August 17th, 2022
Ace Up His Sleeves
Whether on the mound at Wrigley or in the club, Marcus Stroman demands your full attention
Marcus Stroman’s fashion game, like his sinker, is Major League caliber. The oft-outspoken stud pitcher, who’s known for his fielding prowess as well, walks into a Chicago restaurant with a stack of outfits—each one better than the next. His closet is fit for an “MTV Cribs” reboot if ever there is one. He’s pacing a bit wondering which jacket, slacks and shirt to wear for the shoot, debating with the Chicago Cubs rep even though he knows the lens is going to be focused on what lies beneath the clothes—his stellar array of tattoos.
Stroman’s brilliant ink is an expression of who he is and what he’s made of. Tattoos include tributes to trailblazers from Barack Obama to Jackie Robinson, family members, TV and film characters including Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby from “Peaky Blinders” and Denzel Washington as Alonzo from “Training Day,” and self-high-five sayings like “breaking stereotypes,” “smile,” and “BElieve in YOUself.” Tattoos are just as important to him as anything else in his jam-packed life. Stroman somehow balances running a clothing brand (named HDMH, which means Height Doesn’t Measure Heart, a battle cry from the 5’7” athlete) and a cleat and glove company called Shugo with promotion of his upcoming children’s book, all on top of managing a career as the Cubs’ ace. “I work on my passions and my projects relentlessly and that’s kind of how I approach life,” explains Stroman, who also graduated from Duke University with a degree in sociology.
That said, let’s rewind a bit. Family comes first for the All Star and Gold Glove winner. Nothing comes close. And it’s been quite the off-season for the former Toronto Blue Jay and New York Met: In addition to signing a $71 million contract with the Cubs, he welcomed a son, Kai Zen, into the world with girlfriend Shannon Nadj.
On a brutally cold, rainy and windy May morning (“Chicago,” Stroman said with a smile), we sat down hours before game time (yes, the game was played—again, it’s Chicago), to discuss the importance of his family, his artwork and his unwavering ambition and confidence.
“I think people get this negative connotation sometimes of me being polarizing based on how I look,” he says. “I’m tattooed, I wear a durag when I pitch, and I think they put a lot of stereotypes together that create this image around me that are not true at all. I feel like I’m someone who’s always been my authentic self, and by being that, I feel like I’m kind of an outcast in baseball when it comes to personality. They always say confident people make unconfident people uncomfortable.”
How did you develop that confidence as a kid and keep it throughout adulthood? So much shit can be thrown at you…
I had tunnel vision from a very young age. My confidence comes directly from how I was raised by my father. He always told me that even if I was the smallest guy in the room I always had to have a chip on my shoulder and I always had to be confident. I took that to heart through life and it has paid big dividends. My father is incredibly hard working. I grew up watching him wake up every single day and go to the gym before going to work. And my dad was honestly always my toughest critic so he was always the hardest one to please. I’m so confident because I know that I checked every box. I covered so many things to take care of my mind and body on the daily.
You’re very active on social media. Do you ever think about signing off for good or does the good outweigh the bad?
It way outweighs the bad. I can’t even tell you how many messages I’ll get about people going through whatever difficult times in their life. I’ve had people with cancer reach out. I’ve had people dealing with major injuries tell me that I’m a source of inspiration, that following me helps them get through their daily life. I could take one of those and take a million bad because I know I’m having a positive influence on a certain group of people who are open and can see the influence of it. So I love it.
[ But ] there are days, 100 percent, where I’m like, “Let me get off.” Honestly, I’ve talked with my family, there might come a point in the future where I’m off. I might create a barrier where I might just text my sister and then she puts it up because a lot of things that I put out are just thoughts of mine. They’re just literally, like, me being creative in my own head and then just putting it out to the world. It’s extremely overwhelming. I can only imagine [how it is] for young kids coming up, dealing with adversity, being 14, 15, 16 and having people come at you. I’m at the point now where I have to be conscious of it too because I have a baby boy. I understand that right now I have a lot of influence… I don’t want to be the one that’s saying, “Hey, these negative people are getting to me, let me run from it.”
Would you say your approach to baseball is the same as in life?
One hundred percent. I have a lot of passions and projects I’m working on too, away from baseball, so that when I’m done playing I will really dive in. I truly believe that nobody out-trains me when it comes to putting the work in on the field. I’m usually first in that category so that’s where it starts, that’s the priority. But then away from that, I also have things that I do, whether it be HDMH, Shugo, or the children’s book coming out later this summer that I’ve been working on. It will likely be a three-volume edition. I’m working on wine. I’m working on real estate. I love life and I’m trying to just encompass everything and do it all in the short time I have on this earth.
Let’s jump into tattoos. Are all of your tattoos from the same artist?
Most of them are from Steve Wiebe. I truly believe he is the best in the game. I mean, he tats everyone—Jayson Tatum, Nipsey Hussle. He’s, like, the portrait god. When it comes to realism, I would say he’s the best in the game. My arms aren’t done from him, I started getting tattooed in college. My stomach is done by Levi Reimer, another Canadian tattoo artist. But my whole back and all my legs are Steve. I’m trying to cover my body, man. [And] Steve will go back in my arms and do work. He’s my homie, too. He’s legit one of my best friends. He comes to the crib. A lot of time, he comes out and I don’t even know what I’m tattooing. He just comes out, he hits me like, “Hey man, what are you doing?” and I’m like, “Come out.” He stays for four, five days and we’ll figure out what we’re doing the day he gets there.
So do you just get inspired, like over a weekend or something?
Yeah, we’ll just talk and we’ll get inspired. I think that’s the best way to do it creatively, because now I’m open to him. He’s an incredible artist, a creative individual himself. Why would I want to close him off by saying, “Hey, I just want this piece?” I think my art is incredible because it’s that dynamic where I’m allowing him to do what he wants to do as well.
I often ask people what their first tattoo was, but what was your last? The last one I think I did was the Basquiat piece on the back of my hammy, and I did LL Cool J from “Any Given Sunday.” The back of the knee is one of the worst spots so I was like, let’s knock it out. So, we did it in spring training, and it was a tough recovery, man. I’m thankful it’s done.
Does that LL Cool J piece rep his character or him as an artist—or in general do your tattoos have dual meanings?
Dual meanings. There are people who I’ve looked up to, people who have influenced African American culture for life and have kind of pushed us to the next level. It’s like the LL Cool J figure and his character. I love that movie because he went from being a very, very cocky guy in the beginning to that very, very team guy at the end.
What was your first tattoo?
My first one was my initials on my back, MES, and then I had “family first” right over it. I was probably 16 or 17. It’s a nod to my family, it’s who I am as an individual and having “family first” arching over it was like my family kind of looking down over me. That was the idea behind it.
Do you have one in particular that stands out the most? It’s a silly question to ask what your most personal tattoo is, because in that moment it’s your most personal.
Exactly. I’m probably going to do a portrait of my grandmother on my upper leg. I definitely always go with my family, you know, so I’ll say the family portrait on my back. I just love it. It’s me, my sister, my mom and my dad. I love all my tats, though, so it’s hard. I even forget about some and I’ll literally go and look and I’m like, “Oh, that’s a sick one.”
That’s cool, so you’ll wake up and be like, “Ah, I forgot I got that one.” It’s the little ones. I have a lot of script: “never panic,” “just manage,” “go to work…” “more life, less stress.” I have the staircase, “always keep climbing,” “loyalty over love…” Any thoughts, I put them on my body.
Do you have any tattoos you regret?
No, but like I said, I want to go back in and work on my arms again. I wish I would have met Steve when I was 16. It’s his quality and his consistency. We’ve already picked pockets of my arm where we know we’re going to go and work. I enjoy getting tattooed. A lot of people now are getting knocked out.
Have you seen what guys are doing nowadays? Guys are going under and getting tatted, having artists work on their full leg while they’re under anesthesia. I think the pain is part of it. Actually feeling it…
Steve and I always talk about this. We’re like, that’s part of it. A lot of guys are doing it where, like I said, they’re going under and they’re having three or four tattoo artists come in and, literally, they’ll wake up and have fully blasted legs. I enjoy the process, like the creative process… it’s like, you have to go through that little bit of pain to get that reward—whatever you want on your body.
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