Baseball Has a Superstar Problem. Mookie Betts Thinks He Has the Answer

More than the other major American sports, Major League Baseball seems to struggle to market its stars. One possible reason: baseball players haven’t been quite as willing to open up as their peers in the NBA and NFL. And so, when he wasn’t busy leading his Dodgers to an NL West crown, perennial MVP candidate Mookie Betts decided to do something about it, starting with a podcast made with Bleacher Report: On Base with Mookie Betts.

In its first season, he’s interviewed guests like Mike Trout and Jazz Chisholm Jr., and racked up serious audience numbers. More importantly, Betts is doing a huge solid for the league, helping connect fans with some of the game’s best and rising stars. (And building his own already-considerable profile, too.) It’s not always logistically easy—the host and his guests, of course, play 162 games in 187 days. But so far, it’s been worth it.

We caught up with Betts to discuss the hesitation he initially had in beginning the show, what hosting has taught him, and why losing sleep is worth it to grow the game he loves.

GQ: How did On Base with Mookie Betts start?

Mookie Betts: It kind of started with me and my team, OMG (One Marketing Group)—we wanted to get into the podcast space. I think a lot of people have gotten to know guys, their personalities, and other personable aspects they might not have gotten to know. Being baseball players, we play games every day, so you really just get to see us on the field, and you’ve got to use our game to draw a conclusion to who we are, versus letting us use our own words to tell you who we are. That’s kind of what the podcast is all about.

Until your podcast, I had no idea what Mike Trout sounded like, let alone that he was into storm chasing. I just knew him to be one of the best players in the league for years. What has it been like to not only get the best in the game, but also get them to be unguarded in showing their personalities?

It’s a ton of fun, man. It’s more fun than I actually envisioned having. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot closer to a lot of guys in the league. This is a brotherhood. There are only 750 of us in the world. It’s really important for us to stick together. Even though we compete on the field—that’s never going to change—off the field, it’s a brotherhood. I think this podcast could help bring us all closer together in a way.

Is it now at a point where guys are approaching you during games to be on the show?

Yeah, I’ve had a couple of guys ask me during the game. A couple of guys will tell me they watch it—umpires, fans, and even some clubbies [clubhouse attendants] from other teams have told me they watch it.  It’s been really cool to know that the baseball community is starting to kind of gravitate toward something that’s different, because this is definitely something different. Baseball is a sport that when different comes along, baseball may not be too open to change. But I think the new generation has come in and they have a different outlook on what baseball is and what life is.

That tradition has seemed to hold the game back some. Did you have any hesitation before starting the pod that guys would be willing to do something different?

Oh yeah, absolutely! I had all the reservations and hesitations in the world. But, you know there’s only one way to make the change to break that tradition and break the mold. You got to find out what works. You have to try and there’s no other way to do it. I went in with those hesitations and they were all realities, but I believe in myself also. I believe in my team and I believe I can get in there and talk to anybody and I feel like baseball players want to do this. They just don’t know how. There’s always a pioneer, and I just have to be that person.

The current and former athlete podcast space has given fans of the other leagues really good insight. Were there any podcasts you listened to that you felt could be a blueprint for what you wanted to do?

Not really. Podcasts are podcasts, so it’s going to be kind of hard to be completely different from the next one. I wanted to be myself and do my own thing. Obviously, you can take bits and pieces from other podcasts. But, I just really wanted to be myself, do it my way, and do what I feel is going to grow our game, as far as people and fans getting to know the players. That looks different in different sports and that’s why I feel we kind of did it in our own way.

Does being one of the best players in the league make it easier for you to get guys as guests?

It’s hard getting guys on there, man. We have routines, schedules, superstitions, and all those things that go into baseball. So you got to kind of figure out a way to work around them. But also, if we want to grow our own platforms and grow the game of baseball, we have to make some sacrifices as well.

That’s really the hard part. There are so many different situations. People have kids, and families in town, and the schedules are the hard part. We’re still really trying to work and see how that can be really refined but right now, that’s the rough part.

What have you learned asking your contemporaries questions?

The honest answer to that is I’ve learned how to listen. Typically, when you talk to someone, you can talk but you might not necessarily be listening to what they’re saying because you’re just trying to say whatever you need to say and that person is just saying whatever they want to say. That’s why there is miscommunication because you’re not really listening to one another. It’s really forced me to listen to what people say, and it’s made me more attentive to just simple, everyday conversations.

You’ve got some big names in a short amount of time. Has there been anyone that’s been on that’s blown you away because you either didn’t know a fact about them or know them too well?

It’s hard to say blown away because being in the league now for nine years, I’ve seen so many different things in people’s preparations. The main thing is it’s 750 guys within this game. We don’t have a lot of time to spend time with each other, like real quality time. You might know somebody through passing and you say, what up to them, how’s the family — just a real surface-level conversation. You never really get into any true detail with guys and with this podcast, I would say that a majority of the guys I do know and did know before. I just didn’t really get to know them until actually talking to them on the podcast.

While I haven’t been blown away by what the guys have said, it’s been neat to get to know that some people have really routine and regimented days and some guys are really loose with that.

Routine and consistency are everything in baseball. How have you been able to work the prep and filming of the show into your schedule without taking anything away from the routine you’ve established in your career?

I’ve been able to manage my schedule. The podcast has definitely added a lot. But again, if you wanna do something, you have to make the sacrifices to do it. I may not get to sleep until 12 o’clock like I want to, but I get to know a lot of guys, help bring awareness to the game, and expand things with OMG, and it’s been a really positive thing in my life. The sacrifice has definitely been a really good thing for me.

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