The city of Los Angeles can go back to spinning. After spending a couple weeks on the disabled list with a bad hamstring, Los Angeles Dodgers star centerfielder Matt Kemp will be making his return on Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Dodgers did pretty well in Kemp’s absence, but he’ll be a sight for sore eyes anyway. At the time he went on the DL, Kemp was hitting .359 with 12 home runs. He was batting over .400 as late as May 8.

If Kemp picks up right where he left off, the good people of Southern California are going to get to see something that they haven’t gotten to see yet: Matt Kemp and Albert Pujols both playing well at the same time.

I won’t go so far as to say that the two of them are joined at the hip, but they’re without a doubt the two biggest baseball stars in Southern California. Kemp is arguably the best all-around player in baseball, and Pujols is one of baseball’s all-time great hitters.

We can debate which one of them is the biggest star for hours on end, but instead, let’s ask a different question: Which of them is the more important star in the greater Los Angeles area?

This is a complicated question, and the answer is equally complicated. Before we can get to it, we have to sift through the different circumstances surrounding both players.


Matt Kemp’s Place in Los Angeles

You know what the key difference between Matt Kemp and Albert Pujols is?

It’s simple: Kemp actually plays in Los Angeles.

This is both a blessing and a curse.

It’s a curse because, despite the fact the Dodgers have been there for decades, LA is a basketball town at heart. Everything revolves around the Los Angeles Lakers and, to a lesser extent, the Los Angeles Clippers. Guys like Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are the biggest sports stars Los Angeles has.

I wouldn’t say Kemp’s quest in life is to take the LA spotlight away from the basketball stars, but he can do wonders for the Dodgers organization by achieving the same level of fame as Kobe, Griffin, CP3, et al.

The good news for Kemp is that the stars are aligned for him to do just that, if he hasn’t already. He is now under the employ of Magic Johnson, one of the most beloved basketball players ever and a huge fan favorite in Los Angeles. Johnson wants to make Dodgers baseball great again. If he succeeds, he’ll force the people of Los Angeles into loving baseball just as much as they love basketball.

So far, so good. According to, Dodgers attendance is up from 36,052 people per game in 2011 to 38,663 people per game this season. Fans are coming out to the park to watch the Dodgers in greater numbers, and the attendance numbers could only get better and better now that the Lakers and Clippers are both done playing basketball this season.

Kemp is a classic example of an attendance-driver. He’s a superstar player who can do it all on the field, and he also happens to have an endearing personality (his high-profile dating history is very much a plus). He’d bring fans to the park in any city, but he just so happens to be playing in a city that loves its stars (no matter what they do for a living). It helps that Kemp has a kind of swagger perfectly suited for the city of Los Angeles.

And of course, it’s not all about bringing fans to the park. Kemp must put eyes on TV sets as well. It was, after all, television money that paid for his big contract (see Forbes), and people can see the face of the Dodgers franchise better on TV than they can at Dodger Stadium.

All Kemp has to do is what he’s been doing over the last year or so. He’ll keep hogging the spotlight as long as he keeps dazzling out on the diamond, and his legend is only going to grow bigger as the Dodgers win more and more ballgames.

In the meantime, business will keep booming for the under-new-management Dodgers, and baseball’s influence in the city of Los Angeles will get stronger and stronger.

Kemp is the right player in the right place at the right time.


Albert Pujols’ Place in Los Angeles

When the Angels signed Albert Pujols to a massive 10-year contract this offseason, the pay-off was immediate. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Angels sold over 5,000 season tickets immediately after the Pujols signing.

But here’s the rub: Despite those sales, attendance at Angels games is way down this season.

The Angels drew an average of just under 39,000 people last season. So far in 2012, they’re drawing an average of just over 34,000 fans. That’s roughly 5,000 fans a night that aren’t showing up this season, and that’s a discouraging sign for a team that committed over $300 million to free agents this offseason.

To put this in perspective, the Detroit Tigers signed Prince Fielder to a huge contract this offseason, and they’ve benefited from a very impressive attendance spike so far this season.

Pujols’ struggles early in the season didn’t help matters for the Angels. He didn’t hit a home run until May 6, and his bat didn’t really come alive until the Angels fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. Up until then, he wasn’t worth the price of admission.

Things are different now, but it may take some time for fans in Anaheim and Los Angeles to start trickling back to Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Perhaps the article Ellen Bell of The Orange County Register wrote urging Angels fans to come back will help.

It’s not entirely up to Pujols to draw fans to the park, but he can definitely help. He just needs to show people that he’s still one of the greatest players of his generation, and he needs to keep showing them that day after day.

And yes, just like with Kemp, Pujols needs to put eyes on TV sets. According to the Los Angeles Times, Pujols’ contract came largely thanks to a new $3 billion TV deal with Fox Sports. The Angels paid for a new franchise face, one that they could show off via their shiny new TV deal.

This is a somewhat of a new challenge for Pujols. He’s an excellent player and a great human being, but he’s never really had to worry about selling a ballclub. For lack of a better word, he was spoiled in St. Louis, as he got to play in front of baseball-crazy fans on a consistent basis. More often than not, he also had the luxury of playing on great Cardinals teams. He was the face of those teams, but he didn’t have to worry about converting anyone.

So if we can take it for granted (or at least imagine) that there is some kind of friendly competition between Pujols and Kemp, Pujols is at a significant disadvantage.

Before he can worry about conquering Los Angeles, Pujols must first conquer Anaheim. And right now, indications are that the locals aren’t impressed.


The Grand Conclusion

Between Kemp and Pujols, there should be little doubt that Kemp is the bigger star in the LA area, but this isn’t a very fair comparison to make. Kemp has had a following in Los Angeles for several years, whereas Pujols is the new guy in town who who doesn’t even play in town. He plays for that other team that likes to act like it’s an LA team.

Kemp’s star status obviously makes him a pretty important figure in the LA sports landscape, but there’s far more at stake when it comes to Pujols and his current situation. It’s on him to sell Angels baseball to a fanbase that has been surprisingly indifferent towards the team so far this season.

If he manages to do that, then he can worry about selling Angels baseball in Dodgers territory, where basketball and Matt Kemp are king. 

The only way he’s going to do that is by letting his bat do the talking. He needs to convince everyone that he is the star baseball attraction in Southern California.

He can do it, but I, for one, wish him luck. He faces a long, uphill climb, and he’s already off to a slow start.


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