All giddy are you? Feel like a pup whose tail won’t stop wagging?
Pitchers and catchers report Tuesday and the Dodgers look loaded. Studs throughout the lineup! A rotation eight deep! An overflowing bullpen! Millions for everyone!
What could go wrong?
I mean, other than Fiasco City? Other than a collection of stars who mesh about as well colliding supernovas. Other than the Dodgers turning into baseball’s version of … the Lakers.
What could possibly be missing?
Someone to lead the way. Someone in the clubhouse everyone believes in and gets behind. Someone they listen to and respect. Someone whose work ethic screams louder than words. Who is not just willing to speak up at the right moment, but will be heard and followed when they do.
Said team part-owner Magic Johnson, who knows a little something about leadership, to The Times’ Bill Shaikin:
“If we're going to win our division -- especially when we're up against two incredible teams, when you think about the World Series-champion Giants, and we feel that the Diamondbacks are just as good -- somebody is going to have to emerge as a leader, and say things to guys that sometimes they may not like, but tell them the truth.”
“The Dodgers have the most talent and the best résumés. But there's also the potential for a lot of dysfunction there. I give the Yankees credit all those years when they had a superstar roster, because they were able to function as a team. And that was because of leadership: [Derek] Jeter, [Mariano] Rivera, [Jorge] Posada, [Andy] Pettitte, Bernie [Williams].
“But whatever you think of [Josh] Beckett, [Carl] Crawford, Hanley [Ramirez], Adrian [Gonzalez] and [Zack] Greinke -- they're not Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Pettitte and Bernie. So we'll have to see if they're going to turn into the Lakers or the Dynasty Yankees. It'll be interesting.”
The Dodgers don’t have that person right now. Their greatest leader is probably Clayton Kershaw, whose talent and dedication and focus is unquestioned, even though he's just 24.
But starting pitchers who play only once every five days are more typically complementary leaders. The Dodgers need a leader who is on the field every day.
Magic suggested to Shaikin that the best candidates to fill the void are Matt Kemp and Gonzalez:
“To me, that is the missing part. What separates us from the Giants, really? We have just as much talent now. We have upgraded our pitching staff. I felt their pitching staff last year was better than ours. But the other main ingredient that we don't have that we must get is that one of these guys has got to emerge as a real captain who can lead us, especially in August and September, when it gets to be tough, hot, and we've got to grind it out.
“Who is that guy on our team? All 25 guys [would] know that there is one — or two, if Adrian and Matt are going to do it. That's fine. We have got to get a true leader on the Dodgers team.”
They may be the best candidates, though Gonzalez is reserved by nature and Kemp fairly light-hearted, not qualities typically associated with leadership. Which doesn’t mean one or both won’t emerge. They are the team’s most significant everyday players.
A.J. Ellis may have the most natural leadership ability but is beginning only his second year as the starting catcher. It’s tough to step forward as a leader on a team of veteran stars when you have limited major-league playing time. Still, he showed signs of it last season and his position demands an element of it.
There is time for this to develop, but that time begins in the spring.