Major League Baseball isn’t the most sensational pro sport around but the L.A. Dodgers have done their part to spark interest. With the messy McCourt divorce, the bankruptcy filing, and Magic Johnson becoming one of the new team owners, the franchise has seen more drama and change than your baby’s mama and the diapers on that illegitimate kid she’s lugging around. One man in Dodger blue who hasn’t let the front office soap opera get to him is Matt Kemp.
Coming off a season full of career highs, Kemp is poised to lead the legendary franchise, both this season and beyond. We caught up with the All-Star outfielder to talk about his new $160 million contract, the state of the team, and what it’s like dating celebrities (Hi, Rihanna *Royce da 5’9” voice*). So, as the Dodgers prepare for the 2012 season opener (April 5 @ San Diego), check out our interview with the current face of the franchise.
Interview by Ralph Warner (@SoloWarnerBro)
The 2010 and 2011 seasons were basically polar opposites for you. 2010 was a struggle and 2011 was a huge success. What were the differences in each season?
In 2010, I really just had a bad season, there are no excuses. That basically sums up 2010; it was just a really frustrating season for me.
What was the low point of that season?
It was a pretty down year most of the year for me. Some people would consider that a pretty good season, but for me, it was a down season on top of having a losing record. Just [being] inconsistent, I couldn’t do my job the way I wanted to.
Your name was often heard in trade rumors that year. Did that have any effect on you?
Nah, I don’t really listen to trade rumors too much. Things like that are out of your hands, out of your control. The only things that I can control are on the field, I can’t worry about anything else.
What was the high point of 2011?
Going into spring training feeling the way I was feeling. I felt stronger. I felt faster. I knew it was going to be a good season. I didn’t want to let my fans down in 2011 like I did in 2010. What I was focusing on was being consistent and that’s what I was doing in 2011—being consistent, having good at bats and trying to make it happen.
The Dodgers have gone through some turmoil over the last few years. There was the whole bankruptcy issue and McCourt divorce drama, what were your thoughts when all of that was going on?
[His test] has nothing to do with [being the] MVP in my book. He won it, the voters voted and Ryan Braun is your MVP.
That didn’t really affect me at all. Frank McCourt is a great guy. It’s been nothing but respect between me and the organization. Because [when] he was going through what he was going through, I put myself in a situation where I said those things are off the field and we can’t really control that. We gotta go out there every day, 162 games, and try to win baseball games. We can’t worry about bankruptcy and who’s going to be our owner.
OK, and considering that you’ve spent five years with the organization, did you see any of this coming?
I don’t really think that you can see anything like that coming. I mean, we were in the NLCS two years in a row [2008 and 2009]. We were a few games away from making it to the World Series. With the way we were winning, it was a shock to a lot of people, especially the fans.
You signed your $160 million contract after that was all settled. Did you see yourself staying with the team despite the front office drama?
Yeah, of course. L.A. is the team that believed in me, the team that called me up, that give me a chance in the big leagues. I’ve worn nothing but a Dodger uniform my whole career. So, I really couldn’t see myself wearing another jersey. If I was going to go into free agency, I would have definitely given the Dodgers a chance to sign me back. I couldn’t really see myself playing for another team, that would be kind of weird.
Going back to the end of this season—you finished second in the MVP race to Ryan Braun. What were your thoughts when you heard that he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone?
I was shocked because he’s actually a friend of mine. He’s one of my favorite players, someone that I love to watch play. If I had to sum it up in one word it’s shocked.
Have you spoken to him or seen him since that test was made public?
I actually haven’t talked to him, but I’m sure we’ll have a couple conversations.
Were you surprised his suspension was overturned?
I don’t really know the situation. I’m happy that it’s over with for him. I’m happy that he can go back to playing baseball.
What’s your reaction to the fans that say that you’re the real MVP?
I agree with them. Just as I’m sure [Albert] Pujols or Prince Fielder or anyone who was close to winning thinks they should have won the MVP. For me, I felt I should have won it. I don’t vote. I have no say in the vote. A lot of people had great seasons. Ryan Braun had an excellent season. Prince had an excellent season along with Pujols and Jose Reyes. There are a lot of guys that probably thought they should have won MVP but hands down Ryan Braun won and we have to turn the page, get ready for this year and try to win it this year.
You thinking that you deserve MVP, those thoughts are just based on stats and aren’t related to his positive test at all?
No not at all, it’s just stats-wise. [His test] has nothing to do with [being the] MVP in my book. He won it, the voters voted and Ryan Braun is your MVP.
How effective do you think the current testing system is? Are there any changes that you would like to see made?
I honestly don’t know how the system really works. All I do is take the test and go about my business. I don’t really know the protocols or whatever.