Is Mookie Betts the Piece That Pushes the Dodgers to a Title?

Is Mookie Betts the Piece That Pushes the Dodgers to a Title?

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When Jerry Hairston Jr. ran out of recent comparisons to explain Mookie Betts, the Dodger studio analyst referred to as his father for extra standpoint.

“Dad, the way Mookie plays, does he remind you of Willie Mays?” Hairston requested Jerry Sr., a former pinch-hitting specialist who broke into the massive leagues as Mays used to be concluding his celebrated occupation.

“Jerry,” his father mentioned, “his throwing arm, the accuracy, the way he runs the bases, how smart he is, it’s very, very similar.”

Betts, 28, is a participant getting into his high, a couple of hundred house runs and a pair thousand hits in need of Mays. For now, the Dodgers can be glad if the dynamic Betts can lend a hand craft 8 extra wins to cap this truncated season in championship style and finish a 32-year identify drought. The Dodgers opened play within the best-of-seven Nationwide League Championship Collection towards the Atlanta Braves with a 5-1 loss after sweeping previous Milwaukee and San Diego.

“It shows the impact that a player can make,” Claire said. “And that’s what Mookie is doing this year.”

The Red Sox parted with Betts, a generational talent known for his generosity away from the diamond, as part of a salary dump that frustrated fans in Boston. The three-way trade, which also included the Minnesota Twins, also provided the Dodgers with Brusdar Graterol, a young flamethrower who may play a pivotal playoff role out the bullpen, and starter David Price, who opted out of the season.

Once Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts slotted Betts permanently in the leadoff spot in mid-August, he and the rest of the offense clicked into position. He finished the sprint of a season with 16 home runs, 39 runs batted in and a M.L.B.-best WAR of 3.4. He stacked highlights, flexing a cannon arm, mixing speed, instinct and technique on the basepaths.

He also added to the Dodgers’ rich history of prominent Black players in a sport that has seen both interest and participation among African-Americans steadily dip over the last 30 years. Betts could become the team’s first Black player to win the M.V.P. Award since Wills in 1962 (outfielder Matt Kemp finished as runner-up to the Brewers’ Ryan Braun in 2011).

As Claire was attempting to engineer the next Dodgers championship team in the early 1990s, he landed Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis, two potential cornerstones at the corner outfield positions, two Black stars from Southern California returning home. Injuries and personal issues derailed the collaboration.

“What a difference this could make — not only for our team, first and foremost, because that was my obligation, but for the community,” Claire said of his thinking at the time. “Two players coming back to Los Angeles at really what should have been the peak of their careers, and it just didn’t happen.”

Betts, though, quickly became one of the team’s leaders when the season began in late July. He has also used his voice and platform since arriving in Los Angeles. Though he had stood for the national anthem throughout his career — his father, Willie, served in the Vietnam War — Betts was the only Dodger to kneel during the playing of the national anthem on opening night.

He took the action after seeking further education on peaceful protests and realizing that kneeling was not aimed at disrespecting military veterans.

That could have been the route Betts had taken as well, had he grown a couple inches: His nickname, after all, is derived not from Wilson, the former Mets outfielder, but Blaylock, the former Atlanta Hawks point guard. At Overton, Betts was a skinny, pass-first point guard who earned honors throughout Nashville on the hardwood.

Morrison recalled watching Betts in high school as he waited to enter a pickup game against college players. Betts observed the players from the sidelines, ascertaining their strengths and weaknesses until he went on the court and succeeded against older players he had no business beating.

To Morrison, it’s not much different than watching Betts now — waiting out a pitcher, seeking a mistake, and then delivering a detailed scouting report back to teammates in the dugout.

“That’s kind of what he’s always been,” Morrison said.

These days, Betts reminds Hairston of a couple N.B.A. legends with his off-field demeanor. “He could care less about stats, it’s all about rings, plural,” Hairston said. “And that’s all Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant ever talked about.”

Betts’s impact cannot be overstated, even if Roberts recently tried to understate it. Roberts said that Betts’s defense was a “game changer,” that he had an uncanny ability to control the strike zone and that he “does a lot on the bases.”

“He just made everyone around him better,” Roberts said. “But with that said, we all got to do our part.”

If Betts continues to do more than his part in leading the Dodgers to a title, the applause before that first at bat in front of a Los Angeles audience will be long and thunderous, the appreciation of three decades worth of frustration ended.


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