Mookie Betts is example of baseball’s brand-new problem
CLEVELAND — Tony Clark, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred held separate news conferences and a hot topic revolved around how baseball can help promote its stars as well as the NBA or NFL.
Clark spoke on wanting his players to be marketed better, adding that he wants them to be noticed when walking down the street, even if they are not a 6-foot-10-inch superstar.
Yet, the larger question would be: If you can’t promote Mookie Betts, how can you promote anyone?
Betts is coming off an MVP campaign that ended with a World Series title. He plays in a major market and is a four-time All-Star. There’s a strong case that he should be baseball’s most marketable player.
But he isn’t.
“Mookie should be a household name,” Clark said. “Mookie should be a one-name guy. You say [Cristiano] Ronaldo. You say [Lionel] Messi. You say Mookie. You should know who Mookie is. And, outside the baseball world I don’t know how many people do.
“In the grand scheme of things, respected players should be at the forefront of every conversation. He should be in the conversation with non-baseball fans. Mookie [should] be one of them. No doubt about it.”
Clark didn’t give any suggestions on how to best promote Betts, adding that Manfred might be better served to answer that question. However, he did add specifics on what he would like to see.
“I will simply suggest to you this,” Clark said. “I want to be able to turn on the TV and see players on products with sponsors, licensees up and down the roads. Whether you’re in a big city or small city. I would like to see them overlap in other sports, in other industries and on TVs and in commercials promoting movies. I would love to see all of that.
“Promoting guys on baseball channels is not going to get us there. Baseball fans know who Mookie is. Non-baseball fans deserve to know who Mookie is.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s All-Star Game, Betts was made aware of Clark’s comments. Is marketability something he wants?
“I mean I don’t know if this is something to necessarily want,” Betts said. “It’s definitely something cool to have your name mentioned amongst them [Messi and Ronaldo]. There are some guys that definitely deserve it. If I’m one, cool. If I’m not, that’s perfectly fine, too.”
One source from the league office heard what Clark had to offer on Betts’s lack of promotion and told the Globe that MLB tried to push Betts, but the majority of time Betts has declined.
The source alluded to its “Let The Kids Play” commercial as one of the promotions MLB tried to involve Betts in, yet the outfielder chose not to participate.
If true, there’s context to it. Some players around the league have expressed their displeasure with how MLB promotes them. From being mic’d up — which Betts did this spring training — to appearing in MLB commercials, the players are only generating revenue for a $10 billion-plus business.
The sentiments, another source said, largely comes from the younger group of players who have come up under Clark, which speaks to the separation between the MLBPA and the league office.
Heading for home
The Red Sox have traveled to three countries over the last two weeks. For Betts, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, manager Alex Cora, and the rest of the Red Sox contingent at the All-Star Game, the traveling hasn’t stopped.
The group was scheduled to travel back to Boston right after their 4-3 win before preparing for their next series against the Dodgers starting Friday.
“I’m ready to get some rest,” Bogaerts said with a smile. “I’m looking forward to going back to Boston and getting some rest.”
Sabathia wary of Sox
The Yankees’ CC Sabathia was in Cleveland to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, essentially honoring his eight seasons as a pitcher for the Indians. Standing at his locker Tuesday, he spoke about the Yankees’ first half, in which they went an AL-best 57-31 and hold a 6½-game lead in the East.
Despite that, Sabathia is keeping the third-place Sox in his peripherals.
“We always know what that team can do and what they’re capable of,” Sabathia said. “We watched it last year. So, yeah, we know at any moment they can rattle off 27 out of 30 wins. We’re always watching.”
Cora said after the London Series that the Yankees were much better than they were. But Sabathia says the Yankees don’t want to ease up off the gas pedal.
“It’s good for him to say that,” said Sabathia, who will turn 39 years old this month. “Obviously we want to be good and want to play well. I just think we’re hungry.”
“This same core group of guys have been together since 2016, really, and you’re kind of seeing this talent flourishing.”
The last time Bogaerts stepped on the field as an All-Star was in 2016 as a 23-year-old. He’s here again now and said he’s learned how to take in the moment better.
“I think I know a little bit more on what to do and where I need to be,” Bogaerts said on getting through all the chaos of All-Star. “I know how to hide myself a little bit. I know you have to be certain places at certain times. I just think it’s much easier on me now. But it used to be rush, rush, rush. Now it’s a little bit more relaxed. I understand it.
There are certain aspects of the All-Star scene he appreciates.
“I think it’s cool to talk to other guys on other teams,” he said. “It’s not always that you get to do that.”
Cody Bellinger is having a stellar season. His Dodgers hold the best record in baseball, and they will play the Red Sox in a three-game set starting Friday.
That’s a series that Cora has circled. Not only is it the team his club played in the World Series, but it’s also the team Cora came up with.
Bellinger, though, is just as ready.
“That’s going to be fun,” Bellinger said. “I like Fenway, and I’m excited to go there. The weather is going to be a little nicer than it was in October, so I’m excited go back there and play.”
All of the players and coaches in uniform wore a No. 45 patch on their jerseys in honor of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who died unexpectedly last week. They then honored Skaggs in a moment of silence . . . Sabathia threw out the first pitch to former Indians catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., although they never played together in Cleveland. Alomar played for the Indians from 1990-2000, while Sabathia, who is retiring at the end of this year, wore the uniform from 2001-08 . . . With two outs in the ninth, Sabathia strolled out of the AL dugout and made a mound visit to talk with closer Aroldis Chapman, his Yankees teammate who struck out the first tow batters. After some laughs during the infield conference, Sabathia walked off to a loud ovation and Chapman struck out Yasmani Grandal to end the game.