What a fascinating, ever-changing, complex guy.
Kevin Malone is general manager of the Dodgers a little more than a decade ago. Dream job.
He’s given a $50,000 bonus by management for a baseball assignment well done, but four months later he finds himself warring with the media. He has words with a Padres fan in the stands and the Dodgers give him the choice: resign or be fired.
He’s publicly humiliated — the anger and pain running deep for almost a year. He says he has never failed before. His energy is poured into his job at the expense of his family and his faith.
“I wasn’t a good father or husband,” he says. “Baseball was on the throne of my life and winning was the god and idol in my life. I don’t believe that pleased God.”
As he recovers, he takes goodwill trips to Israel, Africa, and other far-off places primarily on his own dime. He delivers food, water and the gospel.
“I was a broken man,” he says. “But you know what, there’s no better feeling than helping someone.”
No one asks, “Why did you sign Carlos Perez?” Or, “Why did you brag, ‘There’s a new sheriff in town,’ upon your arrival?”
He’s at peace, he says, along the Uganda border, 60,000 refugees and he’s the only “mzunga,” or “white ghost,” as he’s called.
Back home he never again gets the chance to use his baseball expertise. He takes a 29% ownership interest in a local Mercedes-Benz dealership.
But in time, he has philosophical differences with one of his business partners, files a lawsuit but decides later it’s a mistake. His stake in the dealership is now for sale.
“I’ve seen my life change; I’ve seen my focus change,” he says, nine bracelets recognizing a variety of causes on his right wrist. “But I’m not down on my luck. I’m on top of the world. I know people might say, ‘How’s he on top of the world?’
“Well, I want for nothing. Listen, I had it all, three jobs in baseball, the nice house, cars and it didn’t matter. Now it’s not about me anymore; it’s about helping others. And I’m all in.”
Six weeks or so on the job as a fundraiser and motivator, he makes the same drive from Valencia toward Dodger Stadium that he used to make, stopping short about a mile and a half down the road at the Dream Center.
The Dream Center campus — 14 buildings and nine acres — used to be known as Queen of Angels Hospital. But now it’s a haven for those desperate, operating under the motto: “Find a need and fill it; find a hurt and heal it.”
The big need Thursday is for someone to throw bag after bag of onions into the back of a station wagon. So Malone works up a sweat, later admitting the blue T-shirt under his dress shirt is something former Dodger Chad Kreuter gave him years ago.
“Whew, the Dodgers need some work,” he says.
No, it’s not out of his system. Three days ago he’s in Dodger Stadium, his love for baseball as strong as ever.
“When I was there I went after the best guys in the game and spent the money,” he says. “I think the fans appreciated me going for it. Did I swing and miss at times, yeah, but I wasn’t just there to have a job.
I was trying to bring a championship to the fans of L.A.”
He’s reminded it never happened. He’s changed, all right, because this time he laughs.
He works now in the old hospital, his office decorated with Jerusalem posters.
“I hope people step back and just aren’t immediately judgmental,” Malone says, “and think of this as only a God article. It’s about taking stock of one’s life, maybe for one minute or maybe even an hour not thinking about ourselves, but what someone can do for someone else.
“Anyone who thinks I’m full of hogwash, I invite to spend the day with me. I won’t say a word. I’ll just take you around and show you the people, the 30 families, for example, we have here who were living on the streets or in their cars.”
The Center is a residential one-year, Christ-centered program, as its pamphlet suggests, helping those with substance abuse, anger management and emotional struggles.
“We’re here to help people build their dreams again,” Malone says. “We have more than 100 people living here at no cost. Everything is donated.
“Many of these people are very gifted, almost all of them going through hell on earth, and sure, because of their own bad decisions. But so many of them have been abused or broken in another way. This is the first time anyone places a value on their lives.”
As Malone walks the campus, he points to the improvements planned to help another 400 people. He can’t help himself; he always has big goals.
“For me, it’s all about people now, and this is a place of miracles. People’s lives are being changed here.”
The idea for the Dream Center began with a young Pastor Matthew Barnett in the mid-'90s. Barnett, also a Dodgers fan, made a point of meeting Malone while he was with the team.
Malone sees it now as “God’s work.”
More than 20 years later they work together, which certainly makes it hard to argue.
And as Steve Fine, the Center’s head of security, puts it, Malone “is a real inspiration.”
He’s certainly not the same Dodger Boy of old, the nickname an abrasive Malone gave himself before it became a derogatory tagline on Page 2.
“I am different, and I prayed about this interview,” Malone says, admitting he didn’t do it enough while in his prime as Dodger Boy. “I might not say things right all the time, as you well know, but I’m hoping people see where my heart is now.”