Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Dee Gordon is fast. Brother Nick, the fifth overall pick in June’s MLB Draft is a blazer too. Dee is bringing the swipe back to LA with a MLB-leading 43 steals entering the All-Star break. Can anybody say 100 steals? Rickey Henderson is mumbling something incoherent about being the one and only stolen base king, but this isn’t Game of Thrones. With Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton (38 stolen bases and rising) nipping at his heels and wind-aided by the deserved recognition he’s finally receiving as one of baseball’s most dynamic entities, Gordon has no intentions of slowing down.
The 2014 All-Star Game marks the return of the Midsummer Classic to the Twin Cities for the first time in nearly 30 years.
The last time it was held in Minnesota was in 1985, with the National League defeating the AL, 6-1. LaMarr Hoyt won Most Valuable Player honors for pitching three scoreless innings at the Metrodome, which was the home of the Twins from 1982-2009.
When his name is announced as a reserve for the NL All-Star squad at Target Field on Tuesday night, Gordon will be carrying on tradition in a multitude of ways. The 5-11, 170-pound barn burner’s game has always been predicated on his legs, but Gordon’s infatuation with acceleration can’t compare to the heater thrown by his pops, a former elite MLB closer. Tom “Flash” Gordon played 21 seasons in The Show. Flash began his career in 1988 as a flame-throwing starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals. By the time his career was over in 2009, he was also notorious for throwing one of the wickedest deuces in history. His versatility as a workhorse reliever makes him the only pitcher in MLB history with 100 wins, saves, and holds.
Unlike his dad “Flash” – who was an instant sensation in Kansas City, posting a 17-9 record and a 3.64 ERA in his first full season and finishing second in the 1989 Rookie of the Year balloting, and his 18-year-old brother Nick, the beneficiary of a quarter-century of Major League experience – Gordon’s baseball journey began on the basketball courts.
Prior to mastering the art of base path warfare, Dee played basketball at Avon Park High School, Seminole Community College and Southeastern. He didn’t even take up baseball until high school, but it was obviously in his blood. Legend has it Dee’s dad offered him a new car to ultimately choose baseball over basketball. As a child, he spent 50 games a year with his dad, soaking in the scene and getting a VIP baseball crash course. The Dodgers were impressed enough to nab him in the fourth round of the 2008 MLB Draft. His tumultuous journey to MLB All-Star wouldn’t be as glorious if Gordon let his brief fall affect his work ethic. Being coached up by a supreme bag swagger like ex-Dodger Davey Lopes and scrappy Chone Figgins is an invaluable asset as well.
"It was an amazing feeling, just where I came from," Gordon said of his All-star selection. Of the four Dodgers who were selected to represent the National League, Gordon’s selection was the talk of the clubhouse and celebrated passionately. From his mom being murdered at age six by a crazed ex-boyfriend to his many doubters and moments of frustration, he kept at it and is respected for that diligence.
"He's been through a lot," pitcher Clayton Kershaw told latimes.com. "Playing all sorts of different positions, had to go and try the outfield, he's been everywhere. So for him to get to second base and excel the way he has and play the way he's played the first half, it's just a huge testament to him and his work ethic and his character."
The knock on Gordon has always been his diminutive size and raw hitting skills. The scouts weren’t sure if he’d be able to consistently hit and get on base at the MLB level. By 2012, Gordon was the Dodgers' opening day shortstop but a dislocated thumb and an inability to hit thwarted his plans. He also had some problems with throwing errors, and by the time Gordon returned from the disabled list, the Dodgers had acquired super-stud Hanley Ramirez to replace him.
Gordon wouldn’t let his setbacks dictate his future. He made a power move last season, spending much of his time in triple-A Albuquerque, where he started playing second base. He balled hard in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and even began playing centerfield in hopes of earning a place on the Dodgers’ roster.
Fast forward to Tuesday night and MLB fans will be treated to history in the making when Gordon enters the game and immediately goes to the dirt to put in work. Possessing lethal legs is Gordon’s entire game plan, and now that he’s proving he can handle the lumber on a MLB level (.292 BA, league-leading 9 triples), we can begin to compare him to the prolific base stealers of the past.
Gordon reached 40 steals in the Dodgers' 80th game of the year, making him the third-fastest in franchise history to the mark. The great Maury Wills, one of the nastiest bag-snatchers in MLB history, had a couple of such seasons. In 1965 he swept 41 bases in 62 team games, and ended up with 94 steals. Three years earlier, Wills reached the 40-steal plateau in the Dodgers’ 77th game and set a then MLB record with 104 swipes. It still stands as the Dodgers’ franchise record; a record Gordon surely has his eye on in the upcoming seasons.
The last major league player to steal 40 bases within the first 80 team games was Dodgers teammate Carl Crawford, who did it in 78 games with the Tampa Rays in 2009. Gordon’s on pace to steal 80 bases, a feat no MLB player has accomplished since 1988 (before the dawn of the steroid era) when legendary base stealers Vince Coleman (81 steals for St. Louis Cardinals) and Rickey Henderson (93 steals for NY Yankees) were mind-controlling games with their debilitating feet.
When the season began, most baseball heads were automatically penciling in Billy Hamilton for the league lead in steals. Heads weren’t mentioning Dee Gordon. Houston’s Jose Altuve has stolen 30 or more bases in each of his first three full seasons in the league, but he’s the least-heralded of baseball’s new speedsters. His 41 steals are neck-and neck with Gordon and if he keeps up his pace he could threaten the 80-steal plateau as well.
Excuse Gordon if he is still pinching himself. Pedigree aside, Dee seems like one of those guys that wasn’t supposed to be here. In fact, Gordon was a last option for the Dodgers. LA signed Cuban defector Alex Guerrero to a $28-million deal over the winter, but he was no Yasiel Puig. They had no choice but to let Gordon rock.
He's not only been a superb option, but he’s become the spark and the uncontainable explosion within a Dodgers lineup that’s in first-place in the NL West (54-43) and is flooded with celebrity sluggers. His work ethic and endearing personality has been lauded by teammates. On offense, he's been a game obliterator and moving to second has helped his defense. Gordon is flashing some major leather and hasn't commited an error in his last 18 games.
"It's awesome," said pitcher Josh Beckett, who was as blunt as a teammate could be about what he thought of Gordon's chances in the spring. "Once you have that, nobody can take that away from you. That's special. It didn't come easy for him. He had to change positions. I think everybody, during spring training, expected him to fall on his face. This is the reward."
An underlying theme in The Gordon Family’s return to the Midsummer Classic (Tom made it as a fireman in 1998, 2004 and 2006) is the fact that the location of the game – Minnesota – is exactly where little brother Nick will be playing his ball soon. The Twins drafted the highly-touted shortstop in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft and signed him for $3,851,000. His signing bonus is the fourth highest in Twins history.
Gordon is out of Olympia High School in Orlando, Fla., and reported to the Twins' Rookie-level affiliate in Elizabethton, Tenn., but all expectations is that he has a bright future with the Twins organization and will make Target Field his permanent stomping grounds some day.
When the legacy of one of baseball’s royal families is finally cemented, the state of Minnesota will play a significant role in shaping that legacy. It’s where Dee Gordon will be highlighted for earning his wings and little brother Nick will eventually earn his stripes. It’s also the point where dad gets a pat on the back – and it’s not because he recorded another two-inning save. It’s because he obviously kept “The Flash” all in the family.