Column: Adrian Gonzalez, a clubhouse leader, chooses not to join Dodgers for this World Series
There is no better World Series tradition than the introduction of each player in uniform. If you work for the home team, you get a nice round of applause, even if you are an obscure reliever, a quality assurance coach or a soft tissue specialist.
The fan favorites draw the loudest and most sustained applause. Adrian Gonzalez would get a warm ovation, but he is not expected to join the Dodgers for the World Series.
It’s his choice.
It’s too bad. Gonzalez has played more games without a World Series appearance than all but two active players: Ichiro Suzuki and Brandon Phillips. He would not have played in this World Series because of what the Dodgers said was a recurrence of a back injury, but he had earned a round of cheers from a large and loyal fan base that cherishes him.
Justin Turner, who occupies the locker next to Gonzalez, declined to say whether he was disappointed that Gonzalez had chosen not to bask in World Series applause.
“This is Adrian’s deal, not mine,” Turner said. “He’s a really good friend of mine. I’m proud of him and happy to be a teammate of his.
“I text him almost every day: We miss you, we want you to be here with us, you should be here enjoying this with us. But I understand.”
Gonzalez, 35, a five-time All-Star, had played at least 156 games in 11 consecutive seasons. He went on the disabled list in May, for the first time in his career, and went back on the DL in June.
On Sept. 26, in his final at-bat, he hit a home run. The Dodgers announced the next day that he had aggravated his back injury and was done for the season.
The playoffs have gone on without him in the lineup, or even in the clubhouse.
“We totally respect his decision,” general manager Farhan Zaidi said. “He’s meant a lot to this organization. He’s been in constant contact with the front office, the players, the coaching staff, and Doc [manager Dave Roberts], expressing his support. Everybody here knows he’s fully behind us.”
Said Kenley Jansen: “He’s going to support us. He doesn’t want to be a distraction. That’s awesome. That shows you what kind of character he has.”
Cody Bellinger, who replaced Gonzalez at first base, said Gonzalez had been kind in sharing defensive positioning tips and other suggestions to calm a rookie’s wandering mind.
“I don’t really pay attention the most,” Bellinger said. “He really kind of locked me down: This is the big leagues, you’ve got to focus on every pitch.”
In July, Gonzalez told Times columnist Dylan Hernandez that he had come to appreciate “a different perspective” at this later stage of his career.
“You’re not worried about all the other things that a young kid would worry about,” Gonzalez said then. “I’m not trying to make it to an All-Star game, I’m not trying to win a Gold Glove. I’m just trying to have fun. I’m just trying to help the team win.”
Gonzalez has 20 at-bats against Justin Verlander, more than any Dodger besides Curtis Granderson. He might have offered insight about how to hit Verlander, the Game 2 starter for the Houston Astros, but Gonzalez and his family went on vacation in Europe.
“I know all of us have been wondering where he’s at and looking forward to seeing him again,” outfielder Andre Ethier said. “We know that he’s a big part of this and want him to know that he’s a big part of this.”
Zaidi said he believed Gonzalez would have no trouble being a leader next season, even as he opted not to finish this season with the team.
“He’s not physically able to play,” Zaidi said. “He’s taking time with his family. I think guys totally understand that.”
Gonzalez is under contract next season, at $21.5 million. He would like to play regularly, but Bellinger’s emergence means Gonzalez might have to try to do so elsewhere. That is an issue for the winter, and maybe the spring too: Gonzalez can veto any trade, and he probably would have to show he is healthy to interest another team.
You never know. He could have waved to the crowd, perhaps for the last time as a Dodger.
It’s his choice.
The Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.