LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers will dial up the running game this year, you have Davey Lopes' word on that. "My forte is to be aggressive on the basepaths," said Lopes, back where he started his career, only this time as the first-base coach and baserunning boss. "If you're not aggressive, you'll have a tough time playing for this manager." The manager, of course, is now Don Mattingly. But Lopes returned to Dodger Stadium for this week's winter development camp with the responsibility of overseeing the baserunning in much the same manner as a defensive or offensive coordinator in football operates with a degree of autonomy.
"To use my knowledge, in some situations the manager controls everything. I'm not good in that," said Lopes, 65. "Philly gave me control of the running game. I'm not good catching the helmets or being a valet. For me, I want responsibility." General manager Ned Colletti gave that to Lopes, who never interviewed with Mattingly. But the manager said he's happy to have Lopes running the running game. "When Ned talked to me about the opportunity to get Davey, it was exciting to me," Mattingly said when Lopes' hiring was announced. "We've been trying for three years to work on our baserunning, get pressure on people, and we didn't seem to get through. Davey had a reputation with the guys I talked to. They all said, 'Davey's the best -- Davey's the best. "Everyone I've talked to about baserunning says this guy is the cream of the crop. I'm not going to be someone to hold this guy down." Lopes' resume is stellar. As a player, he made it 15 seasons, the first nine with the Dodgers as the second baseman in the 8 1/2-year run of the infield with Steve Garvey, Bill Russell and Ron Cey. He was the leadoff hitter and catalyst, a four-time All-Star, a Gold Glover and twice the league leader in steals with a high of 77 in 1975. He has a World Series ring from 1981, after which he was unceremoniously dealt to Oakland for a Minor Leaguer. Since his retirement as a player, Lopes has managed (Milwaukee, 2000-02) and been a bench coach with Texas, but has become known as the premier first-base coach in the game, having served San Diego, Baltimore, Texas and for the last four years with the Phillies, the best team in the game in stolen-base percentage with him in charge. Last year, the Phillies led MLB with an 83.7 percent success rate. The Dodgers were 28th at 64.8 percent. Lopes has said he left Philadelphia after the 2010 season essentially over salary, which didn't stop the Dodgers from grabbing him. Lopes believes he's now a good fit for the Dodgers, not because he played here decades ago, but because he's been given the authority to do what he does best. "I want to develop the attitude that makes the players ready to capitalize on the other team's mistakes," he said. "Players with certain skills, you expect certain things. Donnie has emphasized to me a style of play. I'll talk about it with the players a lot, and if they don't accept it, then they don't. If they don't want to, they don't want to play for the Dodgers. "All good teams now have a combination of ways to score. You have to manufacture runs. That era that I don't want to speak of is gone -- that time of hitting home runs. And it's not so much just speed, but the situation of the game tells you want you can and can't do. You can have a player with 10 stolen bases, but they could play out huge. "Guys can steal bases, and guys can be basestealers. Those guys can take advantage of the opposition forgetting about them. And it looks good as a team, an aggressive team on the bases vs. a team that sits back and waits. You see people nodding off in the stands. It can be tough to watch." It's no secret that the Dodgers hope Lopes can tap into the vast potential of Matt Kemp, whose baserunning regressed last year. In 2009, Kemp successfully stole 34 of 42 attempts, but in 2010, he had 19 steals and was caught 15 times. Lopes, a close friend and former teammate of Dave Stewart, Kemp's agent, was asked what he could do with Kemp. "I don't know. I haven't seen him," said Lopes. "I have to figure out why he regressed. It usually comes down to adjustments. The other team makes adjustments and tries to make you fail. I've got to watch him. It could be a mental thing, it could be a physical thing."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.