Shohei Ohtani: The New Face of Baseball?

It wasn’t too long ago that the baseball world was crowning young Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels as the greatest baseball player to step on the field in 25 years, if not longer. Now, with the “what have you done for me lately” attitude that permeates sports and our society in general, Trout is currently the forgotten man as his teammate takes the spotlight as the reigning king of the baseball universe.

In just 86 games so far, Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani has launched an amazing Major League Leading 32 home runs. To put that in perspective, he has now passed the aforementioned greatest player of our generation Mike Trout for the most HR in Angels history before the All-Star game. And just for icing on the cake, his 31st HR was a rocket that blasted 459 feet. It’s also four more HR than Vlad Guerrero Jr and Fernando Tatis Jr, who each have 28 HR.

Ohtani was named as the AL’s starting Designated Hitter for the All-Star Game on July 13th. He is also the first player in history to be named as both a position player (if you can count DH as a position), and a pitcher. He was also named as a reserve pitcher for the game. When he is not blasting HR for the Angels, he is pitching about every 5th game. His selection as an All-Star pitcher does come with some controversy. There is some question as to whether he deserves to be named as an All-Star pitcher or not. His record is 4-1 with a decent 3.49 ERA. In fact, at the time of this writing, he has the fewest Wins of all starting pitchers named to the All-Star Game. He’s not even the best pitcher on the Angels. While he does have the 2nd lowest ERA among Angel’s starters, he also is 4th in Wins on the team. Many detractors say that this is merely a way to bring people back to the game after the awful season that baseball, and sports in general, had in 2020.

All of that being said, there is no question that Ohtani is great for baseball, and he couldn’t have a better season at a better time. Mike Trout notwithstanding, it is true that baseball has not seen the likes of someone like Ohtani since Babe Ruth. He is simply a joy to watch, and he is what the game needs right now. Baseball has long suffered an identity crisis. For far too long, there has been a clamoring for a “Face of the Game”. Basketball has LeBron. Football has Tom Terrific. Even NASCAR has a revolving star, but always a star that the fans identify with. Baseball has yearned for that person for many years.

The truth is, if Mike Trout played anywhere on the East Coast, he would probably find himself in that position. The problem is, half of America is asleep by the time he is playing. He still very well may be the best overall player we have seen in a generation. Nothing written above takes that away from him. However, what we have seen from Shohei Ohtani may transcend even that. It is rare to see a player hit home runs with the frequency and strength that he does while pitching at the level that he does every fifth day, that we have to go back 100 years to compare him to anyone. And the person that we compare him to is always in the argument, and quite legitimately, as the greatest person to ever play the game.

His talents are so unique. He easily could become the face of baseball, regardless of where he plays. He has become, and will likely remain must-see baseball. He is that very rare player who people in any time zone will get up in the morning to check the box score or highlights to see what he did last night. Did Ohtani hit another HR? Did he get another W? How many batters did he strike out?

Whether he belongs on the pitching staff in the All-Star game or not is up to each individual to decide. Still, it is difficult to argue the interest he has brought back to the sport at a time when they so desperately needed something to get the fans back to the game. That alone is worth placement on the roster. I wish him many more years like this year because it is so much fun watching him have so much fun.