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Time to sit back and enjoy the Sho

A potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

Seattle Mariners v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Besides my obvious rabid fandom of the Minnesota Twins baseball club, I’ve always been extremely interested in the history of the sport. More specifically, the really old-timey 1900-1920s era fascinates me. For this I have my Dad, any number of public libraries, and endless simulations in Tony LaRussa Baseball 2 on the family PC to thank.

Just looking at the numbers, it would be easy to surmise that those Deadball Era folks were the greatest athletes to ever grace the diamond. Pitchers—like Christy Mathewson, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh, Mordecai “3 Finger” Brown, & Walter Johnson—routinely sported ERAs in the low 1.00 range. Batsmen like Ty Cobb, George Sisler, Rogers Hornsby, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, & Nap Lajoie often eclipsed the .400 batting average mark.

Philadelphia Athletics
Not exactly an imposing physical specimen by today’s standards, but one of the best of his era was Nap Lajoie.
Photo by The Stanley Weston Archive/Getty Images

Of course, without taking anything away from those all-time greats, that above supposition is completely inaccurate when context is applied to the raw stats. Back in those wild and wooly days, you had true talents dominating farm kids and factory workers. In other words, the variance between real baseball moxie and roster-filler was extraordinarily high (thus the proliferation of incredible individual stat lines). This is to say nothing of the inclusion of black ballplayers, the Latin America player boom, the slider, dominating bullpens, analytical analysis, and year-round training (among many other factors).

In today’s game, every player (okay, almost every player) is a finely-tuned athletic machine looking for the smallest of advantages to win games and stave off “the next man up”. This makes such extreme feats as the ones seen in the early history of the sport exceedingly unlikely. Yet, starting Thursday night, the Twins will welcome in the California Anaheim Los Angeles Angels, featuring one of those rarities: Shohei Ohtani.

Not only will Ohtani stride into the Target Field batters box a few times, but he might (Sunday afternoon—maybe?) walk out to the mound as well. For the first time since Babe Ruth, the new Japanese phenom is legitimately a two-way batter/hurler.

Red Sox Pitcher Babe Ruth
An impossibly young-looking Bambino in his salad days of hitting and pitching with the Red Sox.
Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

One might expect, in a case like this, for the whole ordeal to be a bit of a stunt. Either Ohtani is a solid pitcher who can swing the lumber better than the average bear, or features real hitting prowess and can get it over the plate a little, right?

Well, take a look at this:

  • Ohtani is slugging .686 with a 1.047 OPS (175 OPS+) on the 2021 season thus far. Ruth’s career numbers? .690 SLG & 1.164 (206+).
  • On the bump, Shohei has a 145 ERA+ and 1.16 WHIP. Ruth’s career: 122 ERA+, 1.16 WHIP.

Essentially, Ohtani is slightly worse than Ruth at the plate and his equal on the mound.

This sort of thing is not supposed to happen in modern baseball! In an era where pitchers are were using sticky stuff just to get a few extra RPMs and batters scrutinize every ounce of their swing to unlock better launch angles or exit velocity, Shohei Ohtani is dominating both sides of the ball seemingly with ease.

I’m going to get to one of the Angels/Twins contests this weekend, if only to say that I beheld the indescribable two-way skill of Ohtani. Even if he doesn’t ascend the hill for the finale, it might be worth it just as a story for the grandkids someday.