The year is 1919. Babe Ruth has just played in his final season with the Red Sox, spurring the “Curse of the Bambino” to plague the Boston baseball franchise. Babe Ruth was a star hitter and pitcher on these Red Sox teams, posting ERAs under 3.00 for his final 5 seasons with the franchise on top of becoming an elite power hitter in his final season in Boston. He smashed 29 home runs and had 113 RBIs in that 1919 MLB season. For almost a century following this season, no baseball player ever successfully became a top tier hitter and pitcher like Babe Ruth. 99 years later though, the Angels would sign a young, Japanese phenom named Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani had acquired the fitting nickname of the “Japanese Babe Ruth” during his tenure as a baseball player in Asia. There were rumblings of his ability to successfully hit and pitch at the MLB level, and he had a chance to become the player that only Babe Ruth had ever achieved, the elite pitcher and elite hitter. One hundred years after Ruth, in a much more competitive and talented baseball league, Ohtani had the potential to embark on a path that only Babe Ruth had ever successfully ventured down. Only time would tell if Ohtani would have similar success in the MLB and become the coveted hitter-pitcher that he was advertised to be.
Shohei Ohtani immediately made an impact for a mediocre Angels team (aside from Mike Trout) in the 2018 season. He managed to hit 22 homers and drive in 61 runs at the plate, while also going 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA on the mound. His talent at both pitcher and hitter made him a fairly easy pick for the AL Rookie of the Year in 2018. It was a great start to the young career of the “Japanese Babe Ruth” that saw his dual ability on display, though injuries limited to 10 pitching starts and only 367 at bats. If he could stay healthy, he was on pace to become exactly what everyone thought couldn’t be done in today’s MLB landscape, be an ace and clean up hitter all in one for the Los Angeles Angels.
He followed up his outstanding 2018 campaign with an injury riddled 2019 season that saw him not make a single pitching start for the whole season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He was still a very solid presence at the plate, smoking 18 home runs and 62 RBIs in another limited season that saw him only have 425 at bats. The talent was absolutely still there for Shohei Ohtani, but after back to back seasons filled with concerning injuries, would he ever be able to showcase his immense talent completely?
2020 was Shohei Ohtani’s worst major league season yet. He started one game at pitcher, and was removed for injury after giving up 7 runs and not even getting through the second inning. His batting was putrid as well. He hit for a paltry .185 batting average and only had 7 homers and 24 RBIs in the shortened 2020 season that was affected by COVID. Shohei Ohtani had never really achieved the same success that he showed in 2018 due to a plethora of injuries mainly. The hype surrounding him was dying. It was becoming more likely that Ohtani’s attempt to be a two-way player in today’s MLB and find success was just simply not possible. The league was filled with too many talented players to find success at both positions. Rumors began swirling that he may never pitch again and settle in as a mainstay in the Angels batting lineup instead. There were many questions surrounding Shohei Ohtani’s future heading into the 2021 season. It may end up being his last chance to prove that what he’s doing is possible, and not just a pipe dream that only the great Babe Ruth could accomplish. He would have to give it everything he had, and hope the injury bug doesn’t bite him for the 4th straight season.
The 2021 version of Shohei Ohtani has been nothing short of spectacular. He has been one of the most feared hitters in the league, mashing 10 home runs and 26 RBIs in only 132 at bats so far to start the season. Maybe even more exciting is the fact that he didn’t give up on pitching, and it was a great decision. Ohtani has pitched to a 2.10 ERA through his first 25 innings this season, and mowed down 40 hitters via the strikeout in that same period. He has had severe issues with walking batters to begin the season, but seems to gain more and more control with each start. In his last pitching start against the Astros, he went for 7 innings pitched, only giving up 4 hits and 1 walk for a single earned run on the night, and striking out a whopping 10 batters. He also managed to hit for himself in the DH slot, a extreme rarity in the AL, going 1-4 with a single in the 7th inning. After pitching 7 innings, he moved to play as the team’s right fielder for the remainder of the game. Shohei Ohtani just played a game in which he threw 7 great innings, played DH for himself and got a hit, and played 2 innings in the field. In 2021. This seems like something that we would’ve only seen a hundred years ago, with Ruth playing a similar role for those Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees teams, but Ohtani was doing it. If he can continue to fight off injuries and find similar success for the remainder of this season, he should easily win MVP for his role as a dual threat on this Los Angeles Angels team. He is on pace for over 40 home runs, 110 RBIs, and also over 200 Ks and an ERA among the league’s best pitchers. These are numbers that seem unfathomable in 2021 from one player, but Ohtani is doing it. He has set the MLB world ablaze, and is seemingly getting better with each game. He is showing that he is the real deal, and very worthy of that coveted nickname.
Shohei Ohtani is only 26 years old, and if this is what his prime looks like when injuries aren’t nagging, we’re in for a treat for the next decade. Ohtani may slowly come back to earth in 2021 and settle in as a league average pitcher and batter for the remainder of his career afterwards. However, someone with Ohtani’s talent will never be “league average”. His fastball touches 100 miles per hour, he has a nasty slider, a solid breaking curveball, and a filthy splitter in his pitching repertoire. His swing speed and deep analytics support the idea that 2021 Shohei Ohtani is the norm for him. If the deeper analytics are correct, we could see a player who slugs 30 homers and bats in 100 runs, while pitching to a sub-3.00 ERA with over 200 strikeouts in a single season. No player in the history of baseball could do what Ohtani is doing right now at this level and time period in baseball history. With that being said, there is a claim to be had that Shohei Ohtani is the most talented player in the history of baseball.
I know exactly what you’re thinking, but keep in mind I said “most talented”. I didn’t say “best career”, because I highly doubt there’s any chance that his career numbers resemble that of Babe Ruth when Ohtani decides to retire. In fact, I’d say there’s no chance he ever reaches Ruth’s career numbers. We are simply talking about talent and ability, and no one has ever had the pure baseball talent that Shohei Ohtani possesses. For example, Babe Ruth is believed to have topped out at around 90 miles per hour on his fastball as a pitcher. Ohtani touches triple digits with his fastball. Ohtani as a batter also has to deal with other pitchers who can sometimes touch triple digits as well, whereas Ruth was dealing with pitchers who rarely reached the 90 miles per hour threshold. I keep comparing Ohtani to Ruth because it’s the only fair comparison to give, mostly because of both players having the ability to pitch and bat at an elite level. Sticking Ohtani back in Ruth’s age would have easily put Ohtani in the record books. Sticking Ruth in today’s game might not have the same effect. Ohtani is simply a more talented baseball player, and there’s no one to have ever played the game of baseball that rivals his abilities. I am in no way knocking Babe Ruth, he is essentially baseball’s Michael Jordan and deserves recognition as the greatest baseball player of all time. I am just simply stating the fact that when it comes to talent and abilities, no one is on the same tier as Ohtani. 100 mile per hour fastballs and 500 foot home runs shouldn’t come from the same player, yet Ohtani defies those odds. Babe Ruth was the closest we ever came to those numbers before Ohtani and became a legend of the game of baseball because of it. Barring any injuries, there is no reason why Ohtani shouldn’t become a legend of the game also.
Babe Ruth did things that no one else could replicate for nearly a century, yet he still inspired generations of players to try it. That’s why Shohei Ohtani acquired the nickname of the “Japanese Babe Ruth”. Ruth’s talent couldn’t be replicated, yet he still inspired so many baseball players. The emergence of Shohei Ohtani may lead to more players trying what only Ruth and Ohtani have succeeded in so far. After generations of chasing Ruth, maybe the next century will be filled with players trying to replicate Ohtani’s talent. Maybe a century from now, they will write articles about a new player who is more talented than Ruth or Ohtani, someone who was inspired by these two players. Perhaps Ohtani’s ability to finally achieve two-way success at the MLB level will usher in a wave of players that want to both pitch and hit for their MLB ball clubs. Maybe two-way talents are the future of baseball, and are exactly what the game needs right now. While the future of baseball and the impact of Ruth and Ohtani on it can be debated, one thing should be certain when discussing the history of baseball up to this point: The greatness and resume of Babe Ruth will probably never be matched, but the talent of Shohei Ohtani is simply greater than any player we’ve ever seen before. We should appreciate the legend of Babe Ruth, but we must also acknowledge the fact that we are witnessing history in the form of Shohei Ohtani and he is undoubtedly the most dynamic and talented player we’ve ever seen. Just sit back and enjoy, we are watching a player unlike anything we’ve ever seen in Shohei Ohtani.