Shohei Ohtani will have a team in a few weeks. Watching him stand sixty feet six inches in both directions daily is at the top of my Christmas list, no matter who he signs with or the promise of a Red Ryder carbine action range model air rifle. This, in our time, would be the greatest thing since Bo Jackson. Sure, he is universally known as the Babe Ruth of Japan, but that doesn’t really induce pure pandemonium in my head as much as a comparison to Bo Jackson.
I can see it now, Bo Knows everywhere, this Paul Bunyan-esque character gunning down Harold Reynolds from the warning track, the baseball not bouncing once, as it sailed over the cutoff man and right to the catcher, visions of Bo running up the wall after running down a rocket to left-center and later running through the tunnel as he took a handoff from inside the 10-yard line with the Raiders and took it to the house 90 something yards down the field. The man would snap bats over his head like toothpicks. We saw, for a short time, a man doing two things at once that nobody else could do, or had ever done. Can we see that with Shohei Ohtani?
Ohtani’s stats in Japan tell a story, and it’s similar to one that Bo Jackson told. I know, we are talking about one sport instead of two, but where their stories align is in destroying all preconceptions of being too tired to do both, not having the time to hone each skill set needed to succeed, and the overstated absurdity that one simply cannot do both because we say so.
All Bo Jackson wanted to do was play ball. He turned down big money to play minor league ball in the Kansas City Royals system. He would easily have been the number 1 overall draft pick in the NFL draft, but he didn’t want to play for teams that didn’t have his best interest. Coincidentally, Shohei Ohtani, via his agent, has sent out a memo to all MLB teams, asking teams to outline their player development system, medical training protocols, and player performance philosophies among other things to help Ohtani evaluate the character of the team he may play for, with the strict requirement to leave finances out of the conversation.
Character of an organization¾that’s how Bo Jackson made his decision to play for the Royals and not the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Are we seeing double? Shohei could wait two more years and sign with an MLB team for nearly $300 million, but he wants to play ball, and he wants to do it now, and he doesn’t care about money. He doesn’t even want to talk about money. All he wants to do is play with the best in the world for an organization that he believes in, and that believes in him. A rather refreshing outlook in this capitalistic-inspired athletic world, in which the paycheck extends beyond the desire to win, the desire to showcase one’s talent, to push oneself to the bloody, sweaty edge, the most vulnerable and beautiful place in all of sports. The shattering of the blood vessel in Bo’s hip, Michael Jordan’s flu game, Shawn Michaels’ WrestleMania 14 performance are all visions in my mind of the athlete leaving it all on the field of play—money liquidated into agony, cracked bones and tested wills, something that cannot be bargained, even with a million bucks.
And now we get Shohei Ohtani. His signing bonus will be $3 million if he signs with the Yankees or the Rangers or Twins, much lower if he were to sign with, say, the Chicago Cubs, who could give him around $300,000 to sign and then the league minimum after that. If he were to sign with the Cubs, he ain’t going to Wrigley, he’s going to Iowa. Signs with the Yankees, Yankee Stadium? No sir, he’s taking the train to Scranton-Wilkes Barre. When Bo signed with the Royals, the Heisman winner headed to AA ball. Not the penthouse, the outhouse. Ohtani is Doc Holliday, he isn’t playing for money, he’s playing for blood, agony, respect, a chance to be remembered, and potentially leaving $250 million plus on the table to do so. To him, that matters most.
Signing Shohei Ohtani to a minor-league deal can be had by any team. He’s in it for the guts, not the cash. The Yankees are the most popular baseball team in the world, the most accomplished, the boys in pinstripes have the biggest history and the biggest stage and the biggest players that have and will be remembered for hundreds of years. But their vision for the future with the firing (essentially) of Joe Girardi has their 2018 and beyond in question. It’s not because Girardi won’t be in the clubhouse, it’s more of me questioning the decisions of upper management. I believe they have a little bit of Jerry Jones going on. How they handled Joe Torre and things like that. But baseball, it now boasts the highest degree of parity in all of sports. And in an age where the state of the internet is purely social media, Shohei doesn’t need to play for the team that was most popular in 1927, he can swing for Sheffield Avenue or McCovey Cove or the damn Allegheny River if he wants to, and if that team has his back, he’ll swing for their fences and throw his high heat for them and he’ll change the game of baseball if you let him.