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Is Kemp's Slow Start Linked to Crashing Into an Outfield Wall?

Brooklyn Dodger phenom was never the same after running into a wall

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Would a Lineup Shakeup Help Jump Start Matt Kemp's Bat?

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LA Dodgers’ Matt Kemp #27, on the disable list, sits and looks on from the dugout in the seventh inning against the Oakland Athletics on June 21, 2012.

No one connected to the Dodgers dares admit that the ghost of Pete Reiser looms somewhere in the distant outfield, and they lament that he could have been one of the greatest.

For if there was a field of dreams, Pete Reiser seemed to play on the field of nightmares.

How good was he?

Years after Reiser had left the game, Leo Durocher -- who was his manager with the Dodgers -- said he had seen only one baseball player who was as good.

That player was Willie Mays, who may only have been the greatest all-round player in the game. And in Durocher’s eyes Reiser might have one day had people using that Bernard Malamud line from "The Natural" – that he was the best there ever was.

What happened to centerfielder Pete Reiser, who as a rookie in 1941 helped the Brooklyn Dodgers capture the pennant while he won the National League batting title and led the league in almost every offensive category?

Reiser played the outfield recklessly, almost foolishly some said.

And the following season, while he was hitting .383 in August, Reiser chased down a fly ball with such reckless disregard for his body that he ran full speed into an outfield wall.

He was never the same player again.

If you’re a student of baseball – all of it, not just the fantasy-era age of the game -- you can’t help but be reminded of Reiser when you see a player suffer some similar mishap from playing so recklessly.

And, of course, the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp comes to mind.

Late last August, the same month Reiser was hurt 70 years earlier, Kemp ran into the centerfield wall at Coors Field at full speed, chasing a booming drive off the bat of the Rockies’ Josh Rutledge in the first inning of a game.

Kemp, who had missed time with two separate disabled-list stints last season related to hamstring problems, has not been the same since that game.

The initial report was that Kemp had suffered a right knee contusion. But then in early September his shoulder began bothering him.

Finally, in October, Kemp underwent shoulder surgery, an arthroscopic procedure on his left shoulder on a torn labrum and a frayed rotator cuff.

Afterward, doctors admitted the damage was more extensive than originally believed.

"Matty was very open to me about how he felt, and right from the time he got hurt, he was never comfortable," Kemp’s agent Dave Stewart said. "There were periods when it wasn't as painful, but he was never comfortable swinging the bat after he ran into the wall.

"But he kept playing because he wanted to be there for the team. With a possible playoff spot, he didn't want to sit. Nothing anybody could say or do could make him take time off."

But the impact of Kemp crashing into that wall is still being felt today.

Kemp has been off to a slow start at the plate, and the standard line this spring from him and manager Don Mattingly had been that there was no concern.

But this week in San Diego, Mattingly admitted he’s thinking about changing around the Dodger batting order in which Kemp bats third, the spot usually assigned to a team’s best hitter.

Mattingly had to mean possibly moving Kemp down. After all, he’s barely been above the .100 mark this early season with only two runs batted in, one of them on a sacrifice fly.

Fortunately for the Dodgers, Carl Crawford and Andre Gonzalez have been picking up the slack – both hitting well over .400, and Andre Ethier and Mark Ellis are batting over .300.

Mattingly was also quoted as saying he was concerned after learning of Kemp's growing frustration.

"He's had games where he's not so good and games when a few of his at-bats are good," Mattingly said. "He's been in and out. I know he's pressing. It's natural he wants to do his thing."

Kemp want to see the return of his old self, as does everyone else.

No one wants to even contemplate the ghost of Pete Reiser.

"Pete had more power than Willie -- left-handed and right-handed both," Durocher once said. "He had everything but luck." 

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