Few, if any, MLB players are better than Mookie Betts. But he had to earn respect from his teammates as everyone else does. As a Boston Red Sox rookie, Betts was forced to do low-level tasks, like lugging equipment and providing beer on the bus, to prove he could be one of the guys.
For his teammates, it was a fun way of building camaraderie. For Betts, it served as motivation to push him to greater heights. Given his massive Dodgers contract and championship win, it’s safe to say Betts used it well.
Mookie Betts was built differently as a Red Sox rookie
The depth of Betts’ potential was unclear when he made the majors for the first time. But the right fielder already knew what he would do once he fully realized his talent. In a recent GQ interview, Betts details the drive and self-belief that will likely lead him to the Hall of Fame one day.
The Red Sox called up Betts on June 28, 2014, after he spent three years in the minors. The new kid had to complete several menial errands for his veteran teammates. Betts picked up bottled water and beer for bus rides, carried team luggage, and waited to use hotel elevators until all the vets made it to their rooms first.
These situations can be common among teams and groups of people, but Betts grew resentful. His tipping point was getting heckled over the bus intercom for forgetting to pack beers for everyone. Betts decided that when he earned enough clout, he would change the locker room. The lackey days were over as he told GQ:
My motivation was, “I’m going to be so good that I’m not going to get you any more f*king beer. I’m going to be the best player on this team, so when I have to get the beer, I don’t.” That was when my tunnel vision kicked in and I was ready to go.Mookie Betts on his rookie season
Betts’ competitiveness is a trademark of his personality. He even admitted that he practices plays in Madden in order to get a leg up on friends when they play. But the notion that he could be that good at baseball was far from a certainty at the time.
The right fielder considered signing up for the ACT college admissions test because he felt he’d lost his confidence. But Betts saw his future before anyone else did, and it was bright.
Mookie Betts didn’t stay in Boston like he originally planned
Betts’ progress was exponential. In his second full season in Boston, details Baseball-Reference, he won the Silver Slugger award, the Gold Glove award (he’s earned this every year since), and became the runner-up for the AL MVP award. Two years later, Betts claimed the MVP award with a season for the ages.
The right fielder led the major leagues in batting average (.346), slugging percentage (.640), and runs scored (129). Betts had the highest batting average on balls in play and became the second player in Red Sox history to join the 30-30 club. Oh, and Boston won the World Series.
Betts’ status as a superstar was clear. When it came time to negotiate a new contract, he demanded what he deserved. To his surprise and the frustration of Red Sox fans, Boston decided they didn’t want to pay him. The team traded him to the Dodgers before last season.
He received a monster contract as soon as he landed and immediately went to work on the field. He finished second in NL MVP voting and hit a key home run in the World Series-clinching game six for LA. No one is asking Betts to get their beer anytime soon.
Is any form of hazing ever justifiable?
Betts used his experience to push him to sharpen his skills. But should anyone have to go through rookie traditions in the first place? The conversation around hazing is more complex than it used to be. More people have spoken about the dark side of these actions.
Much more awareness exists about the awkward power dynamic involved with hazing. Most young people don’t feel like they have the choice to say no or to stick up for themselves. A rare person defends themselves in those sorts of situations. But there are ways to make rookies earn their stripes that aren’t emotionally scarring.
Zion Williamson did similar things for teammates in New Orleans, and he seems to have shrugged it off with the same ease he shows when driving to the rim. Ultimately, the people involved have to know each other better before making any strange demands.
Betts may have been frustrated with it more than others because of his personality, or the fact that he is a black player in a predominantly white league. Only he knows the answer. But if he stands by what he says in the interview, then none of the Dodgers’ prospects will have to deal with it for a long time.