Joe Torre called Matt Kemp the game’s best player in a conversation with ESPN Los Angeles’ Tony Jackson on Tuesday, but he indicated it might have taken his departure as Dodgers manager for Kemp to take that next step.
Kemp had his breakthrough season in 2011 after Don Mattingly replaced Torre as manager.
“He was challenging because just like a lot of young players, they are going to make adjustments on their own, but he was so talented — and again, this is just my opinion — that I think he just felt his ability was going to speak for itself,” Torre said. “He sort of eliminated the highs and lows once he got established in a more businesslike way. I know he and Donnie have a good relationship, which is hugely important.
“I remember telling him as I was saying goodbye when I stopped managing, ‘You’re going to love playing for Donnie.’ ”
Torre said that he and Kemp “didn’t always agree” but that the did keep “working” at their relationship. “Let’s put it that way,” he added.
Kemp finished with OPSs of .799, .842 and .760 in Torre’s three years as Dodgers manager before coming in at .986 last year. He’s off to a fantastic start in 2012 as well, having driven in a run in five straight to begin the season.
After 16 years in the majors, longtime Tigers DH Victor Martinez capped his career with one final start at Comerica Park. Although there are seven games remaining in the club’s regular season schedule, Martinez said he felt he owed it to the fans to record his final at-bat at home. He’ll still cheer the rest of the team on from the dugout when they hit the road for their last six-game stretch on Monday, though he’s not expected to slot into the lineup at any point during their back-to-back away series against the Twins and Brewers.
In order to commemorate the occasion, the Tigers arranged a pregame ceremony to celebrate the veteran infielder’s seven years with the team, during which they presented him with Topps baseball cards, a recliner, a pair of boots, and a saddle, among other honors. Martinez also put in a special request to play first base, a position he hadn’t manned in over two years.
The 39-year-old didn’t waste a single minute of his final start in the majors. He deftly handled an inning-ending out in the top of the first, then laced a rare infield single to short in his first and final at-bat of the afternoon, beating the throw to first and advancing Nicholas Castellanos to second base in order to set up the Tigers’ first run: a two-out RBI single from Niko Goodrum that brought Castellanos home to score.
“I think that at-bat was the perfect at-bat to describe my career,” Martinez told reporters after the Tigers wrapped a 5-4 win over the Royals. “I had to sweat it out. I had to sweat it out the whole way. I had to grind it. That was my whole career.”
Following the hit — and the standing ovation that greeted it — the switch-hitter was promptly replaced by pinch-runner Ronny Rodriguez, who subbed in at second base in the top of the second while Goodrum shifted from second to first base. Taking Saturday’s performance into account, Martinez polished off his big league career with a lifetime .295/.360/.455 batting line, 423 doubles, 246 home runs, 1,178 RBI, and 28.4 fWAR across 1,973 games and three separate stints for the Indians, Red Sox, and Tigers. His accomplishments at the plate have been decorated with five All-Star nominations, two Silver Slugger Awards, and the designated hitter-exclusive Edgar Martinez Award following a career-best campaign in 2014.