In May of 2018, as Shohei Ohtani’s MLB career was in its infancy, I wrote an article cleverly titled “I’m Not Buying the Sho-Hype Over Ohtani”. And now, in the late summer of 2021, I would like to apologize to the man who has become one of my favorite players in the game.
Shohei Ohtani, I am sorry I ever doubted you.
Ohtani played as advertised in his first month and a half in the majors. Touted as the first two-way player since Babe Ruth, Ohtani was the biggest story of the offseason, and for good reason. The Japanese phenom was explosive at the plate and a bonafide fireballer on the mound while playing in Asia. These two attributes would be a jackpot for any team to find in two separate players, but to get both in one guy, that’s a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow made out of winning lottery tickets.
Ohtani knew his worth, so his courtship was unlike any other. Teams interested in the Ruthian ballplayer were given a questionnaire to fill out to see just how they would use Ohtani. There were other questions asked of prospective suitors: what the club atmosphere is like, what the fans are like, how they intend to improve their team, how they see their club succeeding, etc.
Ohtani wanted to know where he stood on a roster before getting his name on their jersey.
For Major League Baseball and the media who cover it, Ohtani was and is a unicorn-type figure. He was mythical in scope and unbelievable on paper, both when he entered the league and even now as he smashes home runs at an insane clip. His daily stat reports have begun to feel like a P.T. Barnum flyer. But the question in 2018 was simple, “Can there really be a guy who pitches and hits at the same level of ability?”
Personally, I thought Shohei Ohtani would be signed by a National League team. A National League team would be able to use him every day as a pinch hitter or at first base and then pitch him every 5th. This keeps him in your everyday lineup as well as your rotation, without rocking the boat too much. Playing him in the AL forces you to play him in the DH spot and remove him from the offensive lineup on days before, after, and during his starts.
So I was shocked when he signed with the Los Angeles Angels.
If pitchers are all about rhythm and routine, how does playing for the Angels work out for both sides? Ohtani forces the Angels to figure out Albert Pujols/Marte/Rivera/Valbuena at first base. And even then they drop their lineup down a peg when he pitches. With Mike Scioscia at the helm, Ohtani saw limited playing time in the lineup in 2018. Why? Simply because the Angels saw his arm as more valuable. The reports swiftly came out stating that Ohtani wanted more playing time, because of course he did.
In 2018 I wrote this:
“If he wanted that (more playing time), he should have signed in the NL where he could have. For a guy with all these surveys and sales pitches in front of him, you would have thought he’d think that through.
“Beyond how his talents are being utilized is the question of how long this can last? How soon until Ohtani becomes a one-way player? Years? Months? Days? What happens when he tweaks an ankle rounding first or slides hard into second base before a start? God forbid he takes a pitch off the hand with a start on the horizon.
“All of these situations may feel like doomsday scenarios, but what if I told you that the majority of Japanese pitchers experience a sharp drop in performance, regardless of their position? All of the talk about Ohtani’s playing time and his performance recently, but no one’s talking long term.”
I was wrong. Very wrong.
Ohtani didn’t need to be in the National League to play the way he wanted to. No, instead Ohtani needed a National League manager, or in this case, anyone not names Mike Scioscia to be at the helm of the Angels. So Shohei Ohtani, again, I apologize. I didn’t know Joe Maddon was an option. Had I had known he was going to take the job, I would have completely believed in you.
And now, as Maddon’s plan to play you the way you wanted works like a well-oiled machine, as the Angels cleared away the specter of Albert Pujols in the lineup, and as the MLB leans into the unicorn quality of Ohtani, I fully admit that I judged this situation wrong. I have done that in the past, and I’m working on being better Especially, in a league where the perception is that the game is dying, Shohei Ohtani is creating some of the most exciting highlight reels of the last few years at the plate, all while anchoring the Angels rotation. He’s a superstar, through and through.
A few years back I summed up my thoughts by saying “I’m not rooting against Shohei Ohtani. I just have a bunch of questions before I sign on to the fact that he’s the future star the MLB and the Angels want him to be. The Wall Street Journal just came out and called Ohtani “The Best Player In The World.” So when the Angels come out and say they won’t discuss Ohtani hitting on pitching days until September, I counter that with “You need to get him there first.” You need to see if he can make it that far.”
I still hold true to some of that sentiment.
With Ohtani cranking on all cylinders, and with Rendon. Trout and Fletcher all signed to long-term deals, the Angels need to put together a postseason-worthy squad. Shohei Ohtani’s a superstar who deserves to play on the biggest stage in the game.
And that’s a statement I refuse to apologize for.
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