We live in a time marked by hyperbolic headlines and short memory. Things earn the mantle of best thing since sliced bread before it’s prudent. And yet, somehow, I can’t escape the nagging notion that, against long odds, we’re not properly appreciating the pure brilliance of Shohei Ohtani.
The dual-threat Los Angeles Angels star uncorked a 101 mph fastball last night, the speediest thrown by a starting pitcher this season. Ohtani allowed four runs in 5.1 innings and earned a no decision. He sports a 2-1 record and a 4.43 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP and 11.5 K9. At the plate he’s blasted three homers in 45 at-bats with a .333/.378/.619 slash.
On the mound, he’s come back to Earth a bit. Ohtani may not be an elite starting pitcher. He may not turn out to be an elite hitter. Statistics, of course, complement the eye and help combat being a prisoner of the moment. They help us from saying foolish things, like he’s the second coming of Babe Ruth.
At the same time, it seems we’re missing the obvious here. Ohtani is doing things we haven’t seen players do since Ruth. He’s performing well above average in both aspects of the game. And he’s doing it with sheer force.
The 101 mph pitch. The blistering speed around the bases while legging out a triple. The ability to put down the glove and pick up a bat, then mash the ball with impressive power.
Ohtani’s sport-talk viability reached an apex during the bidding war for his services. Once that was decided there was interest in if he should depart spring training with the big club. Then one more burst when he came out of the gates on fire. That’s subsided a bit.
It’s tough for any Major Leaguer to drown out the NBA and NFL Draft. It’s harder for one playing on the West Coast. The obstacles are obvious.
To me, Ohtani oddly would have been more of a phenomenon in days of yore, where a greater currency was placed on the mythical feats. I grew up reading the anecdotes of the game’s greats of yesteryear. Ohtani’s Jim Thorpe-ian exploits are perfectly suited for that sort of sportswriting. One could imagine the artistic liberties taken to make him even larger-than-life.
Ohtani is a poet’s muse and we don’t live in the most poetic times.
Something odd happens when we see every highlight. We become numb to it. As a result, Ohtani’s sheer brilliance has already become rote. It’s worth stepping back and considering what we are seeing: the unique confluence of skills unmatched in recent memory.