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Karl Lindholm: What's in a name — a championship?

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Posted on September 27, 2018 |
By Karl Lindholm



lindholm.jpg
THE EXCEPTIONAL AND infectious play of Boston’s Mookie Betts, left, has helped the Red Sox win a record number of games. The 25-year-old’s playing reminds our columnist of the New York Giants’ Willie Mays, who also was an all-star at a young age.

Mookie Betts.

What kind of name is that, for a grown-up? Or a big league ball player?

Sounds like a character in a kids’ book, or a cartoon figure. Who’s next — Pippi Longstocking, Wile E. Coyote?

“Mookie Betts” indeed. Best Red Sox name since Coco Crisp.

When he comes up to the plate as the lead-off hitter for the Red Sox, you’re justified in asking, “Who’s that high school kid?”

He’s so slight, just 5-foot-9, and he wears those kinda baggy pants and shows a lot of red sock, like the old days.

This young man, Mookie, can play. Only 25, in his first four full years in the majors, he has been an All-Star three times and twice won the Gold Glove as the best defensive player at his position.

Right now, he leads the Major Leagues this season in batting average, runs scored, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, and WAR (Wins Above Replacement: ask someone else to explain it. Trust me, it’s an important marker of performance).

He will likely win the MVP (Most Valuable Player) Award in the American League. His only real competition is from his teammate, slugger J.D. Martinez.

This past Wednesday, Mookie stole his 30th base, becoming only the 13th member of the exclusive 30-30 Club in the American League: 30 or more home runs, 30 or more steals in a single season. (Only one other player in Red Sox history is in the 30-30 Club. Do you know who it is? Answer below.)

You have to admire too the way Mookie plays — with such exuberance, joie de vivre: he plays the game with a smile on his face, despite the grind of 162 games in 180 days. He reminds me of the early Nomar, maybe my favorite Sox player ever.

At the same time, he plays with remarkable restraint — never argues with the umpire about balls and strikes. Just says, “OK, I’ll hit it the next one.”

When he does hit a homer, he doesn’t flip the bat or dog it around the bases; he allows himself a quick gesture of satisfaction, circles the bases at a good clip, and accepts the congratulations of teammates after he touches home.

The exception was his nine-minute at-bat against Toronto in July. He hit the 13th pitch he saw (he fouled off seven strikes) over the Monster into the darkness on to Lansdowne Street, a grand slam, leading the Red Sox to their 10th win in a row, a record 66 wins before the All-Star break.

He ran a few steps backwards facing his teammates in the dugout, exulting on his way to first base, stumbled in his excitement and almost fell, before righting himself and touching them all!

Mookie has hit three homers in a single game four times already, a Red Sox record (surpassing Ted Williams who had three), and he did so in fewer at-bats than anyone else who has accomplished this feat.

On August 9th, Mookie became only the 21st player in the Red Sox 117 year history to hit for the cycle: a single, double, triple, homer in a single game.

Last Monday night, Mookie’s homer gave the Red Sox their margin of victory against the Orioles for their 106th win this season, the most in club history, breaking a mark set in 1912!

The historical player Mookie puts one most in mind of is actually . . . (wait for it) Willie Mays, the player the baseball cognoscenti generally regard as the best ever.

Willie came into the Big Leagues when he was just a kid, the “Say Hey Kid,” 20 years old (Mookie was 21). He too was not a big man (5 foot, 11 inches, 180 pounds in his heyday) and he also played with infectious enthusiasm. Willie was an All-Star 19 times in 22 years, won two MVPs, 11 Gold Gloves, hit 660 homers.

I realize that’s a very high bar — who knows what can happen, but Mookie has a great start. His statistical averages are very comparable to Willie’s at the same point in his career.

Given Mookie’s athletic skills, it’s no surprise he excels in other sports too. At Overton High School in Nashville, Mookie was an All-City basketball player at point guard, Player of the Year.

Now, in the off-season, he bowls professionally, actually participating on occasion in Professional Bowlers Association events, even bowling a 300 game in the PBA World Series of Bowling last year.

One of Mookie’s best gifts to Red Sox fans is the redemption of the name “Mookie” itself, so thoroughly discredited by the Mets’ Mookie Wilson for hitting the grounder that skittered through Bill Buckner’s legs in the 1986 World Series.

Who of us who lived through that ’86 debacle ever thought we’d hear Fenway fans deliriously chanting “Mookie, Mookie!”

Our Mookie, Markus Lynn Betts (initials MLB) derived his nickname from a basketball favorite of his mom, Mookie Blaylock.

Mookie now leads the Sox into the 2018 post-season. Though the Red Sox have won more World Series Championships in this century (three) than any other MLB team, it’s true that their play-off appearances in the last two years have been futile indeed.

So it’s redemption time again for Mookie and mates. I will be watching the Red Sox play-off games with great interest and anxiety, and even if they should fail to go all the way to the World Series title, I will decline to join the Society of the Miserable, as one Red Sox sportswriter has called the Doomsday element in Red Sox Nation.

I’ll be grateful for this wonderful, record-breaking summer of Red Sox baseball,

And Mookie Betts!

(answer to 30-30 question: Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011)

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