Vahe Gregorian: The living legacy of Alex Gordon's Royals locker. Who has it now (and why)?

Vahe Gregorian
The Kansas City Star (TNS)
Now-retired Kansas City Royals star Alex Gordon received a special honor, with the team marking his locker with a display featuring the No. 4 and a silhouette of him from the 2015 World Series.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On the final day of Alex Gordon's admirable and instructive career as a Royal last September, manager Mike Matheny stood just inside the Kauffman Stadium clubhouse with the team gathered before him.

The retiring Gordon was seated to his right — by the locker that in some mystical sort of way came to personify him as a player and was about to be graced as the first of its kind in franchise history.

Turning to a clearly humbled Gordon, as seen in a video produced by the Royals, Matheny suggested thinking of the farewell celebration in this context: In 52 years of team history, 922 players had worn the team logo. And no one had had their career commemorated this way before.

Momentarily to be unveiled above his locker would be a display featuring the No. 4 (Gordon's jersey number) and a silhouette of him rounding first base with a finger in the air after his home run in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series.

But as much as that scene was all about the moment itself, it also was about what it had taken for it to be, and a message going forward:

When someone enters the room and sees that, Matheny said, "They're going to have to ask why."

Not if you played with him, of course. The locker, teammate Whit Merrifield would say in the brief ceremony, was where Gordon offered what might be considered his purest legacy: an example for teammates. For more than half a generation, they witnessed him demonstrate an unquenchable work ethic, constant dignity amid the highest of highs and heavy setbacks and make a shoulder and ear available to all.

What he radiated in there, and by extension in surroundings from the weight room to the training room to the batting cages and the field itself, was why everyone looked up to him, Merrifield said. As such, the space became a symbolic focal point.

"When you left for the day," Merrifield said to Gordon, "you left it in a better place."

But the legacy of the locker didn't end with the typically stoic Gordon overwhelmed and saying, "This is too much; I can't say thank you enough."

The idea was the locker in some way would still make the clubhouse, and thus Kauffman Stadium, a better place. Because that epicenter, emblematic of Gordon's ongoing presence, wasn't intended to be retired: It was meant to be passed forward and honored.

And how better to do so than in his image?

And how much more meaningfully than to be by his own choosing?

The most obvious choice to move in may have been Merrifield, Gordon said in a recent phone interview with The Kansas City Star. After all, Gordon admires Merrifield and spent more time with him off the field the last few years than about any teammate.

But to Gordon's way of thinking, Merrifield was entrenched in his locker space, and perhaps so much overall, that he came to identify someone he related to in other ways:

That was Hunter Dozier, suddenly scalding hot at the plate recently after a sluggish 2021 start in large part because of a thumb injury.

Through his career, Dozier has endured a series of injuries and ups and downs that Gordon might have had some appreciation for. But Gordon, like Dozier a first-round draft pick, also but also felt connected with him for more tangible reasons.

"His makeup, his routine, how he approaches the game, how he works, is kind of very similar to" Gordon's approach, Gordon said, later adding a striking point. "I've always looked up to him, even though I'm older, just because of how he goes about his business."

Told in a recent interview with The Star that Gordon had said he looked up to him, Dozier paused for several seconds as if stunned.

Then he said, "Wow," before pausing again and adding, "That's really cool."

Dozier, whose locker had been next to Gordon's, initially had reckoned the locker would be held out of circulation. When he learned it was indeed to be kept active in perpetuity (or "as long as I don't do anything stupid" in retirement, Gordon joked), Dozier was deeply moved and initially even in some way perplexed that Gordon chose him as its first new inhabitant.

"I don't know why," Dozier said. "I think maybe because I remind him a little of himself. We're pretty similar with the way we go about different situations."

In fact, Dozier also is known for an relentless work ethic, a team-first attitude and quiet demeanor, traits all his own but surely at least in part enhanced by observation.

"He's someone I've looked up to ever since I got drafted, and he's a role model," Dozier said. "I was able to watch him, the way he prepared, the way he was as a dad, as a teammate, as a friend. To this day, he's still one of the best teammates, if not the best teammate, I've ever played with."

As such, this designation naturally inspires Dozier. While he hasn't taken on a ritual such as tapping the top of the locker, he's thankful every day for being where he is.

"I'm always looking at it; I never want to forget that that's Gordo's locker," he said, smiling and adding, "It's not my locker. It's his locker. I'm just in there; I'm just renting it out."

When Dozier arrived back in Kansas City from spring training in Arizona, he took a selfie from his new perch and sent it to Gordon.

"What an honor," Gordon said.

On each side of the equation, as it happens: Dozier now seeks to further emulate the resilience and perseverance and indelible breakthroughs of Gordon's career ... with another sort of boost through yet another gesture of Gordon's.

As Matheny reflected Wednesday on the meaning of Gordon's choice, he thought about how Dozier at 29 is among the players in the clubhouse most responsive to various cues toward a further leadership role.

"Sometimes it takes a guy leaving to open up space for someone else to grow in that way," Matheny said.

It was as if, he added, Gordon had said, "'Now it's your turn, man, Take this, and leave it in a better place than you found it.'"

Gordon's legacy is unique, of course, and will remain so. But now it's also attached in a distinct way to helping Dozier achieve his own.