An update on Mookie
Ten percent of a baseball season is not enough of a sample to be an accurate predictor of how things will turn out in the end. But it is a snapshot of how they are going at a particular time, so let's take a look at how old friend Mookie Betts is doing at the start of this season.
In the 16th game of the year, which marked 10 percent of the season, in a road game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Mookie had one hit in three at-bats, to lift his average barely over the dreaded Mendoza line, to .203. (In the 17th game, a Dodgers' loss, he fell back below the line to .190 when he went zip for four.) That's not to say that his slow start has held his team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, back any. At the 10 percent mark, their record stood at 12 wins and only four losses, the best in all baseball; nor does it give an indication of Mookie's contributions to a victory. In game #16, for example, he led off the game with a base on balls, advanced to third on Freddie Freeman's double, then came in to score when shortstop Trea Turner also doubled. In the fifth inning, he had a line drive single to left, then stole second base, moved to third on a ground out, and scored when Max Muncy doubled him home in what turned out to be a four to zip Dodgers win. That's two runs scored, a stolen base, and, when you add his two walks to his single, three times reaching base in five plate appearances.
As of this writing, his bat has heated up a bit and he's at .230; his home run total has increased to three. He has only six RBI, but he leads the league with 20 runs scored. He's played in every Dodgers game so far. Everyone expects that he'll be moving up from the Mendoza line soon, but just how far up is another question. When the Dodgers signed him to a 12-year, $365 million contract extension before the 2021 season, they expected him to be in the same neighborhood he was hanging around back in 2018. That's when he batted .346 and hit 32 homers and 80 RBI to win the American League MVP in a runaway. That hasn't happened. Mookie has not hit .300 since then, as a matter of fact.
His cumulative average in his seasons with Los Angeles stands at only .267. Last year, he hit .264 with 23 home runs and just 58 RBI, decent numbers for an average outfielder, but are they what you'd expect from a $30+ million-a-year player? One suspects that the Dodgers' beancounters must swallow pretty hard when they make out his biweekly pay checks that look a lot more like telephone numbers than a salary figure. They'd better get used to it because they'll be writing those checks for another 10 plus years, or until Mookie is 40 years old.
Of course, as we in Boston are well aware, Mookie can win a game in a lot of different ways. On Sept. 29, 2019, his last game in a Red Sox uniform, he drew a walk in the ninth inning of a tie game against Baltimore. The next batter, Rafael Devers, hit a ground ball through the shift into right field for a base hit. Mookie, who was off with the pitch, raced around toward third. The right fielder, rookie Stevie Wilkerson, took for granted that he'd be safe at third, and casually picked the ball up and flipped it back to the infield. Seeing this casual approach, Mookie kept running around third base and toward home. He slid head first across the plate ahead of the relay throw with the winning run, having scored from first on a routine single. Stevie Wilkerson learned a valuable lesson that day: never, ever take Mookie Betts for granted. Our last image of him that day is standing at the plate pounding his chest in victory. Then he went into the clubhouse and took off his Red Sox uniform for the last time.
It's different now, though, now he's in the land of glitter and making really big bucks. It's hard not to be just a little bit jealous. Speaking for myself, I'd be happy just to be making a tiny fraction of what he's paid; say, a million a year. Human nature being what it is, though, even that probably wouldn't keep me happy for long. If there's one thing we can all be certain of about everyone in America who makes a million dollars a year it's this -- they all wish they were making two million a year. No matter how much we have we all want more. Eventually, though, we reach a point where we have enough. Mookie has enough.
John Henry, the chief owner of the Red Sox, the Globe, and too many other things to list, reportedly just paid a record breaking $40 million for a Nantucket waterfront complex and adjoining property. If Mookie Betts wanted to, he could afford to move in next door. I don't think that will happen though -- the commute from Nantucket to Dodger Stadium is too long.
The Dodgers' roster is loaded with excellent hitting and terrific pitching and the team is playing well, so Mookie's troubles at the plate are, if not below the radar, at least not a major issue. But when things turn sour, as they eventually will, the pressure on him to deliver will be enormous.
That said, and despite his troubles at the plate and the harsh realities of the marketplace, I wish he still played for the Red Sox.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.