Sports has had its share of Black athletes nicknamed “Mookie,” as a friend of mine reminded me Friday in his keep-your-eye-on-him column about Mookie Betts.
If any sport needed a Mookie who can play, baseball is that sport.
Just think about how interested you are in Major League Baseball as its season officially opened Monday with nearly every ballclub taking the field to play, the curse of early April weather notwithstanding.
Opening Day … oh, the boys of summer treated their fans to a game that’s more cerebral than chess and, as Black sports fans at the neighborhood barbershop might put it, just as dull.
Should he succeed, he could be the best commercial for baseball the game could have ever asked for. In Mookie, the sport has a handsome Black player with charisma … somebody who is humble but confident, a throwback to the days when humble defined all ballplayers.
Already, people are comparing Mookie to the five-tool Andrew McCutchen, perhaps the brightest of the Black stars in the big leagues. Although Mookie hasn’t put together anything close to the same resume, he has the look of a younger version of McCutchen.
How good is Mookie?
Listen to what David Ortiz, the slugging designated hitter for the Red Sox, told baseball analyst Ken Rosenthal about how Mookie compared to McCutchen: “He’s better than McCutchen at that time in McCutchen’s career.”
What makes that thought so delicious for a baseball fan is that Mookie, who debuted for the Red Sox last June, doesn’t have to carry a team alone. He has Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, both ballplayers who have MVP trophies on their mantelpieces, in the lineup with him.
Throw in shortstop-turned-outfielder Hanley Ramirez, a former National League batting champion, and Pablo Sandoval, the 2012 World Series MVP, and the lineup around Mookie resembles a modern version of Murderer’s Row.
A comparison to the Yankees of the 1920s might be overstating talent. Besides, those Yankees fielded teams that were absent of color, which didn’t allow for a Mookie or a Satchel or a Buck or a Cool Papa to make his way onto the playing field.
Color in baseball these days carries a Latin or Asian twist, so when somebody like Mookie bursts onto the scene, well … he gives Black fans someone to talk about, at least for a while.
Before Black fans can get overly excited about Mookie, they do need to see if the dude is substance like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper or hype like Jason Heyward, a ballplayer who captured our fancy five years ago but whose inconsistency hasn’t held it.
The good thing for fans of baseball – and Black fans don’t make up much of that fan base – is they will find out soon whether this Mookie is more than a catchy nickname.
The finding out started Monday afternoon as the Sox beat Philadelphia 8-0 on Opening Day with Mookie Betts, who homered, in the outfield and Black fans rooting for him to play like Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Reggie Jackson or one of the other stars from baseball’s yesteryear.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)