Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t hit, pitch.
For decades, baseball fans have ignored the pitcher in the batting order as an automatic out. In 1973, the year a certain future cherry-cheeked future sports scribe came dribbling into the world, the American League eliminated the daily debacle of seeing pitchers hit altogether, introducing the designated hitter. The National League, bless their hearts, persists in serving up some of the saddest swings this side of the County Fair.
Pitchers can’t hit. Hitters can’t pitch. This is the order of the universe.
At least until Shohei Ohtani came along and created a new order.
It’s not nearly a big enough compliment to call Ohtani a throwback to the early days of big-league baseball, when pitchers actually could hit their weights (and then some). Ohtani isn’t just a pitcher who can hit a little or a hitter who can pitch a little. He’s the greatest combination of hurler-slugger since Babe Ruth.
If you follow baseball, you’re aware of the numbers by now. Yet they still bear repeating. Entering Tuesday’s game against Oakland, the 27-year-old Angels all-star carried a .277 batting average with 66 runs, 74 RBIs and a league-leading 34 home runs. On the mound, he had tallied a 4-1 record with a 3.21 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 73 innings.
Any way you slice it, Ohtani reigns as one of the best power hitters and one of the best power pitchers in all of baseball. In fact, can we just forgo with the formality of waiting until after the season to give Ohtani his rightful award as 2021’s American League MVP? In that horse race, he’s American Pharoah — even though he’s Japanese — and everyone else is an old coin-operated grocery store mechanical steed, barely moving.
It doesn’t even matter that the Angels haven’t been relevant since Disney released “Angels in the Outfield” in 1994. Ohtani’s exploits far transcend the Angels’ middling efforts in the standings. Though it is a shame that the Angels may end up wasting not just one but two generational talents in Ohtani and Mike Trout. This team puts the funk in dysfunctional.
It’s hard to even comprehend how good Ohtani has been. On Monday night, he pitched six scoreless innings against the A’s, then jogged out to right field to man that position. Yes, in the same game. Yes, in 2021. No, it wasn’t a beer league softball game.
As a pitcher, Ohtani blends a four-seam fastball that clocks in at 97 miles per hour on average with several dorm-room filthy offspeed offerings. As a slugger, he sprays longballs to all fields with his beautiful, looping swing. Basically, he’s Justin Verlander and Giancarlo Stanton. In one guy.
Can you just back the Brinks Truck up to his house already? Whatever he’s been paid, it’s a bargain. OK, let me do some research and check — wait, $3 million a year? That’s like finding a king-sized Baby Ruth bar in the bin with the bite-sized nickel candy.
Speaking of Ruth (the player, not the candy bar), in some ways Ohtani even exceeds the Bambino. Last week Ohtani became the first player in MLB history to make the All-Star Team as both a hitter and pitcher in the same season.
Could Ohtani’s brilliance prompt baseball GMs and managers to loosen the reins? Could we begin to see more two-way players emerge?
Maybe. But teams should temper their expectations. Ohtani clearly is a once-in-a-lifetime talent. If execs pick a two-way player in the draft and think they’re getting the next Ohtani, they’re likely to get Rick (Ankiel) Rolled.
Throw in the fact that Ohtani plays with an effervescent, childlike joy, and he almost seems to be too good to be true. If Ohtani can’t bring a new wave of young fans to baseball, nobody can.
Even with his interpreter at his side for interviews, nothing about what Ohtani is doing really translates. This is new territory for us.
When Ruth played, people said he felt larger than life. The stories remain legendary, and have grown only more inflated over time. As Benny Rodriguez put it in The Sandlot, “People say he was less than a god but more than a man. Like Hercules or something.”
Put Ohtani in the same club. OK, obviously Ohtani is not immortal. He’s not indestructible. Already in his young career, he has endured Tommy John surgery. It’s fair to wonder if he might be more susceptible to future injuries due to overuse.
But for the moment, let’s enjoy the fully healthy (even Herculean) Ohtani.
Is he man? Is he myth? Is he flamethrower? Is he bopper? Is he baseball’s best all-around player? Is he a legendary figure in the history of the game?
Yes — to all.
Give this guy a glove, a ball and a bat. Let him throw. Let him run. Let him pitch. Let him hit.
Because more than anything, he is a ballplayer, in the truest sense of the word.