It wasn’t just a comeback for Dodger’s outfielder Matt Kemp in 2018, it was a phoenix rise from the ashes. It was resurgence. A monumental rebound of epic proportions for the Bison. Surely nobody including Kemp himself envisioned his second stint in Dodger blue would end in such a magnanimous way, but alas it has. Major League baseball had little choice but to recognize Kemp’s outstanding campaign by awarding him as the National League comeback player of the year.
Certainly Kemp wasn’t down on his luck, but in Los Angeles he had become a forgotten man. Kemp was a Dodger originally from 2006-2014. He was drafted by the organization in 2003 and advanced through the Dodger farm system. He was known as a tremendously talented player, a five tool-player that at times didn’t have the work ethic or the right attitude to ascend to super stardom.
It was a shame, people would say. If only Kemp could harness his talent and be a better teammate than he could be the player everyone knew he should be. Along the way Kemp Kemp’s Dodgers tenure spanned multiple ownerships, managers, and playoff runs. His highly publicized relationship with singer Rhianna was all over the news. Eventually in 2011 Kemp finally realized his immense talent when he led the league in home runs, runs batted in and runs scored en route to a second place finish to Ryan Braun in the National League MVP race. That season Kemp slugged 39 home runs, stole 40 bases, scored 115 runs and batted .326.
Unfortunately injuries derailed his career over the following three seasons. Kemp’s final Dodger moment came in game 2 of the 2014 NLDS against the Cardinals when his eight-inning home run put the Dodgers ahead and helped them win the game and tie the series. The Dodgers would lose the series and then Kemp was traded to the Padres for Yasmani Grandal. Kemp would spend a season and a half in San Diego before being shipped to Atlanta. Two years later the Dodgers would reacquire him in a salary dump swap that was more about getting rid of the dead weight from the roster then reacquiring Kemp. Yet if it wasn’t for Kemp would the Dodgers have won their second consecutive pennant in 2018.
I would say no. Nobody even thought Kemp would make the opening day roster. Many people believed he would be traded well before opening day. Yet Kemp proved himself worthy with a solid spring, showing up to camp in fine physical shape and then playing very well. He made the opening day roster and was the starting left fielder. Kemp’s excellent first half earned him an all-star selection. He was one of the leading vote getters.
Kemp’s great first half kept the Dodgers afloat while Justin Turner was out with a broken wrist, and Corey Seager was out after having Tommy John surgery. Overall Kemp slashed .290/.338/.481 with 21 home runs 85 runs batted in and a 121 OPS+ in 506 plate appearances. Although Kemp did trail off a bit in the second half, his contributions this season were invaluable for the Dodgers. He never complained about not playing after the all-star break and he was a great teammate in the clubhouse. He hit a home run in the World Series. He was one of the best clutch hitters in the majors this season, batting .353 with runners in scoring position.
This award is well deserved. Kemp has always held a special place in Dodger fans hearts. He’s one of a kind. A big bodied player who can do it all. He can run, hit, hit for power, throw, and field. He was a homegrown Dodger who had natural abilities. Even though he is in the twilight of his career, he’ll always be our Bison. Let him run free. Here’s to another great season from Matt Kemp in 2019. The final chapter of his Dodger career has yet to be written.