Why Mookie wants to check HR Derby off list

June 23rd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Juan Toribio’s Dodgers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

LOS ANGELES --  has accomplished just about everything during his Major League career. He has won a pair of World Series titles, was named American League Most Valuable Player in 2018, has six Gold Glove Awards sitting in his house and represented Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

But as Betts and his wife, Brianna, looked back at his career, there was one thing the star outfielder is missing: Participating in the Home Run Derby.

Betts announced over the weekend that he will be in this year’s Home Run Derby field. He, of course, delivered the disclaimer that in order to participate in the event, he would have to be named an All-Star. Betts was voted into Phase 2 of All-Star Game voting, along with teammates , and .

Given Betts’ success and his reputation as one of the best players in the league, he has a good shot at making his seventh All-Star game in his career, meaning, if healthy, he will almost certainly show off his home run swing at T-Mobile Park.

“It’s the last thing I haven’t done,” Betts told MLB.com this week. “My wife kind of compared it to [NBA superstar LeBron James] not doing the dunk contest. And that’s not a knock or anything, but she just feels like for what I’m trying to do in baseball, bring awareness to Black culture, I should probably be more involved.”

Betts admitted he should’ve participated in the Derby last summer when the All-Star festivities were held at Dodger Stadium. However, he was still recovering from a cracked rib and wasn’t too interested in taking all the swings required to participate in the event.

He’s still unsure what to expect out of the Derby. He doesn’t even really care if he wins the event. But this is all part of Betts’ effort to be more visible to fans, particularly of color, outside of the diamond.

In 2020, Betts was in the middle of protesting social injustices around the country. Last season, Betts wore a strongly worded message on a T-shirt, hoping to see more players, staff members and front-office executives of color in the sport. Participating in the Derby is another avenue for Betts to show representation.

“Not necessarily even getting Black people playing baseball, but it’s getting around it, getting people off the streets,” Betts said. “How many 10- to 18-year-old kids can save time or go to college or whatever just by playing the game of baseball? That’s kind of what my goal is. Not necessarily to get all of us to the big leagues, but to get culture in the game and what makes the game fun and get us off the streets.”

At one point in his career, Betts wasn’t comfortable taking on all this responsibility. But now that he’s 30 with two kids, his perspective has changed. He’s grown more comfortable with who Mookie Betts is and not only pleasing other people.

This year, Betts even started venturing into the media world, starting his own YouTube channel and partnering with Bleacher Report for a sit-down show with other players, all in an effort to grow his production company.

Aside from building his own brand, Betts also wants to add more Black culture into baseball, much like has been the case in the NFL and NBA for decades. It’s something he feels is important to him and the next generation. When the Dodgers visited the Phillies earlier this month, Betts did a jersey swap with Bryce Harper. This week, he did the same with Mike Trout.

He’s hoping some of the things that resonate on platforms like social media catches on with other players around the league, a tiny step in taking pieces of what athletes around other leagues have done.

“It’s hard, man. It’s really hard,” Betts said. “You have a sport that is ingrained in one way and to get that to change, it’s going to take the white players, too. It’s going to take all of us.”

What Betts is trying to accomplish might not land as popular with everyone, but he’s starting to be at peace with doing what he thinks is best.

“I think I’m in the figuring out stage,” Betts said. “I’m 30 now, not 23. I got kids and I have things I’m doing off the field. I’m trying to really understand and grasp that. I feel like I’m in the process of that.”