Welcome to The Opener, where every weekday morning during the regular season you’ll get a fresh, topical column to start your day from one of SI.com’s MLB writers.
Mookie Betts is a man on a mission as he continues his ninth MLB season.
The 2018 AL MVP and two-time World Series champion didn’t mince words in a recent conversation with Sports Illustrated, highlighting his ultimate individual goal for his career: “I want to one day have a Hall of Fame speech,” Betts says. “Pretty simple for me.”
Betts is on track to achieve his lofty aspirations. Now 29, the Dodgers outfielder is among the most accomplished players of the last decade, adding a batting title, five All-Star appearances and four Silver Sluggers to the aforementioned accolades. His statistical case matches the hardware. Betts made his MLB debut on June 29, 2014, and since then, he ranks first among all players with 758 runs and 269 doubles, seventh in hits (1,159) and eighth in total bases (2,022). Since ’14, only Mike Trout has more WAR (56.2) than Betts (50.0), and Betts and José Ramírez are the only players with at least 160 home runs and 140 stolen bases. He also is second among all outfielders in fielding runs, behind only Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier.
All of this is to say that few players this century have provided excellence in all aspects of the sport quite like Betts. A ceremony in Cooperstown is likely if the next decade is anything like the last. Perhaps, he’s already done enough to get there.
SI spoke to Betts about his Hall of Fame dreams, a potential superteam in Los Angeles and the changing nature of baseball.
Sports Illustrated: How are you feeling about your game early in the season? Did the abbreviated spring training impact you at all?
Mookie Betts: I feel O.K. We started off kind of rough in our first series but we’ve been alright since. The shortened spring is impacting everyone, so for me specifically it doesn’t really matter.
SI: You were a new face in the Dodgers clubhouse in 2020. Did you have any advice for Freddie Freeman when he came to the team?
MB: Things like that I think you learn and grow just by experience. Mine isn’t necessarily going to be the same as his. You have to let them get their feet wet, see how they fit in, go about their day and go work. That’s really the way to get the most comfortable.
SI: What are your thoughts on the talk of the 2022 Dodgers being a potential superteam? Is that something you’ve discussed?
MB: You kind of just have to block it all out, to be honest. Nobody is going to roll over, let us win, ya know? If we’re supposed to be some superteam, we have to go prove it.
SI: What makes the Dodgers’ lineup so difficult for opposing pitchers?
MB: There’s not really any breaks. You have to keep focus for all nine spots in the order, and that’s tough to do when we’re always keeping the pressure on.
SI: What are some of the ways you maintain your body as you approach 30?
MB: I make sure my locker is stocked up. I got plenty of space that I fill up with BodyArmor EDGE to keep me hydrated, I got other snacks. Staying hydrated is honestly a huge one for me. Flying a lot, traveling a lot, it’s easy to get dehydrated and that’s when the injuries hit. So there’s always constant maintenance, but staying hydrated with BodyArmor is a big thing that keeps me going.
SI: How has the sport changed in the decade or so you’ve been a Major Leaguer?
MB: We see more homers, more strikeouts, obviously, but I really think the biggest change is just in people’s outlook toward the game. The game has changed so much, it can now feel like it’s hard to even keep up. There’s always a new stat, a new this, a new that. There’s numbers for everything now. It’s kind of becoming something where you don’t have to play the game to understand it. It used to not be that way when I was coming up. You needed to play a bit to understand the grind, to understand how to make it for years and years in this game. But everything changes, everything evolves.
SI: Young pitchers are entering the majors with increased velocity at a pretty impressive rate. How do you manage that challenge?
MB: A lot of times, there isn’t a way to handle it. It’s not like it used to be. You used to usually face guys throwing 90–92 [mph], bullpen guys throwing 95, and that [was] about it. Now you got starters comfortable sitting way above that. It’s hard to hit that way. Averages are going down, and that velocity is a major reason why.
SI: What do you think about the idea that baseball has an audience problem? Do you think the game has a problem connecting to younger fans?
MB: I understand it, but baseball is baseball, you can’t change the game. It’s never going to be played like basketball or like football, it’s just a different sport. It can be hard for the game to be exciting when everyone is throwing 100 and punching out everybody, but that’s the game now.
SI: Can I give you a few rapid fire questions before we get out of here?
MB: Let’s do it.
SI: Which players did you look up to as a kid?
MB: Definitely Derek Jeter when I was younger. Ken Griffey, Andruw Jones. Rafael Furcal was also actually one of my favorite players.
SI: Who is your favorite player to watch today? Let’s exclude any teammates.
MB: There’s so many guys, man, that’s a tough question. Right now, I’ll probably go with Tony Kemp. He’s a really good friend of mine, and I saw him when he first came in, and now to see him doing what he’s doing, it’s great to see.
SI: Do you have a favorite career moment?
MB: I would probably say my 13-pitch at-bat when I hit a grand slam [against the Blue Jays in 2018].
SI: Best player you’ve played with?
MB: If you’re going pure stats we got to go Albert Pujols, right? David Ortiz has a pretty good case, too. I’ll go with the two of them.
SI: What are your goals for 2022?
MB: Same as every year, man. Be the best player I can be. Do the best I can do.
SI: What are your goals for the rest of your career?
MB: I want to one day have a Hall of Fame speech. Pretty simple for me.
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