100 years after Babe Ruth bent the sport of baseball to his will, Shohei Ohtani — who takes the mound tonight against the Red Sox — has broken it entirely.
Driving the news: Next week in Denver, Ohtani will compete in the Home Run Derby, start at DH for the AL and take the mound after becoming the first player ever named an All-Star as both a pitcher and position player.
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By the numbers: You can’t scroll Twitter or turn on “SportsCenter” without seeing a new Ohtani stat, but in case you’ve missed it, here’s a snapshot of his nightly heroics.
Hitting: He leads the league in HR (31), SLG (.704), 3B (4) and bunt hits (4), and he’s the first AL player ever with 31 HR and 12 steals before the All-Star break.
Pitching: In 12 starts, he’s 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA, 83 strikeouts and the most unhittable pitch in the majors, as opponents are batting just .083 with zero HR against his splitter.
Wild stat: Ohtani has either reached base, had an RBI or pitched in 92% of the games he’s played in this season (73/79).
The backstory: Ohtani, who turned 27 on Monday, grew up in the Iwate prefecture in northern Japan, the youngest of three born to Kayoko (mom) and Toru Ohtani. Like most Japanese children, he picked up baseball at a young age and never looked back.
At Hanamaki Higashi High School in 2012, during the famed Summer Koshien tournament, he became the first Japanese amateur to throw a 99-mph pitch.
He hoped to jump straight to MLB, but the NPB’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters convinced him to stay. He played both ways and earned All-Star nods in each of his five seasons in the league (2013-17).
In 2017, it was finally time to head across the Pacific. After all 30 MLB teams made their pitch, Ohtani signed with the Angels, who promised he could continue playing both ways.
Ohtani at his introductory press conference in 2017. Photo: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images
The big picture: Ohtani is the rare baseball star to become a bona fide spectacle, breaking free from the bounds of his sport in a way normally reserved for the NBA or NFL.
The three juniors (Vladimir Guerrero, Fernando Tatís and Ronald Acuña) have turned the batter’s box into their playground, and Jacob deGrom might break the modern ERA record, but Ohtani in April threw a 101-mph pitch and hit a 450-foot homer in the same inning.
While most baseball feats are statistical, Ohtani’s are visual. He must be seen to be believed — and is a the definition of a “must-see TV” (Japan has an “Ohtani cam” that tracks his every move during games).
The bigger picture: It’s too early to do more than hypothesize, but it’s worth considering how Ohtani’s success could impact the future of the game.
Plenty of pitchers can hit, but most give it up in college. Perhaps more will attempt to test their two-way mettle in the future — and perhaps more teams will now be open to it.
If more players get that opportunity and succeed, Ohtani will be heralded as the first of a “new breed.” Until then, he’ll remain an anomaly — a once-in-a-generation talent.
🎥 Watch: Ohtani hits a ball through the roof in Japan (Twitter)
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