Michael Harris II Loves the Atlanta Braves, Golf, and Thinking Positively
Life is pretty good for Michael Harris II right now.
At 22, the Atlanta Braves center fielder is the defending National League Rookie of the Year, and plays a starring role on the team he was obsessed with as a kid growing up in the Atlanta metro area. In August he signed an eight-year, $72 million contract that will keep him with his favorite squad until 2030. Unlike many people his age, who are learning to navigate the waters of adulthood, Harris has a pretty good idea of how the rest of his twenties will go.
A grip of his teammates are locked into long-term deals as well. All-Stars Ronald Acuña Jr., Matt Olson, Austin Riley, and Ozzie Albies all have contracts with Atlanta through at least 2028, while Gold Glove catcher Sean Murphy and Rookie of the Year runner-up Spencer Strider inked six-year agreements worth north of $75 million during the offseason. None of those players have celebrated their 30th birthday yet, setting the Braves up for a run of dominance not unlike the one that made them the National League’s team of the ‘90s. They just (“just”) need a ring or two to really cement that status, and the man who will likely be patrolling center field at Truist Park for the rest of the decade is a huge piece of the puzzle.
The remarkable bit is that, this time last year, Harris was playing minor league ball for the team’s Double-A affiliate in Pearl, Mississippi. Atlanta was 22-24 when they called Harris up, looking for a spark. They went 79-37 from that day on, winning the NL East. It wasn’t all fairytale, though: Harris went 1-for-14 in the Braves’ four-game loss to the Phillies, a rude introduction to postseason life.
But that was last year. This year, Harris is with the big-league club from the jump (he joked that he had a pretty good idea in spring training that he would make the team this time around), and Atlanta is considered one of the favorites to represent the NL in the World Series. During the Braves’ 2023 opening series in D.C., we chatted with Harris about his sublime rookie season, putting on for his city, and studying at the Marshawn Lynch school of finance.
Last season, once you got called up and took over the starting center field job, at what point did you feel like you arrived? You pretty much started hitting right away, but when did you personally start to feel like, “Ok, I’m pretty nice with this?”
I’d probably say about a week or two into the season. I started to find myself and from there I felt pretty comfortable.
Ok, so pretty quick! You just jumped right in and felt like you got this?
Yeah, I mean, I was working on stuff in the minors to get a better swing and put the ball in the air more often. Once I got that down, everything started to connect for me. I would say my favorite moment of the year was winning the NL East. But if we’re going personal, the two-homer game against the Mariners.
How much were you motivated by other rookies around the league last year?
There were a lot of rookies that were having good years and making their mark on the league. It was cool to keep up with. Coming away with the Rookie of the Year was kind of insane, just because of the group that came up last year.
I feel like any conversation about you always starts with your glove, and for good reason. But I imagine you also want some respect for your bat, too! I mean, you had a great offensive year last year.
It doesn’t really bother me. I think I showed what I could do with the stick as well. I don’t know why they make it seem like there’s a big difference between my offense and defense. I was always a pretty decent hitter in the minors as well. I don’t know. I’m just glad I was able to keep it going last year with the stick. Honestly, for pretty much the whole season, I was feeling good at the plate.
That being said, do you feel like you are the best defensive center fielder in the game?
[laughs] Ummm…I don’t know. I feel like I should say yes, but honestly I don’t know.
Smart answer—wise beyond your years. How about this: What other center fielders around the league do you watch and think, “I want to be like him?”
Byron Buxton, for sure. I love watching him. The way he can go get it in the outfield is crazy. We haven’t officially met in person, but I’ll probably do that this season because we get to play everybody.
I feel like you should always tell yourself that you’re the best, but sometimes you have to know where you’re at and be real with yourself. Eventually, yeah, I want to be known as one of the best defensive outfielders in the game.
I think you’re already there, man. It sounds like you’re the type of person who understands the power of positive thinking, control what you can control-type stuff. Do you believe in manifesting?
Yeah, for the most part, not all the time. But if you believe in your ability and what you can do—I mean, you can’t really achieve something if you don’t believe it.
Being from Georgia and now playing for the Braves—and on top of that, being a prominent Black player in a very Black area—is that something you think about when you put the jersey on?
I know there’s a lot of kids who want to be in the position that I am now, so putting on the jersey every day I guess can be motivation for them. I hope it gives them that extra push to know that they can potentially do the same things I did.
I don’t get, like, teary-eyed about it or anything. I just know how it can impact a certain group of people. Every time I put the jersey on and go out on the field I know how it can motivate somebody. The first time I put the jersey on, like the physical jersey, it was way different than a minor league one. It was stretchier. The colors actually matched the pants! In the minors, the whites will mostly look the same, but if you see any minor league all-gray uniform, it’s never the same gray.
Once you got established in the big leagues, did you have people from like, third grade blowing you up for tickets?
Yeah, but it wasn’t much. Mostly it was just people telling me they were proud of me and wanted me to keep putting on for the city. But not many people that I don’t talk to anymore were asking for tickets.
The Georgia-to-MLB pipeline right now is so strong. For so long, people only really talked about California, Florida, and Texas as the main baseball hotbeds. But now, to quote Andre 300, it feels like the south got something to say.
Oh, I’ve always seen it. But you’re right, we do get overlooked, I think because Cali is so big. But Georgia, there’s a ton of athletes that come out of there. We just don’t have as big of a population [as those other states]. If we had more people we’d be number one for sure. Those other places just have more opportunity to get more players out because they have way more people.
Who were your favorite Braves growing up? Are you too young to have really seen the peak of the Chipper Jones/Andruw Jones era?
I still got to see a good amount of Chipper and Andruw. But I was a big Jason Heyward guy. I liked Ender Inciarte. The Upton brothers, Michael Bourn, Cameron Maybin. I liked a lot of guys.
I can guarantee you this is the first time Ender Inciarte’s name will be in GQ. Thank you for that.
Where did your Money Mike nickname come from? Did you have that before you signed the big contract?
I had it in the minors. I actually gave myself the username on Twitter and Instagram in high school, but I changed the Instagram one. There was a coach who called me Money because I was clutch in certain situations. I’ve been Money Mike ever since. It rolls off the tongue pretty well.
As someone who also chose their Twitter username in high school and has stuck with it, I relate to that. But now you also can’t change it! You’re locked in as Money Mike forever.
It would be dumb for me to change it. Nobody said anything, either. People were pretty cool about it around the league.
Did you have any memorable conversations on the field with anybody last year? I know Joey Votto has a bit of a reputation as a legendary talker.
The thing is, with Votto, I didn’t get on base during that series [in Cincinnati]. I hit a home run so I didn’t get to stop and talk to him. But I wish I did! The coolest one was being able to talk to Freddie Freeman. I never imagined I’d see him out of a Braves uniform. Being able to chat it up with him at first base when we played the Dodgers—and I was the one wearing the Braves uniform—that was a crazy moment.
After you signed the big contract, what’d you buy? You get any cool stuff for yourself?
I didn’t really get anything.
I already had a car, a BMW X6 M with a matte black wrap. I was already in my apartment. I was just going about my daily life. I didn’t think about spending, really. I paid off my family’s mortgage. That was it. I want to buy a house. Other than that, nothing. The only thing I really buy is more golf balls.
How’s your golf game?
The rate that I buy golf balls kind of answers the question. I’m getting better, though. Pretty much everybody on the team golfs. I’ll give you a top four or five. Kyle Wright is pretty good. Bryce Elder, Jackson Stephens. A.J. Minter hits the fairway every time. Matt Olson is pretty good. Oh, wait, no, I gotta take Olson out of there. Austin Riley shot a 73 the other day. Sorry, Olson.
Do you get worried about golf messing with your baseball swing? Or is that mostly a myth?
No, I play golf right-handed.
Interesting! Is there anybody on the team you want to call out for being trash?
Nobody is really that bad. I think we might have the best golf team in the league. We’ll go head-to-head with any team if they want to argue it.
Have you used your status as Atlanta Braves center fielder to meet any rappers? Do you know Lil Baby?
[laughs] Not yet! I gotta pull that card soon. But I haven’t yet.
This interview has been edited and condensed
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