It's insanely beautiful outside when Chris Archer rolls into the Complex offices. A day removed from watching his Rays lose to the Yankees in the Bronx Bombers' warmest home opener since 1960, it's sinful that he's spending so much time inside while the Big Apple enjoys another day of abundant sunshine and unseasonable warmth. The kind where every rooftop bar is packed and guys walk down the street with their head on swivel because girls are wearing their summer clothes.
But since the Tampa Bay Rays' No. 1 starter has the day off thanks to the idiosyncrasies of the early season baseball schedule, he's got time to kill. So before he heads off to Soho to get in some shopping, he drops by to talk about the game he's obsessed with and how we better get used to the animated Archer we've seen on the mound two starts into 2017.
"When I first got to the league I toned it down a little, but I feel like I was hiding my true self," he says. "I wasn’t maximizing who I was on the mound because I was too worried about what other people thought. I don’t care what the other dugout thinks."
He is, however, happy to admit he's ecstatic to no longer see David Ortiz in the batter's box and wants all the haters out there who whine about baseball games being too long to pipe down. Over the course of a half hour, the 28-year-old All-Star talked about his reverence for Jackie Robinson, his bogus new pitch, how he'd love to face Barry Bonds, and the Complex co-signed artist he's blasting on the days he starts.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
"If people don’t have the attention span for it, that’s on them. Put your tablet away. Put your phone away. Baseball is a game of chess."
You moved to Adidas this off-season. Why did you feel they were the right company to sign with?
There was a few things. Over the past two years, I’ve really noticed the momentum Adidas has developed. Their gear is top notch, man. Not just the apparel on the field, but the stuff I was wearing off the field. So that caught my attention. Then I saw some collabs with Pharrell and 2 Chainz, some people I admired from the music industry and other aspects of my life. Then the ability to be yourself and be creative, those were some really big things for me because in baseball it gets a little boring with the branding. And I saw how they stepped outside the box with Von Miller and D-Rose and James Harden. And the exclusivity of some of the shoes we’re able to get, like the Yeezys, the Ultra Boosts. They make me feel special by sending me all of this stuff.
I had somebody recently ask to buy a pair of shoes off my feet. I actually just walked into Foot Locker just to see what Adidas had in store versus what they had online. One of the employees said, “I’ll buy those.” It was the Ultra Boosts Olympic Medals. I was like, “These are dirty.” And it was a female. I was like, “Do you wear size 10 or 11?” She was like, “No, but I will.” She was like, “I’ll buy those off your feet right now.” She didn’t even know I played baseball.
Moving on to baseball, you’re a guy who has featured three pitches throughout your career: fastball, changeup, and slider. I think we saw in one of your last starts you were throwing a two-seamer, so is that in your repertoire?
That article was bogus. I’ll be real with you, man, when I threw that pitch I was like, “What was that?” It was literally that one pitch, an 0-2 pitch down and away to Jacoby Ellsbury. I’ve seen that article posted and reposted and you’re the third person to ask me about it now and it’s completely fake news.
So where did that pitch come from?
I don’t know. I have no clue. If I knew how to throw that, I would [throw that all the time]. I don’t know what happened.
I know you’ve read Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim Grover over the past off-season. He’s worked with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and others. Have you talked to any of those guys that have worked with him about what they’ve gotten out of the book. And what have you gotten out of that book?
Not those guys specifically, but I’ve talked to four or five other baseball players who have read the book and recommended it to a few teammates.
Who recommended it to you?
This is crazy. The first person was my teammate Corey Dickerson. The same day, within 24 hours, Josh Donaldson from the Toronto Blue Jays told me about it. And within 48 hours a close friend of mine, Marcus Stroman, posted a quote from that book on Twitter. It was just one of those things in life that was very in sync and I knew if it was mentioned to me three times within 48 hours I had to read it.
Do you consider yourself one of the elite pitchers in baseball?
I do. But with that being said, I have so much more to accomplish. I can be so much better, so much more consistent. As far as pure stuff and the ability, I definitely think I’m up there.
One batter you would love to strikeout but you haven’t had a chance?
I’d like to face Barry Bonds. He likes to say nobody comes inside on him, and I’ve seen him turn on some stuff. I’d like to try. I’d like to give him my best shot. And I’d like to see what Babe Ruth could do with higher-end velocity because we don’t know how hard those dudes were throwing back then. I definitely respect hitting over 700 home runs in your career. That’s special. Doesn’t matter if you’re playing beer league softball or in the big leagues. But I’d like to see what somebody from that era, that generation could do with my stuff.
Who’s the one guy you hate to face?
I would never say this, but now that he’s retired I can: David Ortiz. There’s a couple of batters out there who have good numbers against me, but they’re soft singles. This dude hit about .400 off of me with damage. Even the outs were loud outs. I’m glad he’s done and I can finally verbalize that and not suppress it.
Jackie Robinson Day is coming up Saturday and he’s somebody you have a lot of reverence for. You probably won’t get a chance to play (ed.’s note: Archer is scheduled to pitch Friday against the Red Sox), but explain to me why it’s such an important day for you.
A lot of people focus on the things he went through on the diamond. It’s great. He’s the first. And he broke the barrier. But the fact that he went through all of that in his job and his craft and still was a very active member of the civil rights movement…it’s the stuff that people do off the field. I know how challenging it is for any of us who work any job to find time to do something else that’s meaningful. He found time to be a major part of the civil rights movement, like walking next to Martin Luther King Jr., sit-ins. I read his autobiography and the things that I’ve learned about him off the field are more impressive.
The narrative that there’s a lack of black baseball players, and even more so a lack of black starting pitchers in the game, do you get asked questions about that a lot and about the ways Major League Baseball can better the situation?
Like once or twice a year people ask me about it and I’ll be honest with you, I think the Player’s Association and Major League Baseball are doing a good job. We’re taking a step in the right direction because the past few Major League drafts there’s been a higher percentage of black American players drafted. You’re not going to see that effect for 10 years. I was drafted when I was 17. I’m finally getting to a place in my career where I’m firmly established, I can have an impact off the field, and that’s 10, 11 years. For us to really see the impact that we’re going to have we have to be patient. There’s other ideas that are out there that I think are going to propel it as well.
You’re kind of in a unique position where you’re like clubhouse leader in Tampa Bay.
I am a clubhouse leader.
OK, well you and Evan Longoria, but you’re one of the main leaders and you don’t really see that with starting pitchers. Give me an idea how unique it is for a guy to have a such a strong voice in the clubhouse when he’s only out there every five days.
It’s tough. I know my role. I don’t try to question anything an everyday position player does because it’s a tough job. As a starter, I’m playing once every five days. The best way for me to lead is by example by putting my work in and making sure those eight guys behind me in the field and the other 24 guys in the dugout know I’m putting the work in, and when I’m not pitching I’m going to be the biggest cheerleader, the biggest advocate for the Tampa Bay Rays and the players on the team. That’s the way I try go about it. If I’m overly vocal and I come up short the one day, then it’s just a bad look.
Who controls the music in the Rays’ clubhouse?
Typically it’s the starting pitcher that day.
So what are you blasting?
Give me an idea of the playlist.
I want a chill vibe. Like the calm before the storm. Right now, I love this Toronto rapper, 6lack. That whole album plays. It’s R&B but kind of hip-hoppy. Also mixed in K-Ci & JoJo, Usher, Ginuwine. But the whole 6lack album has to play. Probably hour and a half [before first pitch] I start getting ready, then I have Migos and Big Sean.
If there’s one change to the rules you’d like to see baseball implement, what would it be?
I’ll be real with you, I love the game of baseball the way it is. I think a three-hour baseball game is normal. Baseball is about strategy. If you want checkers, go play checkers. But it’s a chess match out there. Football, with the commercials and stuff? But you want to change baseball? I love baseball the way it is. I’m involved in all the talks about how we can change. I realize it’s not about what Chris Archer wants. It’s for the betterment of the game. I’m open and willing, I’m a representative for the Player’s Association and I’ve sat down face-to-face with [MLB commissioner] Rob Manfred and we’ve talked about some things. I’m open to it. But I love the way baseball is. If people don’t have the attention span for it, that’s on them. Put your tablet away. Put your phone away. Baseball is a game of chess.