‘It’s rare to have such a presence’: Cubs explain why Cody Bellinger is so darn popular inside the clubhouse
There is one surefire way to get a Cubs player or staffer to smile — bring up Cody Bellinger.
The outfielder/first baseman has not only endeared himself to the Cubs fanbase this season but he has quickly become the most popular player inside the clubhouse.
Take Jed Hoyer’s reaction when he was asked about Bellinger shortly after the trade deadline passed on Tuesday:
“Belli knows how we feel about him.”— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) August 2, 2023
Jed Hoyer on Cody Bellinger. pic.twitter.com/fkk5XnQoFj
“Belli knows how we feel about him, that’s for sure,” Hoyer said. “We’ve loved having him here. I don’t comment on negotiations in-season, but I’d just say that: He knows how we feel about him. He’s been wonderful and I think it’s been a really good fit.”
It’s not often you see a president of baseball operations gush over a player quite like that. Especially one who is targeted for free agency in a few months.
As Hoyer’s front office was determining how to approach this year’s trade deadline, Bellinger’s name was in the headlines on a daily basis.
In a market thin on impact bats, Bellinger figured to be one of the most coveted players if the Cubs decided to sell.
But he had other ideas.
He turned in an absolutely incredible month, almost single-handedly lifting the Cubs back into contention. At the start of the team’s 8-game winning streak that turned the tide on the season, Bellinger drove in 9 runs against the Cardinals over a span of 3 games at Wrigley Field.
In total, he hit .400 with a 1.122 OPS, 8 homers and 24 RBI in July. David Ross credited Bellinger with setting the tone for the entire team during a pivotal stretch in the season.
“The guy’s an absolute stud of a baseball player,” Ross said. “He’s a pleasure to be around. He’s the total package, for sure.”
As Bellinger was making his case as the National League Player of the Month in July, Justin Steele called him “must-see TV.”
Jameson Taillon said Bellinger is the “heart and soul” of the Cubs.
Marcus Stroman calls him “an amazing human being.”
When asked about Bellinger, fellow outfielder Mike Tauchman just repeated the same word three times to start off his answer: “Awesome.”
“Great vibes in the clubhouse,” Tauchman said. “Super laid back but very focused on what he’s doing. Really smart, instinctual player.”
Tauchman has been impressed with Bellinger’s play on the field, pointing to his average with 2 strikes (.294) or success facing southpaws as a left-handed hitter (.347 AVG, 1.042 OPS).
"Lefties don't face lefties anymore. He's put an end to that narrative."— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) August 3, 2023
Dansby Swanson on Cody Bellinger last month. pic.twitter.com/dPhy6FWSf6
There’s also the scoreboard-breaking power:
A swing of beauty 😍 pic.twitter.com/G1qsmWklIV— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) August 2, 2023
And an ability to move seamlessly between center field and first base — and play Gold Glove caliber defense at both positions.
Then there’s the mindset and the general demeanor.
“Really consistent — never too high, never too low,” Tauchman said. “Just obviously really psyched he’s on my team.”
The Cubs have had one losing month this season — a 10-18 record in May that happened to coincide with Bellinger spending the second half of the month on the IL with a knee injury.
Even while Bellinger was out of the lineup, he still made a positive impact on the team.
“I wish I could tell you guys some of the stories about Belli,” Ross said back in mid-June as a smile crept across his face. “He was a cheerleader on the bench, which is so important and valuable. Some of the stuff that he yells out of the dugout, man, it’s pretty entertaining.
“It’s a unique mentality coming from a guy that’s a great competitor, has a great way about him and the swagger that he brings around in a fun way is very good for our group.”
When the Dodgers non-tendered Bellinger in November, the Cubs pounced on the opportunity. They knew they were adding a guy who could fit well on the field but they also understood that Bellinger’s journey brought a level of instant credibility to the clubhouse.
He has performed at the absolute highest level in this league (2017 Rookie of the Year, 2019 NL MVP), has played in 3 World Series and won a title with the 2020 Dodgers. But he’s also fallen on some rough times that included back-to-back disappointing seasons in 2021-22. So he signed a 1-year deal in Chicago, motivated to prove he is an elite player once again.
For Taillon, he could only think of one other player he’s been around that has the kind of aura and pedigree that Bellinger carries on a day-to-day basis.
“Maybe the only other guy is Aaron Judge where people show up and it’s a presence and you’re super excited to see him,” said Taillon, who played with the Yankees for the last two seasons. “Cody’s got that mix of it helps to be a really good player, helps to be in there every day and then he’s got that natural ability to be a leader.
“He’s been on good teams. He’s been in the big moments and he just keeps such a level head. It’s rare to have such a presence.”
A big part of Bellinger’s presence is his unwavering confidence.
“I’ve always been a fan of his from afar, playing against him for the last five or six years,” Dansby Swanson said. “To be able to witness it every day, it’s awesome. He’s just a guy that has a lot of confidence and a lot of belief and you couple that with the baseball ability that he has and it’s fun to watch.”
The Cubs are not only in awe of what Bellinger can do on the field, but they appreciate how he is always able to keep things light and fun.
“His demeanor’s pretty funny,” Nico Hoerner said. “Some of that has been turned into memes and stuff. He’s more serious in a good way than I think people externally realize. Just the work he puts in, his awareness of his body and his routine and the game itself. Just such a well-rounded player.
“He can be very unintentionally funny,” Hoerner said before pausing to chuckle, “and some of that stuff comes across. He’s at the heart of our team both in production and in our locker room. Just a great guy to have around.”
Throughout games, Bellinger is keeping things loose with funny comments or talking things through with the offense in a light-hearted — but productive — way. There’s also helping to come up with fun celebrations after a hit:
Before games, he’s in the weight room working on his craft and getting himself into the best position to perform at a high level on the field. But even then, he’s having fun. He’ll serve as DJ and put on emo music from the mid-2000s. Or he’ll keep everybody entertained with a joke or find another way to pass time and leave his teammates feeling positive and happy.
“I think it’s just a non-stressed human,” Ross said. “I think he is very much just whatever comes that day is what it is. … I dunno, it’s like a surfer vibe. Like, ‘I’m here. I can’t wait to play baseball. I know I’m good at it. I love to be out here. I love to run things down. I love to help my teammates. I love interacting with my teammates.’
“Throughout your career playing and now managing, there’s guys you just walk into the clubhouse and you enjoy seeing. He’s one of those guys. I relate him a lot to Joc [Pederson] — just that carefree, ‘I’m gonna go out there and do me and I know that’s a really good version of a baseball player.’ There’s not a lot of stress that follows him around.”
That’s exactly the type of vibe Bellinger hopes he puts off. He simply loves baseball and enjoys being at the ballpark with his teammates every day.
“Just coming in, ready to play every day,” he said. “It’s what I like to do. I like coming in and playing and performing. That’s what I like doing.”
And that type of stress-free attitude has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on the rest of the Cubs.
Bellinger is always there reminding Christopher Morel how good he is and providing an encouraging, calming comment.
Of course, there’s the laughter Bellinger provides, too.
When Morel was first called back up to the big leagues in early May, he got off to a torrid start with 9 homers in his first 12 games.
“At the beginning, it was going really well for me and he tells me, ‘Hey, keep doing that because when time passes, they’re gonna give you a lot of money,'” Morel relayed. “I told him, ‘we’re working for that!’
“And he goes, ‘yes, yes. But remember: More money, more problems.’ Every time that he sees me if I’m in the weight room or I’m hitting, he always tells me, ‘More money!’ And I tell him back, ‘More problems!’ And we’re always laughing.”
Bellinger makes his impact felt in every corner of the locker room.
Before utility player Miles Mastrobuoni was sent back down to Triple-A Iowa last week, he started to show what he could do offensively. Mastrobuoni credits Bellinger for some of his success as the rookie picked the brain of the former MVP on mindset, approach and general thoughts about swing paths.
And those conversations were always light.
“He’s just a funny guy,” Mastrobuoni said. “A lot of stuff flies out of his mouth. He’s always in a good mood. He’s always uplifting, making guys laugh and stuff like that.
“When you’re around guys for a lot more than half a year, to have guys like that definitely makes it a lot of fun.”