Well, Dodgers fans, there’s not much those of us here in Boston can tell you about a certain veteran lefthanded pitcher sent your way that you probably don’t already know. David Price’s user’s guide is well-worn.
He is an accomplished, enigmatic 34-year-old pitcher with a growing injury history and a supposed “special elbow.” His teammates seem to like him, but clouds followed him everywhere here, and he often invited them.
You’ve already seen him at his best, when he should have been the Most Valuable Player of the 2018 World Series against you. That’s not the happiest we ever saw him, though. He was weirdly defiant after that win, claiming he now “held all the cards.”
No, the happiest we’ve ever seen him was Wednesday, when he beamed in the sunlight at Dodger Stadium while trying on his sweet new jersey and cap. (You guys have the best uniforms in sports.) He might be an ace again for you guys, and at half-price since Boston is picking up half his salary. We won’t lament his absence.
But Mookie Betts? Oh, let us tell you about Mookie. We could talk and write about that guy forever. Some might say we already have.
First of all, you must know no one has ever referred to him as Betts, even on second reference. He’s Mookie, just Mookie, always. Hollywood loves a single-name superstar. That’s what he is. Mookie.
But he will not carry himself like that superstar, ever. What you saw from him during that sun-splashed press conference Wednesday was what you’re going to get. Mookie is soft-spoken and matter-of-fact, polite and easy to smile, but not necessarily candid. You’ll notice he gave up nothing Wednesday regarding his future plans. He’s super-charismatic, but not in any way that involves grand gestures. The kids would say he’s chill.
You might have noticed that Price and Mookie both chuckled when asked whether they were looking forward to the Hollywood lifestyle. The chuckle was because Price knows that basking in the bright lights is not exactly Mookie’s way. While he could easily be a superstar that Los Angeles adores off the field, he won’t chase celebrity, and sometimes will actively avoid it.
MLB reportedly wanted to market him more than it does, and he nixed it. His idea of the LA nightlife probably will be to find a really cool bowling alley. Yeah, he’s about that kind of ball, too.
But on the field? Oh boy, are you in for a treat. You might think you know how great he is, since his baseball-reference page tells an intriguing story: one American League MVP award (2018), one AL MVP runner-up (2016), four consecutive Gold Gloves in right field, a batting title (.346 in ’18), a career .893 OPS, and more career WAR through 5½ seasons than Steve Garvey, Fernando Valenzuela, and Kirk Gibson compiled in their entire careers.
And here’s the thing. He’s even better than you know. It’s often said about good but not great players that you have to see them every day to appreciate them, to pick up the nuances that make them better than their statistics might indicate. Players like Brock Holt get that kind of praise.
Well, it applies to Betts, too. He puts up superstar numbers — he’s rightly asking for the second-highest salary in baseball because he happens to be the second-best player in baseball, after that Trout fella down the street a few miles — but he’s even better than the numbers, because he excels at everything.
He is — dang it, was — the best defensive right fielder the Red Sox have had since Dwight Evans. He hits the ball so hard that you’re left wondering how that wiry body generates such power, and then he comes up in his next at-bat and launches another rocket.
He’s a speedy and savvy base runner, one who has stolen 126 bases while being caught just 25 times. He is the most complete player the Red Sox have developed in the draft era, perhaps even going back further than that. You’ll know better than we do, but I don’t see a player that excels at so much in Dodgers lore since the days of Jackie Robinson.
You’re going to love watching him, and not just because he’s so darned good. Mookie might be inconspicuous off the field but his charisma once the game begins lights up the ballfield like the LA skyline. He plays with passion and relentless competitiveness; I recommend looking up the clip of his epic 13-pitch at-bat against J.A. Happ in July 2018 for the peak example.
But he always makes room for fun. Whenever Betts or center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. would record the third out of an inning on a fly ball, the player that didn’t make the catch would set off on a fly pattern toward the dugout. The other player would throw a deep ball that Jared Goff would envy. We’re going to miss that. We’re going to miss all of it.
Or most of us will, anyway. When the rumors that the Red Sox were considering trading him morphed into sad reality, some among us tried to rationalize it. He wants too much money, they’d say, or he doesn’t want to be here (he never said any such thing), or he’s overrated since he hasn’t been his usual self in the playoffs (he has a .654 OPS in a 99-plate-appearance sample).
Those people were easily disregarded. If you can’t appreciate Mookie, if you make a conscious effort to diminish him, you’ve already revealed that your opinion on such matters deserves no credence.
So, Dodgers fans, that’s our scouting report on Mookie, a brilliant player you might think you know now, but a player you’ll adore even more once you settle in to watching him do his thing every day.
No, no need to thank us for the intel. All we ask is that you appreciate him thoroughly, because Mookie deserves admiration for his skill, style, and effort as much as any player we’ve had in Boston in generations.
And for heaven’s sake, crush the Yankees if you happen to collide with them in the World Series.
That’s the least you can do with the incredible gift the Red Sox just gave you.