There is a new baseball sensation playing for the Los Angeles Angels. His name is Shohei Ohtani and he is the latest in a long line of Japanese players to make it to Major League Baseball.
One hundred years ago, baseball changed forever when Boston traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000, creating the “Curse of The Bambino” which lasted for eighty-six years, denying Boston a World Series title until 2004, while New York with Ruth went on to be the premier sports franchise of the 20th Century.
At the time, Ruth was the best pitcher in the game, winning ninety-five games for the Red Sox in the previous five years. He was also the game’s best hitter, on the cusp of his record setting career of hitting 714 home runs. After leaving the Red Sox, the Babe seldom pitched again, earning just five victories in fifteen years.
Today there is a new Babe Ruth, and he plays in California. But this new incarnation of Ruth both hits and pitches on a regular basis. Ohtani rests on days before and after pitching. Other days, he is the DH, never playing in the field.
The Red Sox bid for his services but the Angels made a better offer. It’s ironic that a century later, the Red Sox would lose out on the second Babe Ruth. Both teams currently lead their divisions and could play for the American League pennant. But that’s down the road. There is a full season ahead of us.
How is Ohtani doing so far? Very well. At the start of this week, his team is currently 13-3, leading the AL West. He is hitting .367 with three home runs, 11 RBI’s, a bases clearing triple, and scoring the winning run on a sacrifice fly in another Angels win. In pitching, he is 2-0, has a 2.08 ERA, 18 strikeouts, including retiring 27 straight batters over a two-game span.
Sixteen games do not a season make, but everyone is watching, make no mistake.
The Angels fans are so happy, the public address announcer has to ask them to stop yelling during Ohtani’s at-bats.
There is a strange financial angle to this story as well. The Angels outbid three other teams for Ohtani and had to pay his former Japanese team $20,000,000 to get him. According to MLB rules, he can only make the league minimum of $545,000 for the next three seasons until he reaches the age of 25. Two years after that, he’ll be eligible for free agency.
Ohtani is the latest in a long line of Japanese-American baseball players who made the transition to playing in the United States. Players like certain Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners, and nine time All-Star Hideki Matsui of the New York Yankees, led the way for a continuing string of players who crossed the Pacific to play.
And MLB has been better because of it.
Ed. Note: Ohtani lasted two innings last night against the Red Sox before leaving due to a blister on his pitching hand. It is unclear when he’ll be able to either pitch or DH, the Angels announced.