Marcus Stroman’s fashion game, like his lead, is Major League caliber. The outspoken stud pitcher, who is also known for his onfield prowess, walks into a Chicago restaurant with a stack of outfits, each one better than the next. His closet is ready for an “MTV Cribs” reboot if there is one. He walks a bit wondering what jacket, pants and shirt to wear for the shoot, debating with the Chicago Cubs rep even though he knows the lens is going to focus on what’s hidden under the clothes: his Stellar range of tattoos.
Stroman’s brilliant ink is an expression of who he is and what he’s made of. The tattoos include tributes to trailblazers from Barack Obama to Jackie Robinson, family members, TV and movie characters, including Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby from ‘Peaky Blinders’ and Denzel Washington as d’Alonzo from ‘Training Day’, and self-raising sayings like ‘break stereotypes’, ‘smile’ and ‘believe in YOU’. Tattoos are just as important to him as anything else in his life though. Stroman somehow balances running a clothing brand (named HDMH, which means height doesn’t measure the heart, a battle cry of the 5’7″ athlete) and a shoe company. and glove called Shugo with the promotion of his upcoming children’s book, all on top of managing a career as a Cubs ace. “I work tirelessly on my passions and projects and that’s kind of my way of approaching life,” says Stroman, also a Duke University graduate with a degree in sociology.
That said, let’s back up a bit. Family comes first for the All Star and Gold Glove winner. Nothing comes close. And it’s been quite the offseason for the former Toronto Blue Jay and New York Met: Along with signing a $71 million contract with the Cubs, he welcomed a son, Kai Zen, into the world with his 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, c is Chicago), to discuss the importance of his family, his artwork, and his unwavering ambition and confidence.
“I think people sometimes have this negative connotation that I polarize based on how I look,” he says. “I have tattoos, I wear a durag when I pitch, and I think they bring together a lot of stereotypes that create this image around me that isn’t true at all. I feel like I’m someone who has always been my authentic self, and by being that, I feel like I’m kind of a baseball outcast when it comes to personality. They always say that confident people make unconfident people feel bad.
How did you develop that confidence as a child and how did you maintain it as an adult? So much shit can be thrown at you…
I had tunnel vision from an early age. My confidence comes directly from the way I was raised by my father. He always told me that even though 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 have taken this to heart throughout my life and it has paid big dividends. My father works incredibly hard. I grew up watching him wake up every day and go to the gym before going to work. And honestly, my dad has always been my toughest critic, so he’s always been the hardest to please. I’m so confident because I know I checked all the boxes. I’ve covered so much to take care of my mind and body on a daily basis.
You are very active on social networks. Have you ever thought about signing for good or does the good outweigh the bad?
He far outweighs the evil. I can’t even tell you how many messages I’ll get about people going through tough times in their lives. I’ve had people with cancer contact me. I’ve had people with serious injuries tell me that I’m an inspiration, that following me helps them get through their daily lives. I could take one and take a million because I know I have a positive influence on a certain group of people who are open and can see the influence. So I love it.
[But] there are days, 100%, where I say to myself, “Let me down. Honestly, I’ve spoken with my family, there might come a time in the future when I’m leaving. I could create a barrier where I could just text my sister and then she would put it up because a lot of the things I post are just thoughts of me. They’re just literally, like, me being creative in my own head and then just bringing it into the world. It is extremely overwhelming. I can only imagine [how it is] for young children who are coming, who are facing adversity, who are 14, 15, 16 and people are coming to you. I’m at the point now where I have to be aware of that too because I have a little boy. I understand that right now I have a lot of influence…I don’t want to be the one to say, “Hey, these negative people are getting to me, let me run away.
Would you say your approach to baseball is the same as in life? One hundred percent. I also have a lot of passions and projects that I work on, away from baseball, so when I’m done playing, I’ll really dive in. I truly believe that no one is beyond me when it comes to putting the work in place. in the field. I’m usually first in this category so that’s where it starts, that’s the priority. But outside of that, I also have things I do, whether it’s HDMH, Shugo, or the children’s book coming out later this summer that I’m working on. It will probably be a three-volume edition. I work on wine. I work in real estate. I love life and try to take it all in and do it all in the little time I have on this earth.
Let’s move on to tattoos. Are all your tattoos by the same artist? Most of them are by Steve Wiebe. I really believe he’s the best in the game. I mean, he tattoos everyone – Jayson Tatum, Nipsey Hussle. He’s, like, the god of portraiture. In terms of realism, I’d say he’s the best in the game. My arms aren’t made of him, I started getting tattoos in college. My belly is done by Levi Reimer, another Canadian tattoo artist. But my whole back and all my legs are Steve. I try to cover my body, man. [And] Steve will return to my arms and work. He’s also my buddy. He is rightfully one of my best friends. He comes to the nursery. A lot of times it comes out and I don’t even know what I’m tattooing. He just walked out, he hits me like, “Hey man, what are you doing?” and I’m like, “Get out.” There are four, five days left and we will see what we will do the day he arrives.
So are you just inspired, like on a weekend or something? Yeah, we’ll just talk and 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 it saying, “Hey, I just want this room?” I think my art is amazing because it’s that dynamic where I allow him to do what he wants to do too.
I often ask people what their first tattoo was, but what was their last? The last one I think I did was the Basquiat track 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 places, 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 grateful it’s done.
Does this LL Cool J piece represent his character or him as an artist, or in general, do your tattoos have a double meaning?
Double meaning. There are people I looked up to, people who influenced African-American culture for life and kind of pushed us to the next level. It’s like the LL Cool J figure and character. I love this movie because it went from a very, very arrogant guy at the start to this very, very team guy at the end.
What was your first tattoo? My first was my initials on my back, MES, then I had “family first” just above it. I was probably 16 or 17 years old. It’s a nod to my family, it’s who I am as an individual and having ‘family first’ arching over it felt like my family was looking down on me. That was the idea behind it all.
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 then it’s your most personal tattoo.
Exactly. I will probably 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 like. It’s me, my sister, my mother and my father. I love all my tattoos, so it’s difficult. I even forget some of them and I’ll literally look up and be like, “Oh, that’s sick.”
That’s cool, then you’ll wake up and be like, “Ah, I forgot I had 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 stairs, “always climbing”, “loyalty rather than love…” All thoughts, I put them on my body.
Do you have any tattoos you regret? No, but like I said, I want to get back to working on my arms. I wish I had met Steve when I was 16. It is its quality and consistency. We’ve already picked pockets of my arm where we know we’re going to go to work. I like getting tattooed. Many people are now eliminated.
Have you seen what guys are doing these days? Guys are breaking down and getting tattoos, having artists work on their entire leg while they’re under anesthesia. I think the pain is part of it. In fact, feeling it…
Steve and I are still talking about it. We’re like, that’s part of it. A lot of guys do it where, like I said, they go down and they get three or four tattoo artists and they literally wake up and have completely blown legs. I love the process, like the creative process…it’s like you have to go through that little pain to get that reward, whatever you want on your body.