A Belated Farewell to Mookie Betts

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

I write to you today as a Red Sox fan still heartbroken over the Mookie Betts trade, but I also write to you today as a human being who is still trying to gather his own thoughts for all these events that led to this point over the past five and a half years. Because as so much as changed for the Red Sox, so much has changed over the last five years for me as well.

Let’s rewind for a bit. It’s five and a half years ago. Mookie Betts has been called up by the Red Sox. It was also the day of my first date with the woman who would become my wife. I was a bundle of nerves the entire day, about to meet her family and was presented with a need to impress them. I didn’t have much in the way of a job or future aspirations, and they came from a totally different background than I did. I was worried about acceptance, and whether they would allow their daughter to see me.

Mookie wouldn’t make his debut until the next day, but the news of his call-up allowed me to relax a little bit more and push forward. The date was successful, her parents seemed relatively impressed despite my poor standing, and we began a relationship that has continued today.

This is actually a picture from his MLB debut against the Yankees.
Photo by A Marlin/Getty Images

In 2014, Mookie showed why he deserved the top prospect billing he was about to receive. For all of his accomplishments, he was never ranked super highly on top prospect lists. Prior to 2014, he was ranked 75th by Baseball America, and 62nd by MLB Pipeline. He was due to be promoted to the top 20 in MLN Pipeline mid-season update, but that obviously did not happen because he wasn’t eligible anymore.

One of my biggest shames is that like these national rankings boards, I never bought into the hype like other Red Sox fans. I felt the bat was full of helium, and even at one point said that trading him for a Cole Hamels as the only big piece moving would have made sense. I’m very glad I did not have control of that situation because that would have gone down as a very bad trade.

For me, it was a slow-burn. It wasn’t until early in the 2014 minor league season that I would feel Mookie Betts could be not just a major leaguer, but a very good one. For context, in 2013, Mookie had yet to play Double-A ball. At the trade deadline in 2013, he had only played in High-A. Granted, he was hitting very well, but this was at a point in my prospect following that I didn’t take a player seriously until he could perform in Double-A. Since then, I feel I’ve become a bit more well-adjusted to what to watch for in prospects below the Double-A level, but this was a glaring weakness in my evaluation at the time.

Cole Hamels bunting with a bat in 2013, because the National League is funny.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Early in that 2014 season, however, I got to see first hand just what type of player he could be. A right-handed pull hitter that laced balls into Portland’s “Maine Monster”, had me salivating at the idea of a player capable of a 50-double, 200-hit season. A player capable of hitting anywhere in the lineup to keep the conga-line going.

Then he moved up to Triple-A, and the ball seemed to jump off the bat just a little bit more. My first thought, “could he actually hit 20 home runs in a year to go with the 50 doubles?” Do you know what type of player hits 20 home runs a season, with 50 doubles, and the speed to steal 20 or more bases? Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks was the closest comparison to what I was looking at. Goldschmidt had hit 43 doubles, 20 home runs, and stolen 18 bases too. But Mookie had a superior skill that might have made him stand out: His ability to draw a walk.

This is probably where I erred the most in my evaluation of Mookie. For his entire career, he’d been an incredibly disciplined hitter. He drew 174 minor league walks, and only struck out 137 times over the course of 299 minor league games. That level of plate discipline is so rarely seen, and when it is, it’s almost never seen with a player who can potentially hit 50 doubles and 20 home runs in a season. So yeah, my bad, should have seen it coming.

Over the next couple of years, Mookie continued to amaze, and somehow improved on what I felt was his upper limit. Even when I finally came around on his skill level, he somehow continued to prove that I was still too low on him. He showcased more power than expected, he stole more aggressively than expected, he even got more base hits than expected. And he did that early in his career, not in his prime years, but in his early years. Then he started to walk as much as he struck out, and it was over. Mookie Betts had overnight become one of the top 5 players in baseball.

While Mookie continued his own ascent, I too began my own life changes.

I moved to California, went back to college, got my first serious job (and my first serious paycheck), and for the first time, felt alive. To that point in my life, I wasn’t living so much as surviving, but getting outside and seeing the world really boosted my quality of life in ways that cannot be understated.

Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Eventually, I got my degree, and my girlfriend and I moved back to the east coast. I got an even better job, my first one post-degree. Life continued to skyrocket in ways I could never have imagined. I even got married to my girlfriend!

Now I live in Tennessee, with my career on the rise yet again, with a way better quality of life I ever saw for myself back in early 2014, when I had no aspirations, abilities, or future to speak of.

For every event I had go positively in my life, Mookie had some other accomplishment that made me realize I could continue to break my limits. He won the MVP award (something I could never have seen in a million years). He had a three-homer game (several times, but one of them I attended). He bowls a perfect game or solved a rubix cube in like a quarter of a second, I don’t know, it all gets kind of folk-loreish because what human being can be this good at everything?

Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

He could soar, so why not all of us? Mookie Betts served as an inspiration to me over his time in Boston, and it’s really upsetting to see he’s no longer part of the team in several respects. Of course, the fan in me is sad, but the writer in me has to recognize the silver lining in it. I understand we weren’t paying him before free agency (if at all). I understand we were likely to lose him for little in a season that may not have mattered if we didn’t trade him. I understand what we got back isn’t nothing for someone who is a, at the end of the day, a rental. But none of those things really matter to the fan in me.

The fan in me wants to say “Just pay the man!”. He’s the best player the Red Sox have had since Carl Yastrzemski. Maybe Ted Williams. No matter the cost, Mookie Betts would be impossible to replace. If we let him go, we would regret it. Especially if it was over money, something that does not matter to me, a fan. It’s not my money, so of course I don’t care if it’s spent to keep Mookie. I’m sure the dynamics are a lot different for an owner.

The man the Red Sox hope plays well enough to make the trade worth it.
Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Those things don’t matter all the time to a fan who lives in the now.

Some of those don’t even matter to a fan who has an eye on the future, because it’s a future that shouldn’t have to exist in their eyes. It was poor planning and mismanagement of assets that set up a scenario where the Red Sox felt the need to trade Mookie Betts for value, rather than locking him up for life.

If reports were true, the Red Sox and Mookie Betts were apart in negotiations every single year by $100 million. The Red Sox were always consistently a year behind Mookie’s own evaluation of his talent. At first a $100 million gamble (which would have been a steal in hindsight) became a $200 million gamble (again a steal), became a $300 million gamble (which would have been very good value), and is reportedly above $400 million now (which is a lot but he’s earned it).

As a fan, I was allowed to bet against Mookie Betts. I didn’t lose anything by doing so. And when he proved me wrong time and time and time again, it felt good, it felt refreshing, it felt invigorating, because he morphed into the second best player in baseball who was incredibly fun to watch.

Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

I just get the feeling the owners bet against him too. As a result, they not only lost value (Mookie Betts at 200 or 300 million a year or two ago sounds a lot better than Mookie Betts at 400 million now), but the second best player in all of baseball, as they realized they couldn’t afford to bet against Mookie yet again.

So we’re left in this position as Red Sox fans, where we hope Mookie Betts gets paid (because he’s an amazing player who deserves to get paid as much as he can get paid), but also hope, desperately, that somehow, someway, he’ll find his way back to us.

Farewell, Mookie Betts. I know most people are hurting over this to some extent (big or small). For me, you represented an ideal: that anyone can continue to challenge their ceiling, and continue to improve beyond limits even the most optimistic thought possible. While I will never let go of those lessons, I feel for people who may have to go without, who will never get to see you play as I had seen you play, who didn’t get the exhilarating feeling of having an expectation so utterly destroyed. Thank you, and good luck.

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