Plaschke: Justin Turner was a true hometown hero for Dodgers

He was never their best player. He was never her biggest star.

He never won a batting title. He never scored a gold glove. He never signed a historic contract.

It took an organized mass effort to get him voted into his first All-Star Game. He wasn’t even on the field when his team booked the final of their only championship.

Though Justin Turner was in the midst of the greatest nine years in franchise history, he was never the most famous, celebrated, or successful Dodgers.

But he was the Dodger who signed baseballs for military heroes. He was the dodger who gave out lunches to kids. He was the dodger that flattened the water in the clubhouse. He was the dodger who kicked up dirt on the field.

He once hit a walk-off playoff home run on the anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s explosion. He once saved a title with a dive sign in baseline chalk. He would forever stroll to home plate with a pine tar stain on his back and a playful twinkle in his eyes.

Then there was that red hair and shaggy beard, what a sight to behold, as colorful and wild and tangled as the town it represented, perhaps the most famous head of hair in the history of Southland sport.

Turner wasn’t the best Dodger, but he was the very best of the Dodgers and, gosh, how Los Angeles will miss him.

Earlier this week, the free agent turner agreed to a two-year deal with the Boston Red Sox worth about $22 million, ending the Dodgers’ most unlikely strong community connection.

He arrived here on the scrap heap, cut by the New York Mets after the 2013 season, snapped up by wily former general manager Ned Colletti, with a million dollars and a minor league contract.

Nine years later, he had helped lead the Dodgers to eight division championships and three World Series appearances while going from bench-warmer to legend with his accessibility, inclusivity and home-grown charm.

“A historic Dodger,” Colletti said this week.

The conclusion to this story was both expected and impeccable. The Dodgers wanted to keep him and were competitive in their one-year bid, but they were understandably unwilling to go two years for a 38-year-old who had slowed in the field. Turner wanted to end his career here, but it’s impossible to give him the extra $11 million he’ll make in Boston.

He’s gone but will be remembered forever by a fanbase who eventually felt so close that they stopped calling him by his official name.

To everyone, the friendly and cool third baseman was just “JT”

“He was the kind of player that fans never forget, not because of the way he played, but because of who he was,” Colletti said.

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner wears a hat honoring legendary broadcaster Vin Scully.

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner wears a cap in honor of legendary broadcaster Vin Scully August 5 at Dodger Stadium.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

JT was from Lakewood and a product of Cal State Fullerton. He was a neighbor and behaved like one.

He gave away countless tickets. He posed for countless selfies. On that wondrous night in 2017, while celebrating the anniversary of Gibson’s performance, he spoke about watching Gibson’s Homer from his grandfather’s living room.

This was his backyard. He hugged everyone inside. He was one of the presenters of the LA Marathon after it started at Chavez Ravine. He was also the sole owner of what became one of Chavez Ravine’s most important traditions.

At every home game at Dodger Stadium, after a veteran was honored on the field, JT would stop them in the dugout, shake their hands and present an autographed baseball. He never made it public, doing it so quietly it was easy to miss, but every veteran noticed and some said it was the best thing about being honored.

“I always knew he respected being a Dodger and knew what it was like,” Colletti said. “He took that to heart and the responsibility that comes with it.”

JT believed that a big part of that responsibility was guiding his younger teammates, and so he did it by helping numerous struggling kids become effective contributors, advocating for scolded newcomers, calming stressed veterans, and serving as a liaison between the For players and manager Dave Roberts, his locker in the back corner acted as if it were an anchor. He was Derek Jeter of the Dodgers.

“You know that JT is such a cornerstone of the franchise and has meant so much to me personally in everything he does on and off the field,” Clayton Kershaw told MLB Network on Monday, later adding, “You see him and his manners easy and demeanor every day you just go to the stadium thinking that you will win the game when you see him. That’s the compliment I can’t give to everyone, so you know we’ll miss him, I’ll miss him. It’s going to be so weird not having him in the clubhouse.”

That lead extended onto the field, where he frequently came up big in the biggest moments. In a time when other higher-paying Dodgers failed frequently in October, he was averaging .830 on-base plus slugging percentage with 13 homers and 42 RBIs in 86 postseason games.

“He was the kind of player that fans never forget, not because of the way he played, but because of his personality.”

– Former Dodgers executive Ned Colletti

Dodgers' Justin Turner scores during a game against the Colorado Rockies.

Justin Turner scores for the Dodgers during a game against the Colorado Rockies October 5 at Dodger Stadium.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

His triple walk-off homer in Game 2 of the 2017 National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs helped propel the Dodgers into the World Series and earned him the NLCS Most Valuable Player award.

Perhaps just as convincing was his dive tag from Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson on the third baseline in Game 7 of the 2020 NLCS to push the Dodgers back into the World Series.

After that World Series clincher against the Tampa Bay Rays, JT’s Dodgers career was briefly derailed as he returned to the field to celebrate unmasked with his teammates, despite being sidelined due to a positive COVID test early in the game.

He did a stupid and dangerous thing but later apologized and said he couldn’t face watching the trophy celebration from the coaching room because a championship “was the culmination of everything I’ve worked for in my career”.

fans understood. fans forgiven. His next two seasons here were filled with a loud ovation and endless tar stains and so many more signed baseballs.

His final interview as a Dodger was typical. The team had just been stunned by the San Diego Padres in the National League Division Series in early October, and he was standing outside his locker with his cap on backwards and his beard glowing red in anger.

He was asked by The Times’ Mike DiGiovanna if that loss was worse than previous postseason failures.

“They all suck,” he said.

This was JT speaking like a fan, speaking for the fans, wearing the emotions of Los Angeles on his sleeve and making an impression as lasting as this hair, from the junkyard to the heart of a city, the Dodgers’ Dodger, the best of the best. Plaschke: Justin Turner was a true hometown hero for Dodgers

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