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Opinion of Kingman's Performance
Monday, April 16, 2012
Patience My Friends, Patience...
I’ll say it now and repeat it later. Dodger fans need to back off the criticism of Dee Gordon. It’s time accept him as the everyday shortstop and accept the fact that we are probably looking at having a 30+ error season from that position. It might be as bad as 40 errors. It is time to recognize that Gordon needs to grow in the position on the major league level. There is no doubt in my mind that he may cost the team a few games with his defense, but this isn't a hopeless situation like the Jose Offerman situation was in the early to mid 90s. This kid is special. I'm talking potential Hall of Famer type special. He's going to be a great player and I'm about 90% sure that in then end, it’ll all be worth it.
Photo by Lawrence K. Ho, L.A. Times, April 11, 2012
Patience with this kid will pay off. Yes, we’ll see erratic play. Definitely, we’ll witness the routine throw sail into the first base dugout. Without a doubt there will be a large number of ground balls bobbled. What we won’t see is a lack of effort and hustle. Dee Gordon is a true talent. We have already seen glimpses of his amazing acrobatic plays. He is fearless out there and he already saved a game or two with a spectacular play on the defensive side. I guarantee it, we'll see more for many years. In a way, history is repeating itself.
Back in 1972 the Dodgers had Maury Wills returning from a respectable 1971 season. He hit .281 with 654 plate appearances in a year when a gritty Dodger team came back within a game of winning the Western Division title. Though Wills was 38 years old, he was still stealing the occasional bag (15) and his defense was still decent. He maintained his range and it was believed that there was no reason for him to hang up his spikes.
During the off-season Al Campanis traded away their top shortstop prospect, Bobby Valentine, as part of a blockbuster deal with the Angels. There really seemed to be no one on the horizon to take over Wills‘ spot, but Al Campanis was determined to turn Bill Russell into a shortstop.
Bill Russell (photo by Scott Harms, AP)
Russell had dabbled in the past at the shortstop position, but he had a long way to go to have the transition take place. He played there very erratically in Vero Beach that spring. It made no sense to plug him in at short because he was an excellent outfielder. But after Wills got off to a slow start, 12 games into the season, Walter Alston inserted Russell into the lineup at shortsop night after night. I’ll tell you, it was rough. He was booed regularly by the home crowds. He ended the year with 32 errors in the 118 games he started.
Infield guru and the master at infield position conversions, Monty Basgall was managing in AA El Paso. Campanis called off that assignment early in the season and assigned him to help Russell with the big club. This was at a time when a vet like Wills wasn’t about to assist a guy like Russell who was forcing him into retirement. I have to hand it to Walt Alston. He stuck with the 23 year old youngster and allowed him to learn what many consider to be one of the most difficult defensive positions at the major league level. It wasn’t a popular move. Many fans wanted Wills out there, including me. The boo birds had to be affecting the young Russell and his confidence had to be in the dumper, but Alston kept putting him in the lineup and allowed him to learn the job through day in and day out experience.
Walt Alston and Maury Wills
Russell was never yanked from a game that I can recall. He was allowed to grow into the position. Some will say that Russell never was a great shortstop and that it took him years to develop. The truth was though, he was a respected shortstop within a few years. An eventual All Star at the position and the transition worked. With Russell at Short, the Dodgers won 5 division titles, 4 pennants and 1 world championship.
I don’t think it is fair to compare Gordon at all to Russell. The ceiling for Gordon is much higher. I see Devaris as being a gold glove shortstop one day. Meanwhile, we as a fanbase, have to be patient and encouraging. Eventually we’ll be rewarded with many years of an all star at that position. And who knows, if Gordon stays healthy and continues swiping bags at his current rate, we may be looking at 100 steals this year. I'm not kidding either. Some predicted 70 steals. I see 100 easy if he stays healthy.