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Kemp calls his shot: 50 homers, 50 steals in 2012

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Fifty-fifty, is what Matt Kemp said.

Fifty-fifty.

Like Broadway Joe calling Super Bowl III.

Like Newt Gingrich calling for a moon colony.

You know, somewhere between unlikely and if the moon were a planet, that's the planet he'd be from.

"Anything is possible," Kemp said Wednesday.

He is 27 years old. He hit 39 home runs last season, stole 40 bases, his team played a 161-game season and he should have been MVP.

But he wasn't.

Rather than mope, however, and rather than accept a hand-me-down award if it comes to winner Ryan Braun being deemed a PEDs cheat and relinquishing it ("That's not the way I want to win it," Kemp said), he called 50-50.

Only two players – Barry Bonds and, yes, Brady Anderson – have ever posted a 50-home run season and a 50-steal season over their careers. Never in the same season.

Only four – Jose Canseco in 1988, Bonds in '96, Alex Rodriguez in '98 and Alfonso Soriano in '06 – have gone 40-40. Of those, Rodriguez came closest to 50-50, with 42 home runs and 46 steals.

And, you can be pretty sure, none called his 40-40 shot in November, then walked into spring training and didn't budge from it.

As a rule, baseball players don't call anything. They're afraid of the game, afraid of its whims and excessive cruelty. It's not basketball. The only guy who gets to hold the ball is the pitcher, and not for very long (the Boston Red Sox staff notwithstanding).

No, too much is in play in baseball: bad luck, bad hops, good pitching, heat, wind, rain, cold, not enough Red Bull, too much Red Bull, sliders, injuries, day games after night games, the lightweight jamoke hitting behind you, the candy-butts hitting in front of you and the umpire with cataracts.

Just to name a few.

Babe Ruth called a single shot (so legend says), and there were books written about it.

Kemp has called 50 of them, along with 50 bags. That means he's called one of the great seasons in baseball history, given it likely would come with a Gold Glove, and from within an exceedingly mediocre lineup, and out of one of the tougher hitters' parks in baseball.

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From in front of his locker, he looked up.

"I know what I'm capable of doing," he said. "I've shown it."

Fifty-fifty? Really?

"Man," he said, "I believe in myself to the most. I have confidence I can achieve it. I try to set my expectations as high as I can. I think I'm capable of doing it."

In spring training sites across two states players are, you know, hoping to stay healthy, hoping to be consistent, hoping to help the team win.

Kemp is all those things, too. Except he's put these big, round, previously unattainable numbers right alongside them.

Baseball gods use goals like these for target practice, especially the ones said aloud.

Crazier, a year ago Kemp was coming off a season that wasn't even 20-20. Then he walked into his prime, shook off whatever peripheral stuff had taken his head away, was the best end-to-end player in the game, got very rich, lived in the gym all winter and came back more convinced than ever of 50-50.

Said Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti: "I'm just glad he's not talking about 10 and 10."

In Kemp's plan, that would be a decent month.

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"It speaks to his confidence and his self-awareness," Colletti said. "Even if he doesn't make it, it doesn't mean it's wrong. It tells me about how he feels about his game. It tells me what he thinks about who he is."

It tells me Kemp is not afraid to dream and he's not afraid to fail. And let's remind ourselves, something far short of 50-50 might still not be failure. It tells me he's young and feeling bulletproof, and that the Dodgers – all things considered – might not be far from being a reasonable franchise again. And it tells me he believes he has more to give, that he can drag more out of an approach and a swing that last year became more refined, that he can shave a tenth of a second or two en route from first to second, and that it'll add up to something historic.

"I want guys to be dreamers," manager Don Mattingly said.

Well, they don't get much bigger than this. And if you're going to dream, you might as well shoot for the moon colony.

"The more you play this game the more you learn about yourself," Kemp said. "You learn what you can do, where you need to be, what you need to work on. I'm still learning about myself, learning about the game. I think I can be even better than I was last year."

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