If you love baseball, you love it despite its warts and obvious shortcomings. And as the game continues to evolve in an attempt to appeal to a wider/younger audience, you have to give it some credit for trying new things.
Like messing with the (love it or loathe it) shift.
While some purists will argue hitters should adjust to the controversial strategy instead of MLB changing the rulebook, Double-A will serve as the test lab for an interesting experiment this season. A new rule at the minor league level stipulates that all four infielders must have both feet completely in front of the outer boundary of the infield dirt on each pitch. The hope is the rule change creates more hits and action plays over the course of nine innings and it’s one Cody Bellinger, the star center fielder for the defending World Series champion Dodgers, can easily get behind.
“I don’t think you need to ban the shift, but I think infielders need to stay on the dirt,” says the 2019 NL MVP. “I don’t think the shortstop should be in right field taking our hits away.”
A week before Opening Day, we caught up with the 25-year-old Bellinger via Zoom to chat about the rule change he’d love to see at the major league level, how much pressure the defending World Series champs are feeling entering the season, who’s the best DJ on the Dodgers, where his NBA loyalties lie, and what he has going on with FLONASE.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Now that you helped deliver Dodgers fans their first title since 1988, do you feel less pressure entering this season compared to the last few years when you guys were World Series favorites but never sealed the deal?
I’d say there’s less pressure. Not that we’re taking it easier this spring training, but the monkey is off the back and now we can just go and play the game. And I think that’s going to make us better overall. We have a super-talented locker room. We added some guys to help us get back there again.
When did it hit you that you were a World Series champion?
It’s a few days after, actually, when you’re kind of waking up. You wake up and realize you don’t have anything to do and you realize you just won the World Series, you take a deep breath and appreciate what just happened.
Do you know what are you going to do with the ring yet?
I just got told what finger I sized it for and I didn’t know. I think it’s going to be more of a display piece. I’m not going to put it away so I never see it again. I want to see that. I just don’t know what finger it’s going on yet.
You said this spring training that the clubhouse is a lot of fun to be in right now. Why is it so much fun?
Just the talent. You look at the pitcher’s side of the locker room and it’s [Clayton] Kershaw, David Price, Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler. And we’ve got these young guys that are electric in their own way. You look at our lineup…there’s just talent all around. I’m just super blessed to be a part of it and definitely not taking it for granted because you never know when you’ll ever, ever be on a team like this again.
But most importantly, who controls the music?
Last year, Mookie [Betts] had a playlist. This year it’s kind of been random. We’ve got a speaker and sometimes the clubbies do it. AJ Pollock’s been on it here and there. Usually on the road JT [Justin Turner] is on the music. It’s usually a different variety.
But who’s the best DJ?
Oh man, depends on what vibe you’re feeling. Kershaw in the weight room listens to SAINt JHN, which I like because that’s just good music in the weight room. AJ Pollock’s got good music, but it’s more like zen-ful music so we’ve got DJs for all different types.
How much did it suck not being able to enjoy the championship this past offseason in LA because you know you wouldn’t have paid for ANYTHING—a meal, a drink, whatever—around town?
It’s a little different. The feeling of winning that felt the same. But we didn’t get the parade or that kind of stuff. Hopefully this year it hopefully gets back to normal, slowly, but surely, it seems like. I think we’re on our way to receiving that. Twenty percent capacity at Dodger Stadium [to start the season] so that’s big for Los Angeles. It’s just nice to have people there. We won’t ever take that for granted again because it is a horrible thing not playing in front of fans.
You’ve been courtside for Lakers games, but I know you’re an Arizona guy. So where do you stand on your NBA fandom these days?
So all my boys home are huge Suns fans. They watch every game. So therefore I have had a liking for the Suns. They added Chris Paul and they’ve been very good so I like watching the Suns and I turn them on every once in a while here. I’m a Suns guy. I like rooting for the Suns with my boys down here in Arizona.
In that Mookie profile GQ put out recently, he talked about some really rough struggles in the minors–to the point where he was on the brink of quitting. Baseball can humble you like few sports so I’m curious if had a similar stretch as you were coming up?
I never had the thought of quitting, but I know a lot of guys that do. It’s just a mentally exhausting game. The way the schedule is it’s every single day and you have three-to-four hours to work on your swing and you have four opportunities in a game to make it count. So when people tell me that I feel for them, I completely understand where they’re coming from. But that’s why he’s so good—he went through those struggles.
Is Mookie the coolest baseball player on the planet right now?
He might be, man. On the field and off the field he can do it all.
Baseball isn’t exactly the most popular sport with the Complex audience. What would be your “actually baseball is cool” elevator pitch?
It’s hard to get behind a 162-game season. I think that’s the hardest part because a lot of people tell me they love watching playoff baseball. So I get it. But what I think MLB is doing a good job with now is with different camera angles to see how fast the game is actually being played. Because it looks so easy on TV—like every other sport. But you get these different camera angles and you’re like, “That ball is coming really, really fast.”
Baseball is testing some rules changes in the minor leagues this season in its quest to make the game better and more marketable. What’s the one rule change you’d really like to see?
I think I’m alone on this, but I enjoyed the extra-inning rule with the guy on second base. It’s super not traditional, but when you start with a guy on second base, it’s instant action. So I actually enjoyed that. And another one for me personally, I don’t think you need to ban the shift, but I think infielders need to stay on the dirt. I don’t think the shortstop should be in right field taking our hits away.
Do you know how many of your hits have been taken away?
A lot. I mean, I’ve gotten a lot of hits because of the shift, but I just think infielders should have to stay on the dirt. That’s my personal opinion. Go wherever you want, but you have to stay on the dirt.
I get that. But baseball purists will say learn to hit it the other way.
It’s not that easy to just go the other way.
So what do you have going on with FLONASE?
I’m just a seasonal allergy guy, you know. Starting in spring training usually means the start of allergy season for me. And a lot of the times I’ve been thinking I was sick, going to the field thinking I had symptoms this year, especially with COVID going on, so I connected with FLONASE and got my allergies figured out and been feeling really good about it.