Do you love Tony Kemp yet? If not, then allow me to properly introduce him.
The Oakland A’s new second baseman is already making a positive mark on the team, both with his sparkplug play on the field and his joyous personality off of it. He’s already serving as the perfect example of an intangibly valuable role player, and a reminder that sometimes there’s more going on than just the numbers — though the numbers have also been good so far.
Second base was an obvious area of need for the A’s last winter, especially when they traded away incumbent starter Jurickson Profar. Fans had lofty dreams who might be acquired to fill the job, or what heights the available in-house prospects might be able to reach, and it seemed underwhelming when the team opted to go with a career .233 hitter with little power. But Kemp is showing what Oakland saw in him.
We’ve already discussed how hot he is at the plate, reaching base in 12 of his last 22 plate appearances, and he’s also shored up the biggest defensive hole from the 2019 roster. You don’t have to search hard for a reason to like the new guy, because he’s playing well by whatever stats you might prefer - .273 average, .467 OBP, .400+ xwOBA, take your pick.
His on-base success is even sweeter given his past history as a thorn in the A’s side. In his years at the bottom of the Astros lineup. he had a knack for reaching base to turn things back over to the top of the order and Houston’s MVP-caliber star hitters. Now he’s doing the same thing in Oakland, and on Sunday he did it right back to the Astros themselves, drawing a leadoff walk in the 3rd to start a rally and then eventually scoring on a two-out, three-run homer by Matt Olson.
Of course, Kemp won’t keep reaching base in half of his plate appearances forever. But he’s already shown what he can bring as a role player and it’s exactly what the A’s need to efficiently complete their star-studded roster — a sound defensive second baseman, who can get on base a bit in front of the team’s dinger monsters, and do so from the left side of the plate. And all of that is on a minimum salary, with three more years of affordable club control remaining from prime ages 29-31.
But Kemp’s play is only one of the reasons to enjoy his presence in green and gold. Pay attention to an A’s broadcast for long enough and he’s sure to catch your eye, smiling and goofing off with his teammates and generally having fun.
He’s not hard to spot, especially before the game when he’s doing backflips on the field.
He’s also factoring into post-game duties, taking point on walk-off celebrations with the water cooler.
If there were pies in 2020, you’d have to think he’d be delivering some of them.
But this is my favorite image of Kemp so far. It’s the perfect blend of silliness, camaraderie, and pure jubilation, the kind of scene you’d expect to see from a team that is loose and happy and gelling together.
On top of all that, Kemp has already displayed some leadership qualities.
During the nationwide protests over police brutality toward the Black community this summer after the killing of George Floyd, and with the sport shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, Kemp took to social media to begin an outreach campaign based on opening respectful, constructive dialogue with people who hold different views than his own. He hoped to be the change he wanted to see in the world, finding unity through education and cooperation and sharing of ideas in an age of extreme cultural divisiveness.
Add it all up and you’ve got a player who’s easy to love. He’s a perfect fit on the field, a valuable leader and fun presence off of it, and by every account a spectacular human being. Hopefully one day we can look back at him as a part of a championship A’s team.