02/29/12 6:28 PM EST
Doubters can't slow down confident Gordon
A fighter at birth, Dodgers speedster knows he belongs in bigs
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
Six-year-old Dee was at school the day his mother was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend, so Dee was raised by his famous father and his grandmother, with daily guidance from Uncle Anthony.
When doubters question the 23-year-old's slight frame, or worse -- whether he's tough enough to take the pounding of the Major Leagues -- Gordon knows what the doubters don't.
"I've been fighting since the day I was born," said the Dodgers' new shortstop and leadoff hitter. "They doubted I would live. I've been doubted my whole life."
He's being doubted by some again in his new double role. Even though he's added 12 pounds during the offseason, you'll still hear he's too frail at 5-foot-11 and 162 pounds to withstand the punishment meted out to a basestealing shortstop or handle a Major League fastball.
"I don't care what they say," Gordon said.
They say he's impatient at the plate, that he needs to walk more, work counts deeper. He believes he knows better.
"Would you mess around with me and walk me? No, the pitchers come right at me, they aren't hitting corners," said Gordon. "They feel they can knock the bat out of my hands. In reality, I can hit. So it helps me to be ready to swing and not look for a walk. I could always hit the ball. I'm fine with walking, but it's called hitting, not walking."
Manager Don Mattingly said that while the walks didn't show up (only seven in 224 at-bats last year), he noticed Gordon's patience improving as the season concluded.
"Maybe it's just that he didn't chase a bad pitch, so his at-bat lasted long enough for him to hit a better pitch," said Mattingly. "He might not have walked, but he had a better at-bat. I'm not worried about Dee. It'll come with experience."
Hitting or walking, the bottom line for Gordon is getting on base to utilize his game-changing speed. His on-base percentage, .250 during his first callup, was .367 in his second callup.
"I want to get on base and make the pitcher nervous," he said. "I want to strike fear in him and get my teammates something to hit. If he's worried about me and too quick to the plate, he's not efficient. If he's efficient to the plate, he won't be quick. Not many can do both."
How fast is Gordon?
"The fastest I've seen," said instructor Maury Wills, who ran his way to an MVP Award.
"He's learning to read pitchers and react to them," said first-base coach Davey Lopes. "When he puts that together with the athletic fundamentals, he'll be an elite guy."
In Wills and Lopes, Gordon has two generations of speedy Dodgers leadoff hitters mentoring him in the art of basestealing and generally creating offensive havoc. Wills, of course, revolutionized the game by stealing 104 bases 50 years ago. Lopes was no slouch, leading the league in steals twice with a high of 77 in 1975.
In a pair of rookie callups last year, Gordon stole 24 bases in 56 games, was caught seven times and hit .304 (second-best among rookies). He became the first Dodger since 1928 to steal second, third and home in the same inning and was the NL rookie of the month for September.
Can he be the first Major Leaguer since Vince Coleman in 1987 to steal at least 100 bases in a season?
"I never tell myself I can't do something," Gordon said. "My goal is to win. If it takes 100 steals for us to win, that's what I want to do. If I don't need 100 steals to win, fine, whatever I can do. That's why I don't steal third base as much as I could. I'm already in scoring position."
Gordon is making it in his second sport, convinced that he was a better basketball player. A worn and discolored Wilson basketball in his locker proves he hasn't exactly let go of his favorite sport.
The son of reliever Tom "Flash" Gordon, Dee didn't play baseball until his senior year of high school. But by the time he attended Southeastern University in Florida, he was convinced he could be a Major League Baseball player. By then, he had already been working out with his dad's Phillies teammates.
"Hitting with them, I felt I belonged," he said. "In fact, when the summer was over I didn't want to go back to school."
The Dodgers drafted him in the fourth round in 2008, and he fast-tracked to shove Rafael Furcal right out of the organization by last summer. Lopes compares Gordon to a young Ozzie Smith because of their size, and Ozzie only became a Hall of Famer.
Dee said he's humbled to hear the comparison to Ozzie, and also listed Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter as benchmarks to emulate. Over the winter, he worked on defense with Hall of Famer Barry Larkin in Florida and Dodgers staffer and glove magician Juan Castro in Arizona. He doesn't mind working.
"Dee hears it a lot -- can he take the pounding? -- and it's become frustrating," said Lopes. "He's tired of talking about it, and it will follow him until he eliminates the doubt. I can see why people have doubts. But something about this kid's makeup is a little different. He strives to be one of the best in the game. That's his goal.
"Sometimes it's good to play with a chip on your shoulder from the standpoint of people saying you can't do this or that. It can be a good thing to have. He'll tell you he's strong, he can do it, and I'm not the one to say he can't. I will not bet against this kid."
The doubters will raise the bruised shoulder Gordon suffered with a head-first dive that put him on the disabled list last year. Gordon doesn't care what they say.
"At the end of the day, the only one I have anything to prove to is myself," he said. "At the end of my career, I want to be able to tell myself I gave everything I had and helped my teammates. All the other stuff is great. They won't talk about me being a baseball player, I want to be a good person first."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.