Not too long ago, there were a gang of scouts, execs, players and fans who doubted that Dee Gordon would be able to hit enough to survive in the majors. His circuitous route to MLB batting leader isn't the typical path for a cat who is hitting .420 and trying to become the first player to win an MLB batting title by hitting .400 since "The Splendid Splinter" Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.
Honestly, Gordon has a better chance of stealing 100 bases or impregnating Beyonce than hitting anywhere near .400 this season, but Gordon's rocket-ship fly performance for the young and rising Marlins is putting him in the supreme baller category. In 35 games he has 77 hits in 150 at-bats. He has an OBP of .444 and is slugging .513, despite having 0 homers. He's officially a lethal weapon and the scariest thing about Gordon is that no one can truly put a finger on where his talent ends.
Honestly, as a kid who grew up in clubhouses with his dad, former MLB hurler Tom "Flash" Gordon, baseball is in his genes. His younger brother Nick was the fifth overall pick in June’s MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins and shares a similar pedigree.
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.
Gordon is an enigma. He’s a baseball lifer, who is also a late bloomer. Statistical projections and educated guesses about an athlete's ceiling is an imperfect science. Hard numbers never account for the intangibles and mitigating circumstances -- those things that manifest incrementally. Where most people went wrong in assessing Gordon was they didn’t account for his baseball I.Q., his lineage and the fact that he is just getting super serious about the “craft” of baseball for the first time in his young life. He’s finally comfortable in his own skin as a baseball player. It sounds weird but everything works in progressions and Gordon is going through his.
Because of Gordon's extreme athleticism and inexperience playing a specific baseball position, he was moved around from shortstop to the outfield, before settling in at second base a season ago due to a rash of injuries to Dodgers infielders. Many scouts and analysts doubted his raw hitting ability.
It was clear that he had the speed to be Maury Wills. Last season, 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 set a then MLB record with 104 swipes. A record that is safe with Gordon now ripping rug inside Miami's cavernous Marlins Park.
Others compared him to shortstop Ozzie Smith as far as him having a weak stick, supreme athleticism and some hot wheels. Even a Vince Coleman type, but Gordon is a better hitter than both.
Gordon may have surprised a few folks last season with his bat boogie and bag-snatching and this season he’s left fools flabbergasted with his high octane hitting.
The elite writers over at S.I.com were one of Gordon’s preseason doubters. So far Gordon has SI’s baseball mouthpieces eating crow after penning this prediction around the beginning of Spring Training.
“Even if you believe in Gordon, you have to admit that he’s a prime regression candidate heading into 2015. Last season, Gordon rode huge monthly performances in April and June to a strong first half, hitting .292/.344/.398 with 43 steals. He fell off in the second half, compiling a .284/.300/.348 slash and swiping just 21 bags. Gordon’s speed is a constant, and it’s going to establish a baseline value for him. What put him over the top last year was the combination of a high batting average along with elite production in steals and runs. If he takes a step back in any of the three, he’s going to come up short of his draft-day price tag.
Steamer projected him to hit .257/.308/.335 with 47 steals and 64 runs. If that turns out to be accurate, he’ll be a glorified Alcides Escobar.”
Gordon must have read this piece, pinned it on his wall and had his pops throw rocks at it all day. Not that the wiry wonder with the wild wheels needs any more inspiration than being traded from a championship caliber Dodgers to an upstart Marlins team, but he' s been playing like a man possessed.
Gordon has elevated his game since joining Miami and he's establishing himself as more than just a great base stealer with a decent stick, who doesn’t walk enough for metrics muts.
You still have to do a double take when you see Dee Gordon at the top of MLB's hits and batting average leaders. That .289 average that folks (including myself) said would be on the high end of his best career batting years, turned out to be the tip of the iceberg.
Let's just admit it. We were all wrong about Gordon, even the baseball purists such as myself who valued his throwback skill-set and the intangibles player of his ilk brought to the game. I let it be known at last year's All-Star break, when Gordon was named a reserve for the NL squad, that he had a chance to be one of the most prolific base stealers of all time. Swiping 100 bags is a stretch, but he's definitely one of maybe two guys (Billy Hamilton being the other) capable of such a Rickey Henderson-esque feat.
Now, however, the Dee Gordon narrative has changed. In fact, stolen bases are his side hustle, while he racks up hits and sprays the ball like an AK spitting in Beirut -- a black Ichiro Suzuki. Gordon is fourth in MLB in steals with 12, behind Jose Altuve, Jacoby Ellsbury and the game's No. 1 base swiper, Billy "The Slid" Hamilton.
He's no longer defined by just his speed and raw abilities or considered a side show on wheels. His game is on full-fledged fleek. He’s silenced the doubters who saw him struggle early on and hit in the .220s. Gordon is an official baller. The prototypical table-setter and as the Marlins continue to add more talent and offensive firepower to their mix, Gordon's multi-faceted game will shine even brighter. As Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick fade into the background and Gordon enters his prime as a player, he will be considered the one shining star that flew away from LA. In the near future I can hear Magic Johnson watching the 5-11, 175-pounder consistently post .300 BA/50-steal seasons, reflect on the trade that sent him to Miami and say, "Oops….my bad"