The Dodgers’ season ended so abruptly, so disappointingly, that Justin Turner almost forgot about the piece of hardware he was in the running for.
In five of the last six seasons, the veteran third baseman had been the Dodgers’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, which honors the Major League Baseball player who “best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.”
Finally winning it had been on Turner’s big league bucket list.
However, when he finally got the call this year, the news caught him off guard.
“With the way the season ended and how everything went,” Turner said, “this award was actually as far away from being on our mind as it could get.”
It’s front of mind now. On Monday afternoon, Turner was officially announced as the Clemente Award winner for the first time in his career.
He is the third Dodger to receive the honor, joining Steve Garvey in 1981 and Clayton Kershaw in 2012.
He will be recognized by Commissioner Rob Manfred, as well as members of Clemente’s family who helped pick the award recipient, during a news conference before the start of Game 3 of the World Series at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on Monday night.
“It was quite the surprise, and obviously very exciting news for us,” said Turner, who along with his wife, Kourtney, started the Justin Turner Foundation in 2016 to support everything from homeless veterans to children with life-altering diseases around the Southland.
“Being nominated for five years, and this year getting the ultimate achievement of getting to go out during the World Series and being recognized is something that is pretty special,” Turner added.
Turner, of course, would have preferred being at the World Series as a player.
That was the expectation when he and the top-seeded Dodgers began their postseason campaign after a franchise-record 111-win regular season.
Instead, they were eliminated in four games in the National League Division Series by the San Diego Padres, ending the team’s season early and leaving Turner’s future unclear.
The soon-to-be 38-year-old has a $16-million club option for next year that the Dodgers have not yet indicated whether they intend to pick up.
During his Clemente Award video conference, Turner told reporters he was still waiting to find out what will happen, too.
“I’m as aware of my contract status as you guys are,” he said. “Just in limbo, waiting to hear what’s going to happen. I haven’t heard anything. I haven’t had any conversations. I guess I’m in idle, wait-and-see mode.”
If the Dodgers don’t pick up Turner’s option and instead pay him a $2-million buyout — a decision that will have to be made within five days of the end of the World Series — it would make Turner a free agent and potentially signal the end of a nine-year run in Los Angeles that has seen the Lakewood native revitalize his career on and off the field.
Reflecting back on his Dodgers tenure during his video conference, Turner still marveled at his turnaround as a player with the club, going from an unheralded minor league signing in 2014 to a two-time All-Star and 2020 World Series champion.
This past season, Turner remained one of the Dodgers’ most productive hitters, as well. He batted .278 with a .788 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and a career-high 36 doubles, though he also was one of several players in the bottom half of the lineup to struggle during the NLDS defeat.
“He’s been a huge part of our success. He’s been right in the thick of everything as long as I’ve been here,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said when asked about Turner’s looming option during his end-of-season news conference. “But answering definitely about what next year’s team is going to look like, it’s just really difficult right now.”
It’s difficult for Turner to imagine being anywhere else, too.
During his near-decade back home in Los Angeles, he has gotten married, become a community icon and established his foundation as a philanthropic force.
The latter began in 2016 at the urging of the Dream Center, a local organization that supports people struggling with homelessness and food insecurity. Organizers asked Turner if he would put on a golf tournament fundraiser. Turner, who had been involved with community outreach programs during his time with Dodgers and New York Mets before that, and Kourtney obliged.
“That set a light bulb off,” Turner said. “Like, wow, this is amazing that our platform is capable of raising funds to support a cause that’s important to the city of L.A.”
Six years later, the annual golf tournament is now one of several events under the umbrella of Turner’s foundation. In September, he and Kourtney organized a 5K event that drew more than 1,200 participants to the Dream Center’s Echo Park campus.
“It’s crazy looking back and seeing how everything, on all fronts, took off for me … since the day I put the Dodger uniform on,” Turner said. “Obviously it’s very special to me, growing up in Southern California and getting to wear that jersey, getting to be a part of an organization that has so much history and so many people who have impacted the game in so many different ways. I’m just trying to do my little part.”
It’s work, Turner added, that he intends to continue even after his days as a Dodger are done — whenever that might be.
“I think it’s something we will always continue,” he said, “[and] always be giving back and trying to help people in need.”