Dee Gordon on Being an All-Star, the Future Hive, and What It's Like as an African-American in the Major Leagues

Dee Gordon talks to us about kicks, hip-hop, and a number of issues surrounding baseball.

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Complex Original

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Basketball isn't one of the country's most famous sports just because of the superstars and the money that's backing the NBA. Its accessibility helps make it ubiquitous. I came up in an inner city public high school that didn't even have a basketball rim in its makeshift gym. But we did have balls—and a garbage bin. We'd stack mats on top of one another until they reached the desirable height and the place the bin on top of those mats. Thus, BucketBall™ was born. Having to manually remove the ball from the makeshift rim like a 19th-century throwback scrimmage was a minor inconvenience for living our baby LeBron and Kobe fantasies.

Baseball doesn't have that sort of makeshift luxury. You needed equipment: balls, bats, maybe a helmet. And you need space. The park next to our school was filled with footballers and teenage hood stars. The one a couple of blocks toward the opposite direction had space, but it was in dangerous proximity to the projects, where you will get robbed on the wrong day. So, baseball was a distant hobby at best for many in the Flatbushes of America.

Problems don't just come inherently with the game, though. The MLB doesn't have a LeBron or Kobe. It has an overly traditional mindset marked by staid press quotes, post-BALCO tensions, and plenty of white men. The prognosis isn't getting any better, either; the New York Times reported that the 2014 opening rosters composed of just 8.3 percent black men, a steep decrease from 1986's 19 percent. 

Issues like these make the prominence of players like Dee Gordon more important. Gordon, the son of the great pitcher Tom "Flash" Gordon, started his athletic career as a standout basketball player at Florida's Avon Park High School. He made the transition from basketball to baseball in the middle of high school because his dad promised him a car. That car never came, but a decade later, Gordon went on to become the league leader in hits, a member of the #FutureHive, and a major agent in a league getting its swag back right after Dee found his. 

Interview by Brian Josephs (@Bklyn_Rock).

So when did you start getting really passionate about baseball? I feel like transitioning from basketball to baseball would be a bit of a rough transition in the middle of high school.
I really started playing baseball more when I got into college. It was hard, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. And I knew I had to, so I ended up making the jump over.

I’d imagine your father was a pretty big influence in that switch.
My uncles were, actually. They were there for me every day. I got a strong family base. It’s more than just my dad. My dad was definitely a lot of help, but my uncles were there as well. 

What did you give up when you made that change?
I gave up a little bit of my confidence and swag, because I went from a game that I was one of the best at for my age to something that was kind of foreign to me. I had to give up a little bit of that.

At what point did you find the swag?
About 2013 [Laughs]. It took me a little bit. I had it in the minors but then in the major leagues in 2013, I started to really get it.

After getting traded to Miami, how is it playing so close to home?
It’s good that my grandmother comes to see me play. It’s pretty cool that I get to see her all the time. Being in L.A., I couldn’t really see my friends and my family — hardly at all unless they could get away to get to L.A. But that’s hard. It’s definitely better to be around there.

How’s the baseball culture in Miami? Up in New York, there’s kind of one, but I think it’s mostly because the Yankees are the Yankees (they’re a cultural figure rather than just a sports team — and they got 27 championships).
It’s definitely different…It’s just a smaller market.

people sleep on 56 Nights and the song 'Never Gon Lose.'

Tell me about a bit about your other interests. I hear you’re pretty into hip-hop?
I like Future, A$AP Rocky, PeeWay Longway. Guys like that.

You know Future’s dropping an album soon. Twitter was going crazy over the announcement.
Yeah, it’s going to be pretty good. He had those three mixtapes during the offseason. He’s killing the game. He’s the man right now.

That must’ve been a great offseason having Future going on that mixtape run.
He just spazzed out for three straight tapes. That was pretty dope.

What’s your favorite out of the three?
I’m gon’ say 56 Nights. Pretty much every song you can just listen to, so I’m gon’ go with 56 Nights. Even though Monster was pretty dope with “Codeine Crazy." But I’m gon’ go with 56 Nights.

Agreed. Especially with “March Madness.”
Oh my God, yeah. But see, people sleep on 56 Nights and the song “Never Gon Lose.”

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How’s your sneaker game?
In Miami, I got shoes everywhere. Here, I probably got about 40-50 pairs. It’s not really a lot, but the number grows every day. Like last night, my shoe dude came over and hit me up with three pairs. It just keeps growing somehow.

When did you start collecting sneakers?
Junior year we started getting Jordans, because my dad had went and signed a Nike contract. I could just go online and get them and then next thing you know I was buying all of them. I had a problem. 

Is it weird being a Jordan head and having to wear Under Armour on the field?
Not at all, because Under Armour is built for comfort, man. They got great cleats and my feet don’t hurt. They take really good care of me. So I’m glad to be with those guys and I’ll probably stay with them.

I ain’t finna sacrifice comfort for a brand.

What’s your favorite kicks?
Man, there’s so many—I got to look at some. What you got?

Off the top of my head I’d say either the Bred 1s or Bred 11s.
I’d say the Banned Jordan 1s.

Ever seen Chris Rock’s segment about black people in baseball?
I ain’t see it yet, but I heard some stuff about it.

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Basically he was tracing how baseball culture veered away from black Americans. Especially following ‘90s. It goes back a bit about what I was saying about the Yankees: It’s there, but it’s not really at the center of the conversation. Do you get that sense?
It’s tough because it’s actually really expensive to play baseball. I remember my parents just taking my little brother, who was just drafted fifth overall last year. They were going to workouts and…spending thousands and thousands of dollars every weekend. So it’s tough to play baseball, especially now. 

Think about kids coming from the inner city. Nobody is going to be able to pay those thousands of dollars to be able to showcase their talents.

I do think access has a lot to do with it. I’m from the inner city as well. With basketball, you can get a ball and set up a garbage can or something and go from there. But with baseball, you don’t have that sort of luxury.
[Laughs.] You need a $400 bag, you need a $500 glove, $200 cleats—it’s expensive now. I try to help kids in my hometown buy getting cleats, gloves, and stuff to just try and help out.

I think another thing is that with football and basketball, you got to college and get drafted. With baseball, there’s college, then the minors, and then the majors.
Yeah, people don’t understand that the minor leagues is tough. It’s a grind; my little brother going through it right now. People think that if you’re in the big leagues, everything is cool. You went from 13-14-hour bus trips and making $500 per check. It’s definitely a grind.

You got to think about it: There’s only 25 spots on the active roster of the major leagues, and each major league team has 250 minor league players. You got to fight your way to the top.

Think about kids coming from the inner city. Nobody is going to be able to pay those thousands of dollars to be able to showcase their talents.

Who’s your younger brother?
Nick Gordon—um, not the Nick Gordon with Bobbi Kristina.

I’d imagine that’s pretty vindicating, coming from the minor league and being the league’s leader in hits.
It’s good to come from the minor leagues. When you come from busting you ass to playing [in the major leagues] and your family is there to watch you play. And I got more fans. So that’s cool, but it makes you definitely not want to go back.

I was told you wore your uniform pants in a certain way to pay homage to the Negro Leagues. Is this true?
Yeah. I wear 'em down most of the time, but on Sundays, I wear 'em up [pants tucked inside high socks] because that's how the guys wore them before me.

Most of those guys who played before me is still living, so to show them that you care enough and you realize them is pretty cool.

So what's it like that on one hand you're part of the minority in baseball, while on the other, you're part of this lineage? Any sort of dissonance?
Nah, man. I just try to be the same guy. I just go out there, play hard, and get ready for every game. That's about it. I try to keep it as chill as possible so I can do my business on a daily basis.

After the interview, Gordon dislocated his left thumb during a first-base slide in Saturday's game against the Reds. He'll miss the All-Star Game, but is expected to return soon.

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