Column: Don’t say farewell to heart and soul. Dodgers must re-sign Justin Turner
It was the dive that saved the season.
It was the cornerstone third baseman putting the Dodgers on his back by throwing his body into the dirt.
It was a play born of smarts and savvy and seven consecutive years of red and blue Octobers.
It was Justin Turner being Justin Turner.
Who can forget Turner’s skidding tag of the Atlanta Braves’ Dansby Swanson between third base and home plate in the fourth inning of Game 7 of the National League Championship Series?
Who can forget how Turner then turned on one knee and winged the ball to Corey Seager, who tagged out Austin Riley at third base to complete a double play that kept the Braves lead at one run and set the stage for the Dodgers’ game-winning comeback?
How can one ignore both the substance and symbolism of a team leader getting down and dirty in the biggest moment of the season’s biggest game to carry the team to a World Series it eventually won?
The Dodgers should not. The Dodgers cannot.
They won’t find that on the open market. They can’t get that in a trade. They would be challenged to instantly produce that from their farm system.
Dodgers star Justin Turner is a free agent, and the Dodgers are expected to explore other options at third base such as a trade for Nolan Arenado.
Justin Turner, a free agent, is 36. He is as creaky as an old bike. He has been injured as often as an aging running back. He reportedly is seeking a three-year deal that probably would outlive his value. In his most recent act in a Dodger uniform, he exhibited dangerous irresponsibility by joining the crowded championship trophy celebration even though he had just tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Dodgers have many valid reasons for not re-signing him, yet there is one reason they must, and it is the only reason they need.
Justin Turner is a Dodger. He’s a historic Dodger. He’s a big-game Dodger. He’s a community Dodger.
He epitomizes the current Dodgers culture more than anyone not named Clayton Kershaw, and deserves the same privilege that surely will be afforded Kershaw one day.
Justin Turner should be allowed to retire as a Dodger, and is worthy of a contract that will take him there.
Turner will probably have to compromise on the length of contract to make that happen, but if the Dodgers reach out, here’s hoping he reaches back.
He needs the Dodgers as much as they need him. He is more beloved here than he would be anywhere else. He means more to this franchise than he would to anyone else.
With the red beard and flowing red hair and eternal grin, Turner has become an endearing team symbol and city heartbeat in an era where such connective tissue is rare and valued.
He is the Lakewood kid who said his first Dodgers memory was watching Kirk Gibson’s home run with his grandfather. Exactly 29 years later, he hit the Dodgers’ most compelling home run since Gibson, his three-run walk-off blast against the Chicago Cubs in Game 2 of the 2017 NLCS.
He is the castoff that Ned Colletti signed to a minor league deal in 2014. He is the survivor who has since become the Dodgers career postseason leader in games, hits, RBIs, total bases and home runs.
He is the guy who hands an autographed ball to a veteran hero during every home game. He is also creator of the Justin Turner Foundation, whose Justin & Kourtney Turner Food Bank has fed thousands.
Yes, he was also a potential super-spreader of the coronavirus in an incident that marred the Dodgers title celebration, and this space ripped him for it.
“A lovable leader now bathed in disillusionment . . . an image possibly damaged, a legacy potentially stained,” I wrote.
Turner is going to have to live with his act of selfishness. But he has since recognized his mistake and, even though it was nine days later, he publicly showed remorse.
Angels’ TV play-by-play broadcaster Victor Rojas talks about his interview for the team’s general manager position, and his boutique baseball apparel company.
“I sincerely apologize to everyone on the field for failing to appreciate the risks of returning to the field,” he said in a statement. “I have spoken with almost every teammate, coach and staff member, and my intentions were never to make anyone uncomfortable or put anyone at further risk.”
It was a dumb act, but it’s no reason to shun him. Turner messed up, but the sense is, he gets it, and the organization seems ready to move forward.
“While the events following the conclusion of the World Series were unfortunate, there is no question about who Justin Turner is, and what he means to his teammates, the Dodger organization and the City of Los Angeles,” said team president Stan Kasten in a statement.
There is indeed no question about who Justin Turner is, and both sides should act on that truth.
Sure, the Dodgers could try to trade for the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant, but has Bryant homered in nine of 15 postseason series while batting over .300 in seven of them?
Absolutely, the Dodgers could sign the New York Yankees free agent DJ LeMahieu, but will he show up every day at the back-corner locker and be an accountable, accessible Dodgers public conscience?
And certainly, the Dodgers could either move Max Muncy to third or give Edwin Rios a shot there, but, c’mon, those aren’t ideal options for a team trying to repeat a championship.
As for Turner, don’t blame him for trying to wrangle a few more bucks elsewhere to make up for a huge loss this year. Because he signed a team-friendly backloaded $64-million contract four years ago, he was due about $20 million in 2020, but the shortened season cut his salary to about $8 million. He could certainly chase the lost money and nobody could argue.
But it would be a shame if a relatively few bucks or a single contract year broke up this splendid marriage of leader and lore, this historic union of a diving tag and a drought that required it, the blazing combination of red and blue.
“He’s the heart and soul of this team,” said catcher Austin Barnes during the postseason. “He’s been the heart and soul.”
Heart. Soul. Sign him.
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