Dave Stewart calls Davey Lopes his best friend. He refers to him as a brother. And he thinks he might be the person who can guide Matt Kemp to greatness.
“Matt will have someone he can trust,” said Stewart, the former All-Star pitcher who is now Kemp’s agent.
The second baseman of the Dodgers’ famed infield of the 1970s, Lopes officially returned on Monday to the club with which he made his name. Lopes, 65, will be the Dodgers’ first base coach next season, joining the staff of rookie Manager Don Mattingly that also includes Trey Hillman (bench), Jeff Pentland (hitting), Rick Honeycutt (pitching), Tim Wallach (third base), Ken Howell (bullpen) and Manny Mota.
Former Dodgers pinch-hitting specialist Dave Hansen will be a hitting instructor. Rob Flippo and Mike Borzello will return as bullpen catchers.
Lopes comes to the Dodgers at a time when Kemp appears to be at a crossroads in his career. Awarded a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove in 2009, Kemp regressed in several facets of the game this year.
Kemp’s relationship with the coaching staff was strained at times. An in-game argument with since-departed bench coach Bob Schaefer in late June landed him on the bench for three days. In August, Stewart called out Schaefer and then-third base coach Larry Bowa for what he perceived to be critical comments directed at his client.
Lopes, who has known Kemp for several years through Stewart, said he has already reached out to the center fielder. The two talked over the phone last week about Kemp’s off-season workout program.
“He has extraordinary ability,” Lopes said. “You have to make a commitment to winning. That is what we’ll talk about once we get to spring training.”
One of the areas in which Kemp struggled this season is Lopes’ realm of expertise: baserunning.
Kemp, who stole 35 bases in 2008 and 34 in 2009, was thrown out on 15 of his 34 stolen-base attempts.
Lopes stole 557 bases in his career and the Philadelphia Phillies led the league in stolen-base percentage in each of his four seasons as their first base coach.
While Lopes talked about the importance of the Dodgers’ regaining the aura they used to have — “We had the expectation to win every single year,” he said — he said he understands the culture of the game is different than when he was a player.
Lopes said that back in his day, players had to adapt to the coaches.
“Now, it’s reverse,” he said. “You have to adapt to today’s player. You have to be able to communicate.”
Lopes said players benefit from having someone they can speak to on a regular basis. For him, that someone was manager Tom Lasorda.
“You need a guy to build you up,” Lopes said. “That helps elevate a player.”
Stewart said he knows firsthand of Lopes’ ability to do that.
Stewart said he first met Lopes in spring training of 1977 when he was 19 or 20 years old. Pitching live batting practice one day, Stewart said he plunked three or four hitters, drawing the wrath of Lasorda.
“It was obvious I was down,” Stewart said.
Lopes and Reggie Smith noticed and took him under their wings.
“They showed me the ropes,” Stewart said.
Stewart and Lopes remain close to this day. Stewart said they talk two or three times a week and see each other regularly.
“Davey is probably the best friend I have in this world,” Stewart said. “Davey is as close to me as any blood relative I have.”