Trevor Bauer is one of the most interesting, transparent, vocal, and engaging players in Major League Baseball, a data-driven pitch-tinkerer and spin-master.
He is also – by any measure – one of the best and most exciting to watch starting pitchers in the game. After his final regular season start earlier this week, the 29 year-old ace of the playoff bound Cincinnati Reds leads the National League in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts with a scintillating 1.73 ERA, a 0.79 WHIP, and 100 strikeouts over 73 innings.
In his spare time, he is trying to change the culture of baseball and revolutionize the way baseball players engage with fans, by helping his fellow ballplayers to build their personal brands and platforms.
If you are one of the hundreds of thousands who follow @BauerOutage on Twitter, you having been getting a window into his playful rivalry with the Cubs, Yu Darvish, his “beef” with the Houston Astros due to their cheating scandal, and have been invited into the sandlot baseball game he organized when the season was suspended due to COVID-19.
You have also been privy to his innermost musings and thoughts on topics that range from MLB’s social media policies or labor issues to his philosophy on life (unsurprisingly, he’s a fan of “adapt or die,” as a credo). And you have also been served up some absolutely spectacular behind-the-scenes, inside-the-game baseball content:
All you trolls out there that wanted me to break down all the homers Max Kepler hit off me last year, you broke me down, so I broke them down. Here’s the link, you heathens. https://t.co/N1zeAqvhzl
— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) April 1, 2020
Why the internet loves him: The polarizing Reds starter is outspoken on social media, but he also makes his presence known when he takes the mound, bringing one of the game’s best approaches and arsenals with him while busting out cleats defending Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly after Kelly threw behind and mocked Astros hitters earlier this year.
In terms of baseball, he has a serious purpose. He has an important point. And he is working tirelessly to push the game to where he believes it must go.
Bauer’s passion project is Momentum, an athlete-driven media company he co-founded that uses storytelling to connect athletes and fans on a human level. He fully funds the venture and employs a full-time staff as well as a network of consultants for the company, which has produced over 500 pieces of content and worked with over 110 athletes to date. On YouTube alone, Momentum has logged over 11 million views and 1.2 million hours of watch time since its inception. “Bauer Bytes” is Momentum’s flagship series, providing an inside unfiltered look at real stories about baseball’s biggest stars and legends. Another popular series is “Inside the COVID Season,” which provides an inside look at the 2020 season, “the weirdest season in baseball history.”
Good Men Project Sports greatly appreciates Trevor Bauer and his agent, Rachel Luba, spending some time with us to bring you this exclusive interview. As the only female MLBPA certified Player-Agent listed as the primary agent with a client in the major leagues, Ms. Luba is a bold trailblazer in her own right. And we are grateful for sharing her insights as a long-time friend of Bauer’s and an astute observer of the game.
Mike Kasdan, Good Men Project Sports:
You’ve taken some time on Twitter to explain Momentum and your vision athlete branding. You mention that “the current culture of baseball discourages them from building their brand and platform.”
Can you explain what you mean by this – and why the culture of baseball is so different in this respect from, say, the NBA – what you are finding to be the major impediments/obstacles to change, and how you (and others) are going about changing this culture?
Baseball has more players than any other sport. You have six levels of minor leagues, the big-league organization, front office, staff, and generally one media director per club, whose staff is three to four people. That media department is responsible for 300+ people between six to seven levels of the sport. You can’t develop a brand strategy for or educate all of them on how to use social media and how to utilize media in general as a tool to build their brand – so instead you say, “Okay, well I can’t deal with 300 crises at the same time, so let’s teach people how to say words without saying anything controversial, or saying anything at all really.”
You end up with a group that is discouraged from using media as a platform. They give empty answers, or don’t show personalities and just get through interviews and get on with their day. In turn, players don’t really build a brand because they come off and sound very boring; they sound kind of cliché, that’s one of the biggest problems.
The other problem is we play every single day during the season. So where guys in the NBA and NFL have off days between starts, they can go film something, go do something, they can be active on Twitter, they can develop a brand strategy, etc. In baseball, we play until 11 p.m. and have to be up by 11 a.m. You get lunch and you go to the field; there is not a lot of time during the season to be active and doing that type of stuff – especially if you don’t have a dedicated strategy or someone helping you.
In an effort to change the culture, we’re trying to educate players on what building a brand looks like, how to do it, and a strategy that can be done during baseball season. No one has ever focused on the specific problems that baseball players face and the specific schedule. That’s what we’re trying to do, trying to find ways that they can be active and engaged during season, because that’s when most fans care, that’s when most eyes are on them, and that’s when they should be posting on social the most (and reaping the most benefit) – but that’s also when it’s the hardest to do it. At Momentum, we’re trying to make it easier for players to do just that. We film them, work with them on things that they’re already doing, and show off their personalities in a positive way so that they don’t create any controversy, but still reap the benefits of their platform.
How, when, and why did this become a central issue that you decided to focus on?
It’s something that I experienced early in my career, where media dictated my narrative and I didn’t feel like I had enough of a voice to get my message out there. Then at the 2018 MLB All-Star Game, [MLB Commissioner] Rob Manfred made a comment about players not marketing themselves and how it’s really the player’s job to market themselves and how the League would like to do it more but the players don’t want to engage. That stuck with me – I didn’t see a reason why this would be thrust onto the players without any training on it. You have professional baseball players whose primary job is to play baseball; you can’t expect them to automatically be media savvy. That information and education has to come from somewhere. On the one hand, it should come from the League, but there isn’t always mutual trust.
The desert shots are stills from his Momentum series “Live At Bats” or Live ABs which were shot in the Arizona desert before baseball resumed: “Well, there was no baseball for a little while so we decided to pack up our gear, head to the middle of the desert, and host (socially distant) Live At-Bats for MLB and MiLB players.”
We were also at a point where baseball was losing popularity, especially with the younger generation. I remember thinking to myself, ‘How do we connect fans and players on a human level? How do we really help generate that level of interest and that connection?’
That’s something that my business partner Taiki Green and I want to solve through video and multimedia with Momentum.
This seems to come very naturally to you. You are or have become very comfortable filming you and friends, shooting the shit, diving into topics that many aren’t talking about. Is this a generational thing? A social media comfort thing? A Trevor Bauer thing?
This doesn’t come naturally to me at all, honestly. I was bullied a lot growing up and I didn’t find my voice until early in my professional career. I didn’t feel like I had a peer group that fostered open communication for a long time. I was told to ‘shut up’ and was made fun of a lot.
But I’m a problem solver at heart. I started to get comfortable speaking my mind and opening up, even if my words were sometimes taken out of context. Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable started as a need. One day back in high school, I had just finished a morning pool workout. I showered and was getting ready for class and looked in the mirror thinking, ‘Why don’t people like me?’ I decided that day that I liked myself. As long as I liked what I saw in the mirror and could be proud of myself at the end of the day, I was going to be comfortable sharing what I wanted to share and speaking. I didn’t really care what other people thought. Combined with the need to control my own narrative and my passion for the game, to see it grow and connect with the fans — that’s really what lead me to figuring it out and trying to get better at it and becoming more comfortable with the whole thing.
I’ve been learning these skills along the way through other hobbies which has really all come together now to help with Momentum.
For example, I got into video editing for baseball purposes back in my early twenties and taught myself how to work a camera and how to use Final Cut Pro. In 2017, I went to Yellowstone Park, because I wanted pictures to decorate my house. I was using Go-Pros on my drone, and I wanted to put together drone videos. Social media, Twitter and Instagram especially, really became a thing for me in college. I was still young enough and still interested enough in that type of technology to adopt and embrace it.
I think a lot of players that have come after me, the younger guys, are very much in tune with how the platforms work and how to use them. They’ve grown up with this technology so it’s as common as texting for my generation because we just grew up with it.
On What Makes Trevor Bauer Unique: “Trevor is incredibly intelligent and gifted on both the creative-side of things and also the mathematical/technical side as well–that’s a rare combination to find in a person. Despite his somewhat natural abilities in both areas, Trevor is someone who will never shy away from something just because he “doesn’t understand it” or “isn’t good at it.” Most people know what they’re good at and stick to it. Trevor is constantly pushing himself out of his comfort zone, and I think that’s what makes him so unique. How many professional athletes are also engineers, build their own drones, are incredible photographers, have built their own websites using graphic design skills they taught themselves, are YouTube vloggers, and have multiple companies ranging from a performance-tracking/analytics company, to a marketing company and media company?” – Trevor’s Agent, Rachel Luba
“What makes Trevor unique is how incredibly driven and purposeful he is, on and off the field. In his pitching, down to every small movement in his body, every minute of his training, and every one of the 41 statistics he tracks on himself daily, Trevor has it down to a science and has spent years perfecting his skillset. Off the field, it takes a strong individual to go against the grain and to be first – let alone to take on the challenge of shifting the perception of your sport.” – Trevor’s PR Rep, Melanie Wadden Van Dusen
How do you overcome that many players seem to be more reserved about speaking out on these issues and on letting fans in to their inner thoughts and conversations? What about the practical issues like being comfortable with video editing and Twitter; these are things that seem to distinguish you from most players. How do you address that?
In finding that really authentic content with Momentum, one big part of it is filming players in a natural habitat.
Players are comfortable speaking about a lot of things when they’re in the clubhouse, with their buddies. They just have conversations. The more you can put them in those types of situations and let them know, ‘Be yourself. Say whatever you want to say and we’re going to let you view the footage before it comes out. We’re not going to bait you or paint you in a negative light.’ Every athlete we work with has final approval on the pieces that come out. There’s never any worry about, ‘I said something stupid and now it’s out there. I have to be guarded.’
We want to showcase athletes’ real stories and their personalities. It’s like ‘Just be yourself. We’ll cut it to make you look good, and we’ll give you a first look to make sure that you’re okay with it before it comes out.’
That is how we’re addressing that problem.
In terms of content, it seems that pitching itself is an incredibly rich ground. You think about people like Jomboy and @PitchingNinja focusing on breaking down and blowing up and explaining tiny moments, like pitcher-catcher communication, grips on pitches, different types of pitches, etc., and people love that content.
You’ve always been a tinkerer and very open about discussing pitching, but there aren’t many pitchers who do that so openly. Do they feel like they’re giving away trade secrets or competitive advantage? What makes you approach this so differently?
Some pitchers either don’t know exactly why their stuff works, or they’re just like ‘Oh I grip it like this and throw it.’ That’s how they learned the game. Someone was like, ‘Try this grip and throw it.’ They just happen to throw this nasty pitch and can’t really explain why because they don’t know. They know how it works on the mound, they know exactly how to use it and how it feels but it’s very hard to translate a feeling into a sentence. That’s one of the reasons that pitchers feel like they’re giving away trade secrets: because they don’t want to give a competitive advantage away, which is understandable.
What I share publicly is stuff that I learned three or four years ago, so I’m not worried about giving away trade secrets because I always believe I’m ahead of the research and learning.
I didn’t have access to the same information growing up that I do now. I was a Barry Zito fan. I wanted to know how Barry threw his curveball. I was very fortunate that I was able to meet him at youth camp and ask how he threw it, but many kids don’t have that opportunity and don’t luck into the same situation with their favorite players.
With my YouTube content, I’m trying to give this kind of information to kids and make it a better landscape for the next generation of baseball players (and fans) so that they have the pieces to learn from. That’s how I view it.
I also want to be known as someone that helped change the game and usher in a new era and landscape for players – through analytics, training, branding, representation in sports, etc.
Whatever the case, I want to see a better landscape for players when I leave the game compared to when I came in. I want to see the next generation of players have it easier than I had. That’s why I give those ‘secrets’ away. It’s partially a legacy thing and partially me investing in people who want to learn that information. I’m not really worried about other people weaponizing it against me because it takes a lot of time and effort that not many are willing to put in. Those that are, those are the people that I want to invest in.
Some of the things you like to talk about – your beef with the Astros (most recently the whole Joe Kelly incident), Rob Manfred’s decisions (e.g., threatening to punish you if you wore those awesome Joe Kelly cleats, labor issues, etc.), laughing at yourself when you lose it (e.g., chucking the ball over the center field fence against KC) – are things many players don’t want to touch. Your approach is to put it on a T-shirt.
Your thinking there?
I don’t think that life is very fun when you can’t laugh at yourself. I take my craft very seriously, but at the end of the day all the preparation is done by game day. I go out there and compete— if I win, I win and if I lose, I lose. Hopefully, I win more than I lose, but I also want to enjoy life, and I’m someone that likes to joke around, make fun of situations and poke fun at people, not in a negative way, but just in a joking witty banter kind of way.
If I can’t apply the same thing to myself, I feel like I don’t have the right to go out there and do it to other people.
There are a lot of different reasons for it. I think it all goes back to that same day in high school, where I said, ‘I’m OK with myself.’ So now, if I make fun of myself, if people make fun of me, say that I’m craving attention, or that so and so is great for baseball or bad for baseball — I don’t really care.
People are going to feel how they want about me regardless of what I do, and honestly people hated me a lot more when I didn’t go about things this way, because I was often made out to be this terrible person: ‘Bad teammate,’ ‘bad person,’ ‘arrogant…’
It’s a lot better now that I am doing these things, because at least now some people seem to vibe with me, whereas before not many really did.
Baseball is a game of many traditions and unwritten rules. The way it’s been traditionally has been to play baseball, keep your head down, be quiet. Now we’re seeing a lot of pressure on those unwritten rules of old school baseball. (Flamboyance like bat flips or a pitcher pumping his fist after a strikeout being frowned upon or the whole controversy over the Fernando Tatis Jr. grand slam on a 3-0 pitch).
There seems to be this tension between “respect” and “keep your head down and play” and having fun, being yourself, interacting with fans, and entertaining them and showing them what’s behind the curtain.
What is it about baseball specifically that makes this change hard and how are you going about breaking through that resistance both from capital B “Baseball” and players?
Baseball has traditionally been a very ‘old school’, buttoned up sport. America’s Pastime was the dominant force for a long time in the sports world and other sports had to find ways to compete and outdo it.
In the shadows, these other leagues were building culture and processes that would help them go head-to-head and eventually outpace baseball. Our sport, unfortunately, didn’t realize it until it was a little bit late in the game, so now baseball is playing catch up.
That’s the nature of competition. You have a lot of the ‘old school’ saying, ‘No, this is how the game should be played,’ and they don’t understand social media and they don’t understand the current nature of fans: where they end up, why they like what they like, the changing attention spans, etc.
They want the game to be done the way that it was when they grew up or when they played, because that’s what they know. Also, the ‘old school’ tends to stick around in the institutions of baseball. They go from being players to coaches to the front office to broadcasters, etc. so this point of view remains dominant.
Because there are so many layers to it all, when a rookie comes up from the minors, it’s very hard to get over that hump, bucking everyone above you and doing things differently, while maintaining team chemistry and trying to win. It takes a really special and strong type of personality to be willing and able to do that. Sometimes it takes a young team without a lot of veterans for the culture to shift and a new mindset to be ushered in. You’re starting to see that with the Padres and the Braves.
The younger generation understands the distinction and boundary between respect and celebrating versus disrespect. I can fist pump on the mount when I execute a pitch the way I wanted to, and that has nothing to do with the hitter.
Tim Anderson took Trevor Bauer deep and then told the broadcast team to tell Bauer to put it on his YouTube channel. Savage. pic.twitter.com/QjYn8heZqj
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) September 20, 2020
That’s the boundary – if you’re doing it to show up a specific player, that’s where it becomes disrespectful. If you’re celebrating a moment and excited about your success, you should be able to do that without being criticized.
ON SHORT REST
in arguably one of the most important games of the regular season for the @Reds.
— Rachel Luba (@AgentRachelLuba) September 24, 2020
Do you see yourself as competing with MLB (in terms of content creation) or player agencies (in terms of services) or complementing them and can you explain why? For example, I think of the recent sponsorship (if that’s the right word) with Budweiser over your strikeouts – drawing Buds on the mound, etc. – do you think there is a fear by MLB of letting players monetize things like this? You are pushing the envelope with the league. MLB Baseball knows they have to change and do a better job marketing themselves and their players, be more fun. It seems they are trying, for example, through playful team Twitter accounts and MLB posting more “behind the scenes” cuts.
Are you fighting to do this or working together?
I don’t view us as the same type of entity. Certainly, the more people looking for player-driven content, the better off our medium is going to be and the better off the league is going to be. We need both sides pulling at the rope to accomplish what needs to be accomplished in baseball culture and moving things forward.
We don’t have a formal partnership with MLB, although we are grateful to be the first active player-owned media company that they have credentialed. At times, our relationship can be playfully antagonistic, but in order to accomplish what we want to accomplish, we need the MLB and the MLB needs us. There are certain things that we can do as a third-party that MLB can’t. There are certain players that will work with us but won’t work with MLB, and vice versa.
I do think sometimes that MLB shuts down ideas that could be a lot of fun, like with the Joe Kelly cleats. That moment wasn’t meant to be antagonistic, but MLB shut it down, and that’s their prerogative as the governing body. But that’s a story that MLB can’t create. I, as a third party, could, because I don’t have any responsibility to the teams in question or to the Commissioner.
It’s just about pushing the envelope forward and pushing the boundaries in saying what we can and can’t do, what hits and what doesn’t. MLB takes ideas from us and we take ideas from MLB, not that we call each other and collaborate, but we watch what each other does and that’s good for everyone.
On Culture Change in MLB: “Culture change is a slow process. I know of a lot of players who have thanked Trevor for using his voice and making them feel like they can use theirs too, or if they still don’t feel comfortable personally, thanking him for using his voice and standing up for others who can’t. At the same time, there are still plenty of guys – mostly older veterans – who are uncomfortable with it. I think over time, as the younger MiLB players start coming up through the system and seeing some of these current players speaking up and changing the culture within the clubhouse, they’ll feel comfortable doing the same and ultimately it will change the overall culture of the game moving forward.” – Rachel Luba
What is the future of all this and baseball? What do you see?
So much of it centers around content and access.
I think that traditional media is very important, and teams should maintain a network of dedicated beat writers that follow the team. When fans want inside information about the team, they read their articles. But that’s still a third party dictating what fans are reading and getting to know the players. I think ideally you also have a more robust content team, including videographers, who travel with the team and work with players off the field, and it’s player driven to an extent.
Maybe Momentum has different chapters in different cities to help fill that void, which can be distributed through the players’ platforms so they can build their brands and engage with their specific audiences. It would be footage off the field, interviews the day after a game, asking different types of questions like, ’What’s your mindset coming off a loss?’ that would capture some of those raw, human moments for fans to really identify with as opposed to the traditional, ’I tried to execute this pitch and I missed so he hit it and it sucks that we lost,’ type of thing.
Fans want more, and they want depth. Having regular videographers around individual players, traveling around with teams, creating a Hard Knocks-type of series where fans are following along with the team, that’s what I’d love to see! More behind the scenes content and video through original series throughout the year. That’s something that we’re trying to build toward at Momentum.
Ultimately, I think evolving to a culture of, ’If you’re not building your brand while you’re playing, what are you doing?’ I want to pull up players towards, ’Hey you should be building your brand,’ versus ‘Keep your head down, that’s not what we do here.’ That’s kind of the direction that I want to see it go.
Tim Anderson took Trevor Bauer deep and then told the broadcast team to tell Bauer to put it on his YouTube channel. Savage. pic.twitter.com/QjYn8heZqj
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) September 20, 2020
On The Void Filled By Bauer’s Focus on Helping Player’s Create Content and Fans Improve Access:
“Baseball’s culture has always been very ‘anti self-promotion.’ This has become increasingly problematic in the age of social media. Trevor grew up loving the sport of baseball, but he recognizes that it has declined in popularity especially with younger generations. Trevor is passionate about changing that and finding ways to connect with younger fans so that baseball doesn’t lose future generations of fans. By creating content geared toward younger generations, Trevor believes he can reconnect American’s Pastime with this group and show them how awesome the game really is.
Trevor is always looking to solve problems. It’s what made him so good at baseball, and it’s what makes him so passionate about bringing the fans back to baseball. Trevor is never complacent. He’s always looking to evolve, grow, and find better ways to do things/solve problems. This happens to be a problem that he’s identified and is passionate about solving, which is why he has invested so much time, money, and energy into ‘growing the game.'”
— Rachel Luba
Photo Credits: Momentum, Trevor Bauer, with permission (Momentum, Tyler Rittenhouse, Nicole Smith)
For more information on how Momentum is changing the way that baseball players and fans connect and how the sport is marketed, check out its content across Momentum’s digital channels, as well as its distribution partners, including PlayersTV and FOX Sports.