By Ron Wynn
Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts is both an exception to the rule and someone Major League Baseball should be giving maximum publicity. The former John Overton High School baseball and basketball star is arguably the finest athlete in his sport. Betts was MVP of District 12-AAA his senior season in basketball, and an honorable mention inclusion for the Louisville Slugger High School All-American List in baseball.
But Betts was also Tennessee boys Bowler of the year his junior year, once bowling a 290. In the offseason he’s a member of the Professional Bowlers Association and last season rolled a perfect 300 game while participating in the World Series of Bowling against top pros from across the globe. Betts initially signed, then rescinded a commitment to play baseball at Tennessee in 2011, instead signing with the Red Sox as the 172nd overall pick.
Since that time he’s had an amazing career since becoming a regular in 2015. At five feet, nine inches and 190 pounds, he began at second base, was shifted to center field, and has found a home in right field since 2016. Although an All-Star and breakout Minor League Player of the Year for the Red Sox in 2013, it was pretty evident he wouldn’t be unseating All-Star Dustin Pedroia at second base. The Red Sox juggled him back and forth between the minors and majors in 2014, but the next season he homered his second time at bat against the Phillies, becoming the third youngest player to homer for them on Opening Day. Then on Opening Day at Fenway Park, he robbed Bryce Harper of a home run and stole two bases, all in the first three innings. He was AL Player of the Week for June 21, and ended his rookie season with a .291 batting average, 92 runs scored, 18 homers and 21 steals.
Since then, he’s become comfortable in right field and a perennial All-Star. He started the 2016 game and was a substitute starter in 2017, while winning Gold Gloves both years. Though last year’s stats didn’t match the glittering ones of 2016 (.318 average, 214 hits, 122 runs scored, MVP runner-up to Mike Trout), he still scored 101 runs, batted in 102, had 24 home runs and 21 steals. Only the batting average (.264) dipped considerably.
Betts is often favorably compared with Trout and Jose Altuve as the best all-round players in baseball, yet he got more publicity from the PBA for his perfect game in the World Series than from MLB for his multiple All-Star appearances, Gold Gloves and playoff stints. In a time when Black American participation in Major League Baseball is at an all-time low, here’s a guy who excels at baseball despite not being a physically huge individual, and should be an ambassador for the sport, in particular visiting HBCUs and inner city neighborhoods galore.
Mookie Betts also is like Trout and Altuve in that he combines power and speed where today there are few supreme base stealers. MLB definitely needs to make him much more of a publicity feature if they are serious about attracting more multi-sport African-American athletes to baseball.