LOS ANGELES – Hey Matt, go compete. Go win a job. Go be the left fielder.
If you're not feeling sorry for yourself, it's fooling the people around you. It's fooling your teammates. They think you're pouting. They're starting to think you care more for yourself than you do for the Dodgers, which might have played when you were running for an MVP award, but not so much today.
You're allowed to be mad you're not playing. Not mad: pissed. Apoplectic. You're supposed to do something about it. So, play harder. Play better. Compete.
You're 29 years old. Not that long ago you were regarded as the best athlete in the game. You are one of the better paid. Now you're having trouble holding a job.
And where, exactly, would you place the blame?
Don Mattingly? Ned Colletti? Your ankle? The shoulder still?
If you're hurt, say so. But you are not on any of the club's medical reports. If the effects of the surgeries linger, and your legs are not under you, and you don't feel quite right quite yet, OK, fair enough. Good on you for refusing the public crutch. In the meantime, your team has games to play – to win – and you are not its best in center field, not the way you've played it so far. In fact, if defensive metrics are to be believed, well, they're not kind to your performance. The people you work for aren't necessarily chained to those numbers, but they can't ignore them either. They do watch the games.
A third through the season, your defense does not merit a place in center field. Frankly, your bat hasn't thus far merited a corner either, but left is yours if you want it, certainly now that Carl Crawford can't play, and presumably you'll hit better than you have – .162 – with runners in scoring position.
Look, it stinks to be hurt. It stinks to be unsure after all these years of – to use a term you made popular – beast mode. To reach for one more gear and find nothing. To fix a swing atop a cranky body. It stinks to lose your job, to be outplayed, to stand with the scapegoats for the ballclub's mediocre record. It stinks to feel like the team has turned on you, if that's what you think, but their jobs are on the line, too.
The scouts at Dodger Stadium come every night with two questions:
"How come the Dodgers aren't winning?"
"What's wrong with Kemp?"
Damn, man, has it really come to this?
Let me ask this: If, when you came to the big leagues at 21, you found ahead of you a veteran guy struggling with his game and his confidence, what would you have done?
Buried him with your play. That's what.
If you had been one of four or five outfielders hustling for playing time, what would you have done?
Figured a way onto the field. Somehow, some way, you'd have outworked and outplayed all of them.
Well, here you are. The hunted. Once, you were the best player on the field, and maybe the best player in the game. Today, for whatever reason, in the middle of your prime, bad ankle or no, you're third or fourth in your own outfield, depending on the day.
So it began on Wednesday night, Crawford on the disabled list, Andre Ethier in center field, you in left for the first time since '06 and batting sixth. Five days off – other than a couple pinch-hit appearances – for you to buy in, get comfortable, get healthy, whatever it was.
Is it fair?
Doesn't matter. It just is. Mattingly, the guy you liked to call "Donnie B.," is now Donnie D. Donnie UZR. And, yeah, maybe Hanley Ramirez should pick it up on the defensive end, too. Of the worst eight defensive teams in the game, only the Dodgers have a winning record. And still that's a lot of pitching and a lot of rallies that go to waste because balls that should have been caught were not turned into outs.
And, yeah, for the moment, and for some reason, you were not part of the solution.
It's not supposed to be disrespectful. Maybe, it's not even supposed to be forever. It's supposed to be the solution today.
"It's a little different," you said Wednesday afternoon before a coach fungoed more fly balls to you in left field. "I'm just excited to be back in there and play."
"I'll figure it out," you said.
"I'm still a pretty good athlete," you said, "so I think I'll be OK."
"That it?" you asked.
Yeah, that's it.
More MLB coverage:
- Sports & Recreation