Matt Kemp is mystified, and perhaps some of you are mystified that he would be mystified. He’s not bewildered at his trade by the Dodgers to the Padres, but by the implication that his departure has helped rid the L.A. of some evil clubhouse cancer.
I’d say this was the most overblown Dodgers story of the off-season, but really it has only been propagated by a couple of national baseball writers -- and it takes no imagination to figure out whose ear they have -- and not the local beat writers who actually know the team.
The Dodgers did not have a bad clubhouse last season. They had a very good one. It wasn’t perfect, but none ever are. There could be some grumbling and eyebrows raised, just like in every other clubhouse in the history of mankind.
But to imply that the off-season departures of Hanley Ramirez, Brian Wilson and Kemp has freed the clubhouse of a divisive friction that held the Dodgers back from reaching their full potential simply is not true.
“I kept hearing all kinds of things about me being a bad teammate, hard for this and hard for that, but none of my teammates have ever come up to me and said that about me,” Kemp told The Times’ Dylan Hernandez. “I've had pretty much good relationships with all of my teammates. So, honestly, I know that's not coming from anybody I've ever played with. I always backed my team up. I'm very passionate. There might be some times when I didn't get along with somebody, but we always got past our differences and had that common goal of trying to win baseball games.”
Certainly, that observation may be a tad naive. Kemp had a way of strutting and enjoying the spotlight that may have rubbed some teammates the wrong way. But his days of “see how cool I can look playing center field” were well past him.
At midseason, when he unhappily had been moved from center to left and was playing something slightly less than every day, he would have been served sharing his thoughts only with management.
“I want to play every day, if it's with the Dodgers, if it's with somebody else,” Kemp said then.
Looking back, Kemp told Hernandez, “I kept hearing maybe he's going to platoon. For me, it wasn't something I was able to wrap my mind around. I felt like if I wouldn't have said anything, just let it all play out the way it played out, they would have said I didn't care about playing on the field. But when I said I had to be in there playing every day, they said I was a bad teammate. I don't feel like that makes me a bad teammate. I know my abilities and I know when I'm healthy and I'm on the field, I could have helped my team win.”
That might sound a bit more selfish than many would like, but it’s nothing outlandish, either. Certainly outfielder Carl Crawford said something much harsher at midseason -- “They tell us one thing and something else happens. We can't go by what they say.” -- and there was never any outcry he was a disruptive clubhouse presence.
Kemp is only 30 and hopefully has a long career still ahead of him. He actually looks pretty good in a Padres uniform, though looking good was never his problem. And neither was being some grand clubhouse cancer.