The combination of injuries and expectations proved to change things for Kemp though in 2012. The expectations arrived in first class when Kemp got plenty of BoSox backup. This should’ve taken pressure off of Kemp to carry the team, but the Dodgers were inconsistent afterwards, and missed the playoffs behind the eventual World Series champion Giants. By some combination of injury and pressure to perform now that the Dodgers have serious expectations, Kemp was not the same player. He struggled.
Without Kemp in the lineup, and injured Matt Kemp in the lineup, the Dodgers were just a huge, underachieving payroll. Kemp is the guy who makes the Dodgers go, evidenced by his successes and struggles. And if the expectations and pressure were a big part of the equation that left him ineffective and frustrated at the plate in September, there will be no reprieve in 2013. Gonzales, Hanley, Crawford, Ethier, Kershaw, Beckett, and now Greinke means World Series or bust.
Admittedly Los Angeles is a Lakers town, but with money thrown in, the new TV deal to be signed or the inception of a Dodgers channel, and the corresponding expectations, the Dodgers are not conceding the spotlight. The Dodgers haven’t won the World Series since 1988, and Dodgers fans are ready to embrace the boys in blue as the champions once again. To make those long 25 years worse, the Giants won 2 of the last 3 World Series. Matt Kemp is who Dodgers fans look to more than any other player to lead the club to an onfield celebration in late October in Chavez Ravine. No apologies to the struggling Lakers, but Matt Kemp is in a position to make it happen.
He may be from Oklahoma, but Matt Kemp has the talent and the swagger to deliver in the star studded city. Listening to him talk might indicate that he is not from Los Angeles. But Kemp has no problem fitting in in the bright lights and scrutiny. He is a very public figure sitting courtside for Clippers and Lakers games, and famously dated/s Rihanna, and very interactive on Twitter. He is one of a dwindling number of African Americans still playing the Latin American dominated sport. Hopefully his success as a baseball player and a public figure will counteract the trend.
How Kemp handles his rehab from a torn labrum in his shoulder and rotator cuff damage will determine how the Dodger fair. He hopes to arrive at Camelback Ranch healthy, to anchor the most potent lineup in the National League and lead the Dodgers to the World Series. If they don’t ride Kemp’s healed shoulder there, 2013 will be a failure for the boys in blue.