Mookie Betts’s style stands out, on and off the field
FORT MYERS, Fla. — For three years now, Mookie Betts has been the most productive, respected, and well-liked professional athlete in Boston outside of Tom Brady.
He has been the centerpiece of three first-place teams, won a Most Valuable Player Award, and made his most off-the-field news by dropping off trays of food for homeless people following Game 2 of the World Series last fall.
Where you won’t find Betts is on television trying to sell you tires or endorsing a local bank.
As Betts, 26, ascends within his sport, he has carefully cultivated his growing celebrity, turning down business opportunities with the idea that less now will lead to more in time.
“A lot of things get repetitive. I want to do something different,” Betts said. “I’m more than just a baseball player. I’m a normal person with different interests. But I’m also a brand; I try and keep that in mind. There are certain things I want to be associated with and certain things I don’t.
“I want to be genuine with what I do. That was how I was raised.”
Betts has managed his public profile by relying on a small group of advisers when he makes decisions. Loyalty is the common denominator.
Agents Ed Cerulo and Steve Veltman have been with Betts since early in his professional career. He also leans on three friends he has known since sixth grade in Tennessee: Cam Lewis, Brandon McPhail, and Andrew Montgomery.
“They’ve helped influence me with what direction I want to go in,” Betts said. “It’s something I’ve thought more about the last few years.”
His parents, Diana Benedict and Willie Betts, weigh in on important matters as does his girlfriend, Brianna Hammond. The couple had their first child, a daughter, in November.
The consensus within the group has been to let Betts grow more comfortable before taking any risks. His major endorsement deals so far have been with Jordan Brand for cleats, sneakers, and apparel, Axe Bats, and the sports drink Bodyarmor.
A contract with New Era Caps ended last year.
Jordan Brand has only 10 other major league players on its roster. Betts, Red Sox teammate David Price, Manny Machado, and CC Sabathia lead the list.
“It was something that for a while I wanted to be a part of,” Betts said. “It’s a separate entity [from Nike] and I wanted to be part of a select group.
“To get a Jordan contract, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re elite. But he thinks something of you and that’s kind of cool to know for sure.”
Michael Jordan asked to meet Betts after the World Series and they sat together at a Charlotte Bobcats game in November.
“Just a normal person,” Betts said. “We talked basketball, that was it. It was just a normal time watching the game.”
Betts works with Jordan designers on the custom cleats he will wear during the season. The plan is to take advantage of Major League Baseball relaxing the rules on what colors can be used. He will wear 12-15 different pairs over the course of the season.
Betts has 193,000 Twitter followers but has posted only six Tweets so far this year. One said simply “Grateful” after he agreed to a $20 million contract for this season. Three were reactions to Patriots games.
His Instagram account, which has 642,000 followers, is similarly unobjectionable: a collection of photos with family or friends with a few offseason workout videos mixed in.
Betts is far more interested in how he appears in person than on social media. He has taken a deep interest in clothing and forming a style unique to him. It’s the part of his life where he expresses himself the most.
“Initially, it didn’t matter to me,” Betts said. “But when people want to meet you or get a photo, you know you have to be presentable. That’s when I became interested in it. I started to branch out.”
Betts wore a white hoodie under an oversized purple sports jacket when he met Jordan. Then in December he attended a friend’s wedding wearing white pants with a bright blue jacket and a maroon fedora.
Betts is rarely without a hat of some kind and for a while last season wore non-prescription glasses as part of his look.
His piece de resistance came in January when Betts went to New York to receive the American League MVP trophy at the Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner.
Betts wore a custom-made green dinner jacket in a peacock pattern paired with black pants and a black fedora. He also wore custom-made gray Jordan sneakers.
“He stood out from everybody else,” said Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, who joined Betts at the head table that night. Mookie has a lot of style.”
Betts worked for several weeks on the outfit with Karl Matthews, the creative director of English Cut, a prestigious London tailor.
“Mookie is a humble guy, very cool. But he was receptive to something new,” Matthews said. “It was his kind of style in a traditional silhouette.”
The peacock pattern embraced the idea that Betts wanted to show off a bit.
“He said, ‘That’s sick, man. I’m in your hands,’” Matthews recalled. “It was eye-catching and he looked amazing. You have to be confident to wear that and he owned it.”
Betts has come to enjoy working with Matthews and Boston-based cutter Dmitri Kyriacou, who actually made the jacket.
“Those guys are great. They do a great job and have great personalities,” Betts said. “It’s been a great connection for me. I trust Karl to know where the line is.”
Kyriacou, who works out of the Mandarin Hotel, said it was the boldest look he had ever worked on.
“He pulled it off well,” Kyriacou said. “Style is changing for everybody, including people in sports. Mookie is being progressive. I love working with him.”
What perhaps best symbolizes how Betts wants to be perceived is the small plastic ball and bat he wears on a string around his neck. It looks out of place with the expensive gold chain he also wears.
A 12-year-old boy gave Betts the original version of the necklace during spring training last season. He started to hit soon after and never took it off. It has remained part of his look since.
In the same way Ken Griffey Jr. wore his cap backward and became an icon, Betts is being genuine to who he is with that plastic necklace and tight circle of friends.
But there’s also another side of his personality represented by the bespoke suits and cool sense of self-assurance. It’s not unlike how Derek Jeter carried himself as a player.
In a sport almost desperate for a player to be its public face, Betts is presenting himself as a candidate.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m working on it.”