The last player to achieve massive stardom in both disciplines? Babe Ruth.
It’s common baseball knowledge that teams select pitchers based on their pitching ability, not their hitting, as pitchers are notoriously less talented at bat. In 2017, however, one player from Japan announced his intention to join the Angels — after being courted by many teams — in a capacity the game hasn’t seen since the advent of the American League’s designated hitter rule in 1973.
Shohei Ohtani was a baseball unicorn. He showed promise to succeed as both a hitter and a pitcher, serving as a designated hitter and a pitcher.
The Angels may have played only a fraction of their 162-game season, but Ohtani — in the face of culture shock and stratospheric expectations — isn’t just meeting expectations … he’s knocking them out of the park. His 100-mph fastball is as potent as any rookie’s in the game. By the end of his outing on Sunday, he had caused 25 batters to swing and miss, leading the league.
As for his performances at the plate, he’s tallied up three home runs, tied with teammate Mike Trout, who is widely regarded as the best hitter in Major League Baseball.
To any non-fans out there, it’s difficult to express just how rare this skillset is, especially at a level as high as we’ve seen in these early weeks of the season. While it may not offer too much context, Ohtani’s value is quantified in the ranks of fantasy baseball, where he’s logging gaudy stats in two roles.
While no team has seen a two-way juggernaut like Ohtani in many years, “two-way players” aren’t without precedent. A Red Sox pitcher and batter was able to produce some truly historic numbers at the plate while also serving as a competent pitcher. His departure from the team to the Yankees caused Sox fans for almost a century to rue the “Curse of Babe Ruth.”
The Angels are also getting a historic bargain with their historic player. The 23-year-old cut his teeth in Japan putting up compelling numbers, but his arrival in the majors relegated him to rookie status, which affords him a scant $545,000 per year atop a $2.3-million signing bonus. Not bad for a year’s work, but the Atlantic conservatively estimated the true value of his contract at over $200 million back in December — before he began proving his worth.
To reiterate, the Angels are only about 1/16 through their 2018 campaign, and baseball is a notoriously streaky sport, so we’re likely getting ahead of ourselves here, but when such a wonderful anomaly exists, how can you not get excited at headlines like this?