Saturday, November 18, 2023

Quote of the Day (Bruce Schoenfeld, on Shohei Ohtani’s Astonishing Second MVP Season)

“This year was his [California Angels pitcher-designated hitter Shohei Ohtani] best yet, perhaps the most remarkable season by an individual in baseball history. It started when he played for Japan in the World Baseball Classic in March, where he recorded the hardest-hit ball of the tournament and tied for the fastest pitch. The first five times he pitched for the Angels, he allowed a total of eight hits, the fewest by a starter to open a season in modern history. After that, he seemed to do something every week that hadn’t been seen in years, or ever. Some feats were the obscure sort baseball likes to keep track of, like becoming the first player since 1964 to steal a base and homer in a game that he started on the mound; or his accumulation of especially long home runs. Others were more historic. He was only the second player ever to lead his league in both homers and triples at the All-Star Break, for example. On July 27, he reached an apotheosis of sorts by throwing a one-hit shutout against the Detroit Tigers in the first game of a doubleheader, then hitting two home runs in the second game, another combination without precedent. ‘In our lifetime, we’ve never seen anything like it,’ says Manny Machado, the San Diego Padres’ All-Star third baseman. ‘I didn’t believe it when he first came over here, that it would be possible. But he’s proven me and a lot of other people wrong.’”— Magazine and television journalist Bruce Schoenfeld, “Mr. Incredible,” The New York Times Magazine, Oct. 1, 2023

I hope that Shohei Ohtani doesn’t risk a worse injury than he already has to his ulnar collateral ligament by batting during the coming season while allowing his elbow (so integral to his pitching success) to heal. It’s not that I fear a threat to his future financial prospects. (Please!) But I’d like baseball fans like me to see even more of what has made him virtually without precedent to date.

Moreover, I’d like him to compile high enough career totals to assure entrance into Cooperstown. Baseball history includes several Most Valuable Player winners who never made it to the Hall of Fame, primarily because of injuries, including Roger Maris, Don Mattingly, Dave Parker, and Dale Murphy. 

If his career is shortened and lifetime pitching and batting totals curtailed (right now he has 171 HRs and 437 RBI to go with a 38-19 won-loss record and a 3.01 ERA), one can only hope that Cooperstown voters will remember what he was like at his unbelievable best, as they did with Dizzy Dean and Sandy Koufax.

Even with his problematic injury history, somebody will pay Ohtani serious money as he enters free agency. Ethan Semendinger’s late-August post on the “Start Spreading the News” blog poses four questions on the slugger-fireballer’s future, including whether the New York Yankees should pursue him (don’t go there!) and how Semendinger might use him when Ohtani’s ready to pitch again (as a reliever).

(The image accompanying this post, showing Shohei Ohtani batting at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, was taken July 8, 2022 by Mogami Kariya.)

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