Thinking About Steve Kemp

I was standing in line waiting for a ride at Six Flags Great Escape in Lake George, NY on Saturday when I spotted a gentleman wearing one of those classic New York Yankee t-shirts.  You know, the navy blue ones with the white lettering and a player’s name written on the back.  This particular guy had on a CC Sabathia tee which got me to reflecting on my very first New York shirt which was purchased in 1984.  On that particular team, I had my choice of Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry and Dave Winfield among other big names.  So who was the guy I deemed number one during that season?  Why it was none other than the power-hitting lefty known as Steve Kemp.

Steve Kemp's career was derailed by a shoulder injury 4 games into the 1983 season.  Image:  Wikipedia.com

Steve Kemp’s career was derailed by a shoulder injury 4 games into the 1983 season. Image: Wikipedia.com

I know you are probably are wondering why, out of all those stars on the Yankees would I pick a guy who at that point had been a disappointment?  Well, it is probably the same reason why, almost a decade later, my grandmother asked me which player’s jersey would I like to receive from the Dallas Cowboys?  Think about all of the great names on those early to mid 90’s teams like Aikman, Smith, Irvin and Haley.  Yet I chose Ken Norton, Jr for the same reason I chose Steve Kemp.  Everyone has the apparel of the stars, I wanted to go with someone different.

So what was the playing career of Kemp like?  Before he came to the Yankees, he enjoyed a very productive five-year stint with the Detroit Tigers , selected by the team as the number one overall pick in the 1976 draft.  He had a fine rookie season in 1977 with 18 home runs and 88 RBI’s.  He posted back-to-back 20 homer, 100 RBI seasons in 1979 and 1980 with ’79 being his best overall season and his only All-star appearance.  He hit .318 with 26 HR’s and 105 RBI’s.  He was traded to the Chicago White Sox before the 1982 season.  His only season with the Sox was a solid one, belting 19 homers and driving in 98.  He became a free agent and was rewarded with a five-year, $5.45 million dollar deal with the Yanks.

Only four games into his Yankee career, Kemp was involved in a brutal collision with Willie Randolph and Jerry Mumphrey.  It was revealed that Kemp had a bone chip in his shoulder but he played through his injury.  His career was never the same.  He spent only two years in New York, he amassed  only 19 homers and 90 RBI’s in 780 at-bats.  He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates before the 1985 season. He spent a little over one season with the Bucs before being released.  Over the next season and a half, Kemp spent time in the Minor Leagues in the systems of both the San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers.  Kemp batted 39 times with Texas in 1988 before retiring at the tender age of 33.

That awful injury with New York cut short a promising career.  What I remember about Steve Kemp was that he ran out every single ground ball like it was Game 7 of the World Series.  I can still see him hustling down first, batting helmet flying off his head as he just either legged out an infield hit or was thrown out by a half-step.  He also made a nice play in right field during Dave Righetti‘s no-hitter.  That alone should reserve a place in every Yankee fan’s heart for him.

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I have been wrong about many things during the 2013 season.  You can see for yourself by clicking here.  The one that has really put me to shame is my thoughts on the Los Angels Dodgers.  Oh sure, I was looking good for about the first two months of the season.  Then the team called up Yasiel Puig and right around that time Hanley Ramirez got healthy.  Even then I still thought the good times wouldn’t last; I remember when the Arizona Diamondbacks swept the Dodgers in May; LA looked like a Double A squad with shoddy defense and awful baseball awareness.  The Dodgers looked lost.

What a difference seven weeks makes.

After sweeping the hot Tampa Bay Rays this past weekend, the Dodgers are now 37-8 since June 22nd.  An insane 15 game road winning streak was right in the middle of it.  Even though Puig has cooled off somewhat and Matt Kemp is still hurt, Los Angeles is showing a great deal of toughness I didn’t think was there.  The run has lifted the Dodgers to a 7 1/2 game lead over the second place D-Backs.

With Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke leading the rotation, don’t expect the Dodgers to fade anytime soon.  They now have to be considered legitimate World Series threats.  Just ask the St. Louis Cardinals who were recently took only one game in a four game set at home against LA.   Unfortunately for the rest of the National League, Tommy Lasorda is once again singing about Dodger Blue.

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By contrast, one of the few things I have been dead-on about is the play of the Washington Nationals.  They reminded me of Arizona, who went from 65 wins in 2010 to 94 wins and a division title in 2011 to 81 wins in 2012.  It is very hard for a team that comes from nowhere to win big the next season and to retain that excellence the following year.  They don’t get the chance to sneak up on anyone.  Now they become the hunted. That is exactly what happened to the Nats even though they added Rafael Soriano to an already stout bullpen.

It also doesn’t help that Stephen Strasburg only has six wins.  His 2.85 ERA indicates he has pitched well without much support from his offense.  Gio Gonzalez‘s output isn’t much better with only seven victories with an OK 3.52 ERA.  It is the lineup that has doomed Washington. They rank 24th in batting average at .243 and 26th in on base percentage at .303 which is also their ranking in runs scored with 442.  Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper have been both hurt and played under expectations.  It adds up to a 57-60 record, 14 1/2 games back in the National League East and no shot at the playoffs.

Will 2014 be a bounce back year?  They certainly have a good core.  It is hard to imagine the team will not score two seasons in a row for Strasburg.  Then again, we have been saying the same thing for years about the run support for Felix Hernandez.  General Manger Mike Rizzo, flush with his new contract will only have to do some minor tinkering instead of wholesale changes.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

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