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Unsold Ohtani op-ed

Tuesday 7/13/21

Frustrating that this wasn't moved.


Don’t fall back on race to make a case for the greatness of Shohei Ohtani

Tonight’s MLB All-Star Game might as well be renamed, for this year, anyway, The Shohei Ohtani Invitational. The sport has not had a megawatt star of this sort of visibility—or hype, if you are a doubter—since perhaps the time of Ken Griffey, Jr., or conceivably Reggie Jackson’s days in the madhouse of the Bronx.

With that attention comes the assertion that no one, in the history of the game, has been at the level Ohtani is presently at. Not even—and be prepared to set those history books on fire!— Babe Ruth, who was once a pretty darn good duel threat as a pitcher and hitter himself.

When Ruth advocates make their case that it’s time for some serious break-pumping regarding the undeniably captivating Mr. Ohtani, they’re often met with charges of racism. You know the kind of comment: “What the problem, Boomer? Not white enough for you?”

Look, let’s be real: Ohtani is a B+ pitcher right now. People tend to see 102 mph on a radar gun and associate that with pitching brilliance. Outs are outs. It does not matter how you get them. What matters is how many of them you get, in relation to how many runs you allow.

Judged from this sane, mathematical perspective, Ohtani is having a B+ type of year for a pitcher. What he does is hit home runs. This year. Not really in other years. He’s not a batting average guy, and yeah, bemoan the stat as you wish, but it’s still germane. It is a kind of barometer.

For all of the home run power, he’s not a huge RBI guy. The home run, right now, is his thing. And very good pitching. Not ace level pitching—but he’s been a stellar #2 thus far.

The need to attest, “I am not a racist, but you are a racist!”—which is truly one of the worst aspects of our culture—is distorting what Ohtani is. He’s not close to Ruthian yet. Don’t cheapen Ohtani, by cheapening Ruth, by cheapening baseball history.

The scarlet letter game of alleged racism underwrites a lot of arguments now, and it’s one big reason we’re devolving as logicians. As makers of limpid arguments. And it’s just plain gross. Social media jeremiads and clout contests oriented around ideas of self-ascribed moral piety run counter to baseball, which has never been well-served by hyperbole.

Not only is the game a thinking person’s game, the life lessons it imparts abets the thinking person’s life as well.

Let the man play his ball, and let him be what he is right now. What is that? I don’t know. You also don’t know. He’s having a stellar half season, which I would argue is not quite the wonder of the modern world that people beating the “look at me, I’m so morally attuned, he’s the best ever” cause want it to be.

That cheapens what is a kind of wonder, and certainly a form of excitement. If Ohtani ends up being better than Ruth, he’s not going to need anyone to force a case for him. And nowhere will skin color enter into what is then axiomatic. That’s what every true baseball fan—and American, and citizen of the world—should want.


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