July 14, 2021

Ohtani, Monday: Crushed A Record Six 500+-Foot Homers In HR Derby
Ohtani, Tuesday: Pitched A Perfect Inning, Batted Leadoff, Got The "Win"
Ohtani, Wednesday: Slept All Day (Probably)

Shohei Ohtani hit 28 home runs in the first round of the Home Run Derby on Monday night, before he was eliminated by Juan Soto. Fifteen of those 28 homers traveled 475+ feet – a new record for a single Derby round. And six home runs were measured at over 500 feet, also a record, at least since Statcast began measuring derby long balls in 2016.

On Tuesday, Ohtani grounded out to begin the ASG and then took the mound, needing only 14 pitches to retire Fernando Tatis Jr., Max Muncy, and Nolan Arenado. Two of his fastballs to Arenado were clocked at 100.2 and 99.7 mph, the fastest pitches Ohtani has thrown in three months.

Ohtani (0-for-2) was only the fourth All-Star Game starting pitcher to have two plate appearances. The other three: Lefty Gomez (1935), Bob Friend (1960), and Steve Carlton (1969). That trio went 1-for-6 (Carlton hit a double), but only Ohtani put the ball in play in both of his at-bats.

Jeff Passan, ESPN:
This is what Shohei Ohtani does. He reduces men who are the best in the world at what they do to fanboys. He turns fans who can't conceive of what he does to putty. He takes the idea that Major League Baseball isn't cool or interesting or fun and renders each of those conceits moot with his play alone. He takes the limits of sporting achievement to the precipice – and sometimes beyond what we considered possible. He takes a world so big – from his home country of Japan to the United States to nations beyond – and shrinks it to a 5-ounce orb that he can hit 500 feet and propel at 100 mph.

To understand what Ohtani is, why he matters and how he represents the world of sports that can bring together this country like nothing else, days like Monday are important. Because even if the top-seeded Ohtani did lose in an epic, first-round derby matchup against Washington Nationals star Juan Soto, the reactions of those who bore witness – from his peers to Ken Griffey Jr. to the more than 50,000 fans who packed the stadium to the millions of others that watched – told a far greater story than Ohtani ever could with his words.

If sports teaches us anything, it's that people's actions often matter more than their voices – that the mere idea of Ohtani doing what Babe Ruth did in the major leagues, what Double Duty Radcliffe and Bullet Rogan did in the Negro Leagues, is special, and that doing it in an era when baseball players are more talented than they've ever been is otherworldly. Stephen A. Smith on Monday morning tried to make the argument that Ohtani's use of an interpreter to communicate with the media limits the audience he and baseball can draw. It was ridiculed rightfully and immediately, and Smith later apologized, which was good, because Monday night disproved the entire premise.

Nobody tunes into a sport to listen to what athletes have to say. It might be important, it might be noble, it might be righteous, but it is not the draw. The athlete is. What he does is. What she achieves is. Anybody who chooses to watch baseball only if Ohtani addresses the media in English instead of Japanese doesn't deserve the joy and pleasure of watching him.

What Ohtani displayed Monday perfectly illustrated a skill set so alluring, a vibe so intoxicating, a tale so unique to sports that anyone watching couldn't help but fall in love. Early in the day, he sat on a dais announcing the game's starters and basked in admiration of Max Scherzer, the future Hall of Famer and his National League starting-pitching counterpart. Ohtani tried to contextualize what he was doing, but how can anyone when it's so singular?

If Ohtani's ability to hit and throw with equal eminence is the most impressive thing about him, his demeanor isn't far behind. As he struggled during his first major league spring training in 2018 and scouts picked apart his swing and writers – yours truly, misguidedly, at the forefront – wondered whether he could actually play both ways, Ohtani never lost faith, never lost sight of who he is, how he operates, why he believes. His is a legend of excellence, yes, but it's also one of perseverance. It's no wonder, then, that as Mancini led off the derby, Ohtani rested on a Gatorade cooler, his bat between his legs, talking and laughing with Ippei Mizuhara, his interpreter and confidant. The entire stadium came to see Ohtani. The world tuned in to watch him. And he just cracked jokes, like the weight of a few million eyeballs was featherlight. . . .

Every day, Ohtani carries his own expectations and the pressure of those eyeballs and the burden of trying to do something nobody has come close to doing in decades, and he does it laughing and smiling and making faces. . . .

On Monday night, Ohtani put on a show. He didn't win like Pete Alonso, and he didn't hit as many home runs as Mancini, and he didn't beat Soto. And that really didn't matter. Because amid a frightening time in America for people of Asian descent, when so many have been subjected to reprehensible violence and mistreatment, Shohei Ohtani, a Japanese man, started his unprecedented, 24-hour stretch playing America's pastime with a bang. English, Japanese – it doesn't matter the language. There's only one word for Ohtani, and it's not up for interpretation: amazing.
(Stephen A. Smith is an ignorant clown, desperate for attention. He's never said anything remotely interesting or original.)

Chelsea Janes (Washington Post) writes: that Ohtani may not have been the star of either the Home Run Derby or the All-Star Game, but he was always in the spotlight on both nights.
He's the kind of player baseball never knew it needed until he arrived.

Ohtani wasn't the only fresh star on display Tuesday. . . . But when fellow all-stars took selfies to remember it all, they clamored for Ohtani. When the television cameras needed somewhere to look, they often found Ohtani . . . He was a source of global fascination unlike any this sport has seen in recent memory. . . .

"At any given time, he most likely has the most power, the most velocity, the most speed on the field. To have all those attributes in one player, it's so good for the game, and it's inspiring to watch," New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole said. . . . "There's a simplicity to him, just being able to fulfill that dream. Even as a pitcher now or as a hitter, a certain inner child in us would love to do all of it. He's doing it." . . .

Nearly every player on both teams was asked about Ohtani at some point. Many of them found themselves explaining how utterly impossible it was to explain what they were watching. . . .

The closest player may be Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, who spent his entire career pitching and hitting, earned six Negro Leagues all-star bids – three as a pitcher, three as a catcher – and was still competing a full decade after Babe Ruth retired. But Radcliffe retired 75 years ago, long before innovations in physical training and more nuanced skill training birthed an era in which a 95-mph fastball is the norm and prolific power no longer guarantees stardom. Ohtani is, in that sense, unprecedented.
That last link provides some information that has not been much of a part of the Ohtani discussion. Several players in the Negro Leagues were true two-way players and now that they are officially considered major leaguer players, they must be recognized.

After Pittsburgh Crawfords catcher Ted Radcliffe hit a grand slam and caught Satchel Paige's shutout in the first game of a 1932 doubleheader against the New York Black Yankees, he pitched a shutout of his own in the second game. New York sportswriter Damon Runyon dubbed him "Double Duty".

Theodore Roosevelt Radcliffe pitched and caught for his entire career (1928-1946), even at the age of 43, in his final season. His statistic record is fragmentary, with stats from 371 games: 279 as a catcher, 88 as a pitcher; he also played a little bit in left field, right field, and at first base and second base. Radcliffe passed away in 2005 at the age of 103.

Charles Wilbur "Bullet" Rogan was another black baseball star who pitched and played the field. His Hall of Fame stats (a 13-year career, all with the Kansas City Monarchs) include 120 wins as a pitcher, a .338 batting average, .521 slugging percentage, and a .934 OPS.

Kevin B. Blackistone writes:
[I]n the run-up to the All-Star Game, we who tell baseball's story continue to suggest Ohtani is a unicorn.

History does not at all support that observation — unless, of course, you participate in purposefully overlooking Black history. Such is the scorched-earth path toward ignorance down which some Republicans want to lead students by attempting to punish the teaching of Nikole Hannah-Jones's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project on the role and legacy of enslaved Africans in this country.

Maybe baseball needs a 1920 Project, to study the game from the year the Negro Leagues commenced. Or, better still, an 1887 Project, to examine the game from the year it adopted, in cowardly secret, one of those mischaracterized gentlemen's agreements to keep the progeny of enslaved Africans from participating with everyone else.

The truth is that Ohtani's two-way feats are more appropriately compared to what Negro Leagues players did regularly than what Ruth did for the first part of his career. Ohtani reminds of Negro Leagues players who were not specialized, which is what Ruth became as a batter. The 27-year-old is reminiscent of Negro Leagues players who were encouraged to showcase the full array of their athletic abilities – and were celebrated for doing so. Rogan, for example, was credited with stealing 106 bases – including 26 in 1929, when he was 35. Ruth never stole more than 17 in a season. Ohtani, midway through his fourth season, has 41 career steals.

So Ohtani isn't someone we've missed in baseball since Ruth. He isn't a once-in-a-century talent. He is a multitalented athlete . . . and one whose manager, Joe Maddon, has allowed him to shine, maybe out of compulsion. With arguably the game’s best player, outfielder Mike Trout, sidelined by injury . . . Ohtani has been leaned upon as a batter . . . not unlike Radcliffe was in 1929 when his Detroit Stars' pitching staff was shortened by injuries and he answered the call for an extra arm. . . .
Ohtani is part of that lineage of do-everything stars, tied mostly to Negro Leagues players rather than Ruth. They include Leon Day . . . who in 1937 posted a 13-0 record with a 3.02 ERA while batting .320 with eight home runs for the Newark Eagles. Then there was Afro-Cuban Martín Dihigo, the first Cuban-born Hall of Famer and another two-way star, whom fellow Hall of Famer Buck Leonard called "the best ballplayer of all time, Black or White."

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