He refuses to be silent.
And you can be damn sure he won’t hide.
There’s no ballplayer more active on social media than Stroman, and perhaps no one more fearless revealing his feelings.
He’s the one who called commissioner Rob Manfred a clown during the 99-day lockout, and believes MLB can be its own worst enemy, particularly in marketing its players.
He’s the one who blasts his former team, the New York Mets, questioning why they never tried to re-sign him, and insisting that owner Steve Cohen needs to clean house in the front office if they’re ever going to win a World Series again.
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He’s the one who exposes the racist comments, death threats, and hatred towards him simply because of the color of his skin.
Now, his strength and resiliency could be tested more than ever, headed to Chicago as one of the faces of the Cubs’ franchise with a three-year, $71 million contract. Chicago is an enchanting city but it is also ranked as the fourth-most segregated city in the country, according to the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley, the mayor’s office declaring racism a public health crisis in 2021.
They love their sports in Chicago, but the landscape can be galling for Black athletes, coaches, managers and executives. Several of Stroman’s friends have expressed genuine concern about coping with the challenging environment.
“I’ve heard about it, but I’m ready for it, I’m prepared,” Stroman told USA TODAY Sports in a wide-ranging, 40-minute interview. “Obviously, racism is something that very, much exists in society today. It’s very profound. My DMs are filled with very, very, very, very aggressive racist men that are filled with hate. I was getting it bad in New York.
“I’ve learned to cope with the death threats and people saying, ‘If I see you out, I’m going to kill you.’ There are people sitting at home who have miserable lives, spewing hate onto (you) for no reason because it can get to you and it can affect you.”
‘Stroman is not going to back down’
Stroman, who has a personal therapist and mental health coach, recently exchanged messages with former 21-year MLB veteran LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins, who grew up in nearby Gary, Indiana, was barraged with hate mail and death threats during his 1 ½ years with the Cubs.
“He understands what he’s dealing with, and how people may react,” said Hawkins, Stroman’s teammate in 2015 with the Toronto Blue Jays. “They might tell him he’s a Black man with a big mouth. They’ll want him to just shut up and play ball.
“But if that city is going to pick on a minority, they’ve got the wrong guy. Stroman is not going to back down from a fight, especially to a bigot and racist. He’ll speak his mind, and doesn’t care what people say.”
The boos and taunts are fine, Hawkins said, but when the racism and death threats become so daunting that you can’t even bring your family to games, there’s a problem.
“It’s OK to have the hell booed out of you,” Hawkins said. “it comes with the territory. It’s the other stuff, the vile things, the derogatory things, calling you the most unimaginable things, that your white teammates don’t have to go through. It got so bad that when they know they can’t touch you, they start attacking your family. There were times I wanted to snap somebody’s neck off.
“But he’s a lot better equipped than I was. I wasn’t prepared at all.”
Stroman, 30, can’t just ignore the hate and stay quiet. It’s not part of his DNA.
“I’m someone who’s also always going to bring light to it because a lot of athletes who are going through the same thing are struggling,” Stroman said. “They need to get through this as well. It’s fine having someone tell me I suck, I’m terrible, all of that. But when they’re coming at you for the color of your skin rather than for you being bad on the field, I’m going to expose it.
“I think a lot of the time African Americans and minorities were taught, ‘Hey, see it, bury it, get through it.’ But this is something we have to be very vocal about. We can’t just hide it.”
Stroman, who graduated from Duke University with a degree in sociology and a professional certificate in marketing and management, believes that Chicago will be a fabulous fit for him and his family. He loves the organization and the passionate fanbase.
Still, he’s perplexed why the Mets turned their back on him, never making him a single offer, before he ultimately chose the Cubs over the San Francisco Giants.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be with the Mets,” Stroman said. “I didn’t feel wanted from that front office there. To do the things that I did, and being the only starter to stay healthy that entire season and the way I grinded for that organization, I never did feel wanted there.
“There are things I don’t want to get into, and I don’t want to name names, but it’s crazy with some of the stuff going in there. Some of that front office has got to go because it’s created a bad environment from the top. Hopefully, Steve, who has a great vision, cleans it up.”
The Mets went through four GMs and head of baseball operations in 13 months during Stroman’s stay, but when Billy Eppler was hired on Nov. 18 to be their new GM, nothing changed. Stroman signed hours before the midnight, Dec. 1 lockout.
“I’m going to go out there and I’ll put my next five, seven years against anybody’s next five, seven years. I’ve been consistent. I’m not some flash in the pan,” Stroman said.
‘I want to be heard’
Stroman has made at least 30 starts in four of the five full seasons since 2016 and is coming off one of his best years. He opted out during the shortened 2020 COVID season, but led the major leagues with 33 starts last year with a career-low 3.02 ERA, striking out 158 batters while walking 44.
Now, he’s with a team that badly wanted him, and were aggressive in their talks before the lockout.
“You play against the Cubs, and you feel that energy in the crowd,” Stroman said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s opening day or the last game of the season, the excitement is always there. The energy is authentic. I feed off that intensity.”
Stroman couldn’t have gone wrong, he said, if he had wound up with the Giants, who overwhelmed him in their recruiting process. He couldn’t stop raving about Farhan Zaidi, president of baseball operations, and manager Gabe Kapler.
“To be honest, I love the Giants and everything about that organization,” he said. “They were incredible. I was blown away. That organization is headed for great, great things. The people from the top down are incredible. They’re with it, man.
“I would love it at some point down the road to be a part of that team.”
For now, Stroman is focusing on the Cubs and perhaps accelerating their rebuild quicker than imagined.
In the meantime, he will continue to be a huge presence on social media. He’ll weigh in on social issues. He’ll try to provide inspiration. He’ll proudly display pictures of his 3-month-old son, Kai Zen Stroman, with his girlfriend Shannon Nadj. And he’ll market his clothing line (HDMH), cleats, sneakers and gloves (Shugo), and soon his own children’s book and wine.
The Twitter account is here to stay, no matter how much negativity it can often invite.
“What keeps me going on that is when I see how much good I’m doing just helping someone out there going through life or dealing with a struggle,” Stroman said. “I get daily messages thanking me for being so positive, helping their anxiety issues, helping them get through a cancer treatment.
“So, if I can get one positive message, that negates 100 negative ones. I’m fine with that. I’m going to keep being me. I can take whatever bad at this point because I know that I’m truly having a positive impact on people out there.”
Stroman, who lived in Malibu, California, during the winter, wants to be a mentor for every young player ballplayer. Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Hunter Greene called to work out with him during the winter. Others call and text him asking for advice.
“People can see that I’m authentic,” said Stroman, 5-foot-7, the shortest pitcher in the big leagues. “I’m a very full person and baseball is just part of me. I think the younger athlete now respects that, and sees that they want to be full individuals as well. Obviously, they want to be great on the field, but who says you can’t do both?”
Stroman brought up Washington Nationals All-Star outfielder Juan Soto, knowing he should be a household name, calling him the greatest hitter he has faced and predicting a future $500 million payday.
“Baseball needs to do a much better job marketing their players; there’s a bunch of young African-Americans who want to play baseball. I just feel like MLB is not grasping that enough or putting an emphasis on that. You need to get out there and start profiling the young stars, giving these young kids a role model, and MLB does a terrible job at that.
“That’s why I’m doing this all myself because I want to get my voice out there, and I want to be heard.”
For now, Stroman must prepare for a baseball season, and a certain basketball team to cheer for in the Final Four.
Yes, you better believe that Stroman is a huge fan of his alma mater and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who’s retiring after the NCAA Tournament.
“I would always go back there before COVID, and he would let me come and sit in on one of their practices,” said Stroman, calling his graduation from Duke as his proudest accomplishment. “He would set up a chair for me, give me a little blueprint on what they’re doing in practice, and then coming over and talking to me after practice.
“I remember those talks so vividly. He’s got that energy field around him, you know. What a legend. And you know he’s a Cubs’ fan, right? We’re going to try to have him throw out a first pitch this year.
“This is going to be a great year. I can just feel it.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cubs’ Marcus Stroman won’t back down:’ I want to be heard’
Source: Yahoo Sports