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He was never their best player. He was never their biggest star.

He never won a batting title. He never won a Gold Glove. He never signed a historic treaty.

It took a massive, organized effort to vote him into his first All-Star game. He wasn’t even on the field when his team made its only championship final.

Despite being in the middle of the greatest nine-year stretch in franchise history, Justin Turner was never the most popular, the most famous or the most accomplished of the Dodgers.

But he was the Dodger signing baseballs for military heroes. He was the Dodger who handed out lunches to the kids. He was the Dodger who smoothed the clubhouse waters. He was the Dodger who threw dirt on the field.

He once hit a playoff home run on the anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s blast. He once saved the title with a diving tag with a baseline chalk. He would be forever plopped down at home plate with a patch of pine tar on his back and a playful twinkle in his eye.

And then there was that red hair and bushy beard, what a glorious sight, as colorful and wild and tangled as the city he represented, perhaps the most famous true display in Southland sports history.

Turner wasn’t the best Dodger, but he was the best of the Dodgers and, oh my, Los Angeles will miss him.

Earlier this week, free agent Turner agreed to a two-year contract with the Boston Red Sox worth about $22 million, ending the Dodgers’ most powerful community connection.

He arrived here on the scrap heap, cut by the New York Mets after the 2013 season, recruited by embattled former general manager Ned Colletti, given a million dollars and a minor league contract.

Nine years later, he helped lead the Dodgers to eight division championships and three World Series appearances while transforming himself from the bench to a legend with his reach, inclusiveness and home run charm.

“Historic Dodger,” Colletti said this week.

The conclusion of that story was both expected and impeccable. The Dodgers wanted to keep him and were competitive in their one-year offer, but understandably they didn’t want to extend two years for the 38-year-old who had slowed down in the field. Turner wanted to finish his career here, but it’s impossible to argue with him about the extra $11 million he’ll make in Boston.

He’s gone, but will forever be remembered by fans who eventually felt so close to him that they stopped calling him by his official name.

To everyone, the kind and cool third baseman was just “JT.”

“He was a player that fans will never forget, not because of how he played, but because of who he was,” Colletti said.

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner wears a hat in honor of legendary broadcaster Vin Scully at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 5.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

A Lakewood native and Cal State Fullerton product, JT was a neighbor and he acted like it.

He gave away countless tickets. He posed for countless selfies. On that wonderful night in 2017, as he celebrated the anniversary of Gibson’s feat, he talked about watching Gibson’s homer from his grandfather’s living room.

This was his backyard. He hugged everyone he was around. He was one of the runners in the Los Angeles Marathon after it started in Chavez Ravine. He was also the sole owner of what became one of the most important traditions of Chavez Ravine.

At every home game at Dodger Stadium, when a veteran was honored on the field, JT would stop them at the bleachers, shake their hand and hand them an autographed baseball. He never made it public, doing it so quietly it was easy to miss, but every veteran noticed it, and several said it was the best part of the honor.

“I always knew he respected being a Dodger and knew what it was like,” Colletti said. “He took that and the responsibility that came with it to heart.”

JT believed that much of that responsibility included leading his younger teammates, and so he did, helping many struggling kids become productive contributors, defending bullied rookies, calming stressed veterans, serving as a mentor to players and manager Dave Roberts. between as well as train. the corner cupboard behind him was like an anchor. He was Derek Jeter of the Dodgers.

“You know JT is such a cornerstone of the franchise and means so much to me personally in everything he does on and off the field,” Clayton Kershaw told MLB Network on Monday, adding later: and the behavior every day, you just go to the ball thinking you’re going to win the game when you see him. That’s a compliment I can’t give everyone, so you know we’re going to miss him, I’m going to miss him. It will be so strange not having him at the club.”

That leadership extended to the field, where he often came up big in the biggest moments. In an era when other higher-paid Dodgers often floundered in October, he posted an .830 on-base plus slugging percentage with 13 home runs and 42 RBIs in 86 postseason games.

“He was a player that fans will never forget, not because of how he played, but because of who he was.”

— Former Dodgers GM Ned Colletti

Dodgers' Justin Turner hits during a game against the Colorado Rockies.

Justin Turner hits a home run for the Dodgers during a game against the Colorado Rockies on Oct. 5 at Dodger Stadium.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

His three-run homer against the Chicago Cubs in Game 2 of the 2017 National League Championship Series helped the Dodgers to the World Series while earning him NLCS Most Valuable Player honors.

Just as influential was perhaps Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson’s diving tag down the third base line in Game 7 of the 2020 NLCS to help propel the Dodgers back to the World Series.

Just after JT’s Dodgers career came to a close in the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, he returned to the field to celebrate with his teammates with his mask off, despite being sidelined early in the game with a positive COVID test.

He did something stupid and dangerous, but later apologized, saying he couldn’t bear to watch the trophy celebration from the coaches’ room because the championship was “the culmination of everything I’ve worked for in my career.”

The fans understood. The fans forgave. His next two seasons here were filled with loud ovations and endless smears of pine tar and many more autographed baseballs.

His last interview as a guardian was typical. The team had just stunned the San Diego Padres in the National League Division Series in early October, and he was standing in front of his locker with his hat on backwards and his beard burning red in anger.

He was asked by The Times’ Mike DiGiovanna if this loss was worse than previous seasons’ setbacks.

“They all suck,” he said.

That was JT talking like a fan, speaking for the fans, wearing the emotions of Los Angeles on his sleeves, leaving a mark as lasting as that hair, from the scrap heap to the heart of the city, the Dodgers’ Dodger, the best. the best

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