Mookie Betts tried to keep his mind off baseball during this summer’s lockdown. With the season on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said it was the only way to remain sane.
But the Dodgers outfielder couldn’t help but notice the nationwide response to George Floyd’s killing — and the somewhat lackluster response from within his own sport.
“I think baseball did not do a good job with that,” Betts, arguably baseball’s most prominent African American player, said during a video conference Monday with reporters. “But voices were heard. That’s the main thing.”
While Major League Baseball and some of its teams received criticism for a seemingly slow and subdued response to the Floyd protests, many players were outspoken.
Betts, a four-time All-Star and 2018 American League MVP acquired by the Dodgers from the Boston Red Sox in February, was one of them. In the last six weeks, the 27-year-old promoted racial equality on his Instagram account several times and participated in a video along with many of baseball’s other African American stars.
He is also a member of the Players Alliance, a group of more than 70 current and former Black professional baseball players that promotes increased opportunities for the Black community in the sport and in society.
“Over the last few days I have sat in disbelief yet again, how a black man can be killed because of the color of his skin,” Betts wrote in an Instagram post May 31. “As I continue to process the recent events, I am reminded that our fight is not over. We must not get comfortable when the protesting is over, but remain dedicated to our mission; EQUALITY FOR ALL!”
Though the MLB-wide reaction might have underwhelmed Betts and others, issued-based conversations about injustice and equality have dominated a sport with a reputation of avoiding such topics in the past. The Dodgers, for example, held a video conference amid Black Lives Matter protests that Dave Roberts, one of MLB’s two current African American managers, described as “crucial” and “important conversations.”
“Guys asked questions, guys gave thoughts and opinions,” Roberts said Monday. “It was very well-received.”
Roberts was neutral on baseball’s handling of the recent societal reckoning.
“Everyone is entitled to feel the way they feel and how it was handled,” Roberts said. “I think for me, it’s something that, I don’t want us to lose the traction of momentum, the conversations that we’ve had over the last month. I think that’s something any person of color would agree with me on. It just can’t be a footnote.”
Betts, meanwhile, put responsibility on himself to help grow in the game in the Black community.
“Obviously MLB can help, but I think it’s on us, the Black players, to bring it to the Black communities and make baseball cool,” he said. “I think that’s where the disconnect is. Us as Black people don’t think it’s that much fun. So we have to find a way to make it fun for the Black community and get more guys here.”
The topic of race has long been a sensitive one in baseball. Former Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia — who said during a recent appearance on the Bill Simmons Podcast that he has talked at length with Betts, specifically of late — felt it during his 19-year career.
“With so few Black baseball players, it’s hard to even have a conversation about it,” Sabathia, 39, said on the podcast. “A lot of times, you won’t have the support that you think you will stepping up and speaking on these social issues. I think that’s where a lot of the quietness comes from from a lot of the younger baseball players, until you get to a point where you’re like me and you’ve got kids and you’re a lot older and you say whatever you want.”
Betts hopes players such as him can alter some of the problematic patterns that have developed in the sport and beyond.
“I know it’s not all going to be at one time,” Betts said. “But a little change here, a little change there and eventually we’ll get to where we need to be.”
Dodgers pitcher Jimmy Nelson will undergo season-ending back surgery Tuesday, Roberts announced. Signed to a one-year contract in January, the 31-year-old right-hander was expected to bolster the bullpen and potentially start games. But after he experienced pain in spring training, Nelson’s condition didn’t improve during the three-month shutdown. . . . Roberts said infielder Gavin Lux and pitcher Pedro Baez have not yet reported to training camp, joining pitcher Kenley Jansen and outfielder AJ Pollock as confirmed absences. Roberts would not disclose the reason behind any of the absences but said he expected to see Lux and Baez “in camp at some point soon.” . . . Dustin May, a candidate to fill the starting rotation spot vacated by Price, said he is targeting to be stretched out to pitch five innings by July 23.