Dee Gordon is a difficult man to pin down -- as pitchers and catchers around the majors will attest each time he slides into a base ahead of a tag. But comparisons are inevitable in baseball, and Gordon's speed, skill and personal growth are prompting people in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization to reflect on where he's been, marvel at some of the things he's doing and wonder aloud what he might become.
Davey Lopes, Los Angeles' first-base coach and resident baserunning guru, compares Gordon favorably to Juan Pierre, a born worker who parlayed modest skills and plus speed into 2,217 career hits and 614 stolen bases. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly also opts for a left-handed-hitting outfielder, but he prefers a guy who outran a reputation as a suspect hitter to make two All-Star teams and sign a $48 million contract with the Cleveland Indians.
"I look at him like a Michael Bourn," Mattingly said. "When I first saw Michael, you could almost knock the bat out of his hands. But he got better and better, and all of a sudden this guy was a pain in the butt to get out. To me, that's where Dee is going."
Gordon, 26, is a dynamic combination of old-age sensibilities and new-age flair. In his quest to become a leadoff catalyst, he's embraced instruction on hitting from Mark McGwire, polished his bunting with the help of Dodgers great Maury Wills and done his best to learn the nuances of base-stealing from Lopes. He says "sir" a lot and listens attentively to utility man Chone Figgins, a 12-year veteran who has become his good buddy and veteran mentor on the roster.
Modesty is an heirloom from his father, Tom "Flash" Gordon, an undersized right-handed pitcher who made three All-Star teams, won 138 games and saved 158 more over 21 seasons. Flash has a warehouse full of homilies that he shares with Dee (whom he refers to by his given name of Devaris) and his younger brother Nick, a Florida high school shortstop who is expected to be a first-round pick in the upcoming MLB first-year player draft.
"I always tell them, 'You can't make the club in the tub,'" Flash Gordon said, laughing. Translation: If you want to make an impression with the manager and the front office, spend as little time in the trainer's room as possible.
Another prominent Flash-ism resonates more profoundly with Dee, who needed some words of advice to cling to when the majors threatened to overwhelm him and his prospect aura was beginning to fade.
"Struggles are good because they help you learn," Gordon said. "I remember my dad telling me how to be professional and saying, 'Tough times don't last, but tough people do.' I'm more tough-minded than I used to be. I used to let it get to me if I struggled. Now it's just part of the game."
Gordon enters Tuesday night's game against Cincinnati with 30 stolen bases -- more than 16 major league teams. Although Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton came into the season as MLB's must-see aspiring leadoff attraction, he's a distant second to Gordon among big leaguers with 18 steals. Even more impressive, Gordon has been caught only three times, for a success rate of 90.9 percent. He's ahead of the early pace set by Wills, the man he affectionately refers to as "Uncle Maury," during his franchise-record 104-steal season with the Dodgers in 1962.