Clayton Kershaw celebrated the 11-year anniversary of his MLB debut this past May, and while he has remained with the Los Angeles Dodgers ever since his first start in 2008, virtually everything else about the organization has changed.
From ownership to baseball operations to Minor League affiliates, not to mention Kershaw’s manager and teammates. That gives Kershaw some perspective, not to mention his illustrious career as one of the best pitchers — if not the best — of his generation.
He is a veteran leader and face of the franchise, and is often credited with setting an example or giving advice to younger pitchers. However, Kershaw also knows better than most that it takes a team effort and a strong culture, which have paid dividends for the Dodgers in recent years.
L.A. has reached the World Series in two consecutive seasons and look well-positioned to win a third straight National League pennant. A big reason for that success this year has been the team’s talented younger players.
“I think it’s just a testament to our clubhouse and culture we created here,” Kershaw recently said. “We let young guys come up and be themselves. We’re not trying to haze or do anything like that to make them think they’re not the same as everybody else, and I think that’s huge. Especially in today’s game.
“You need your young guys to perform and perform really well. We’ve had two Rookie of the Years in the past few years, now Dugie [Verdugo] is coming up and doing his thing, Walker, all these young guys are coming up and feel comfortable. That’s what we want. We want them to feel comfortable and like they belong, the swagger, the confidence that they have.”
Although the Dodgers’ current streak of six straight NL West titles started way before the likes of Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger reached the Majors, that stretch would not be alive without them and others.
Seager won National League Rookie of the Year in a landslide in 2016, and Bellinger made it a second consecutive unanimous selection for the Dodgers in 2017. In 2018, it was Walker Buehler’s turn to shine, and he became the team’s best pitcher in the postseason.
This year, Verdugo seized the opportunity for regular playing time and was an essential part of the Dodgers’ outfield before suffering an oblique/back injury. The Dodgers also called up prospect Will Smith, and he promptly found success.
Of course, the transition to the Majors is not always an easy one for both the player making the jump and his new teammates. Yasiel Puig caught the team and the league by storm in 2013, as his historic rookie numbers helped spark a legendary turnaround that propelled the Dodgers into the postseason and started their run of NL West titles.
In the seasons following, though, Puig reportedly clashed with several teammates and coaches. Despite putting together a solid, flashy career in his six seasons with the organization, Puig was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in December following years of speculation.
He has since criticized Dave Roberts and the Dodgers organization as a whole.
Kershaw, however, noted fellow exuberant personalities Buehler and Verdugo are also able to take any criticism.
“I think the great thing about guys like Walker and Dugie, they’re not sensitive,” Kershaw said. “You can throw some jabs at them every once in a while and some critiques, and they take it in stride.”