Adrian Gonzalez turned 35 in May, at the start of his 14th major league season. Outside of Ichiro Suzuki, Gonzalez has played more games than any active major leaguer without appearing in the World Series. His team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, now seems destined to be there.
And yet, some of us cannot help but wonder if Gonzalez will simply screw the whole thing up.
Okay, I admit it: maybe I carry a grudge. Gonzalez was a member of the 2011 Boston Red Sox team that historically collapsed down the stretch, going 7-20 in September and losing nine of its final 12. The implosion led to the firing of Terry Francona as manager, the departure of Theo Epstein as chief baseball executive and the overall deconstruction of a Boston baseball operation that essentially ruled the game for a period of time.
Less than a year later, Gonzalez and his seven-year, $154 million contract were sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers with Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett in the great Red Sox Purge. A year after that — amid a stretch of four seasons in which Boston finished last three times — the Red Sox won the 2013 World Series. That year, Gonzalez and the Dodgers were bounced by the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.
Coincidence? I think not. Baseball people, more than those in any other sport, believe in chemistry and karma. Following the 2011 Red Sox collapse — a season in which Gonzalez complained about the Boston schedule and deemed it “God’s will” when the dysfunctional Red Sox folded like a beach towel — Boston put an emphasis on hard-working grinders, winning with a cast that included Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes.
Gonzalez has more talent than those three guys combined. But there have always been whispers that Gonzalez lacks heart and that he treats baseball like a business, which is to say that winning doesn’t mean as much to him as it does to others.
Which brings us to this year’s Dodgers, and a rather peculiar truth.
After last night’s game against the Chicago White Sox, the Dodgers own the best record in baseball with a sterling mark of 65-29. The Dodgers have won 10 straight and are on pace for a major league-leading 111 victories. And they have accomplished the large majority of their success without Gonzalez, who last played on June 11 before going on the disabled list.
Since that time, the Dodgers have gone a preposterous 26-4 since. They had belted a whopping 60 home runs while posting an aggregate .894 OPS, the latter of which is essentially equivalent to sending dynamic youngster Corey Seager to the plate, for every at-bat of the game.
Now, if you are a Gonzalez apologist and have half a brain, here’s is your prepared response: wait until the playoffs. So fine. What about them? Gonzalez’s career postseason numbers are, at worst, decent, featuring a .266 batting average and .782 OPS. Still, those numbers are below his career averages. And then there is this: in his last 20 postseason games, Gonzalez is batting a paltry .224 with a .675 OPS, which can’t help but make you wonder.
Are the Dodgers really better with Gonzalez in the lineup?
Or are they worse?
Fact: Prior to being injured this season, Gonzalez had one home run. That’s right. One. Meanwhile, rookie Cody Bellinger has played 39 games at first base this season — most of them in Gonzalez’s absence — and batted a sparkling .321 with a 17 home runs, 43 RBI and a gargantuan 1.201 OPS, numbers that downright dwarf what Gonzalez has provided.
Maybe it’s just me.
But maybe there’s a reason Adrian Gonzalez has played all these years and never been on a team that reached the World Series, let alone won one.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.