It takes a lot to get me to a baseball game these days, in fact, it takes a lot to get me to the mailbox.
Take YOU out with the crowd.
Peanuts make me gaseous and the only person who makes out big on me eating Crackerjack is my dentist.
I don’t care what that song says: years of press box regulations against rooting for the home team make it difficult for this recovering sportswriter to mix in easily with the fan base. I’ve written this before: I’m a terrible, uncomfortable, claustrophobic, mostly miserable in-the-stands spectator. I simply don’t know how to act.
Two years on the back-up Dodgers beat in the 1990s still haunt me with deadline nightmares of being stuck in a post-game clubhouse with a half-naked Tommy Lasorda.
That confessed, I was born and raised on the Angels of Gene Autry and Jim Fregosi, which makes me a closet Harry Halo for Life.
Looking back, over five decades of Angel watching, I don’t readily jump on bandwagons, or put carts ahead of power pitchers or work horses.
Thinking historically, I can count only three Angels that would make today’s me get up off my couch and attend a game:
1: The young Frank Tanana. Most people remember the “old” Frank who blew out his arm after pitching 14 straight complete games (fathom that today), yet still managed to win 240 games on guts and guile.
I remember Young Frank, who came up with the Angels as a flamethrower in the 1970s. The only thing hotter than lefty Frank’s fastball were the girls he dated. Frank was Sandy Koufax with better, early-career control. In the first game of a double-header I attended in June of 1975, Young Frank struck out 17 Texas Rangers…without walking a batter. He had 17 strikeouts after eight innings. He had pinpoint control to go with an upper 90s fastball. Only arm trouble, caused by ruinous overwork, kept Young Frank from first-ballot Cooperstown.
2: Nolan Ryan. Anyone who knows me knows this story so I won’t bore you with it.
3: Mike Trout. I went out on a professional limb a few years ago when I wrote, for the L.A. Times, only weeks after the Angels called him up from Salt Lake, that Trout was a young Mickey Mantle who had a chance to be the greatest player in franchise history.
Anyone want to check me on that?
But now I have to add a fourth Angel: Shohei Ohtani.
He has just capped the greatest single-week, pitching\batting performance in the major leagues since Babe Ruth.
Ohtani won two games on the mound, nearly pitched a perfect game and hit three home runs, while batting .389.
Shohei Ohtani, like Young Tanana, Ryan and Trout, has pried me off the couch.
I saw him live last week, along with friends Keith Thursby and Chris Foster, for the Wednesday day game against the Cleveland Indians.
We purchased $26 tickets, in the View Section, first row on the rail. Those tickets, in my day, used to be $2.
We three faded, jaded journalists came away thoroughly impressed with Ohtani…as a hitter.
We saw him opposite-field a home run off Corey Kluber, the reigning Cy Young Award winner. Ohtani is not a good hitting\pitcher, the way Clayton Kershaw is a good hitting\pitcher.
Ohtani appears a natural at the plate, with a buttery swing combined with fast hands.
He is NOT Babe Ruth….yet. Likely…Will…Never…Be.
I spent more than a month in 2014 researching a story on the 100th anniversary of Ruth’s first major league game: July 11, 1914.
I came away convinced, beyond much doubt, that Ruth was the greatest player to ever step on a baseball field.
He remains the only player who could have made the Hall of Fame as a pitcher OR a hitter.
Consider: Ruth led the AL in earned-run average in 1916 (1.75) and in 1924, led the league in batting (.378).
“Who in the world has ever done that?” I quoted Tom Stevens, Ruth’s grandson, in the story.
Until last week, no one has come close to putting another name to that question. Is Shohei the one?
In 1916 and 1917, Babe Ruth was a better 20-game winning pitcher than Walter Johnson, defeating the Big Train in six of eight meetings, three times by 1-0 scores.
Ruth was 94-46 as a pitcher with a career ERA of 2.28. He pitched nine shutouts in 1916 and once amassed 29 2\3 consecutive scoreless innings in the World Series.
And, oh yeah, he hit 714 home runs and still owns baseball’s all-time best slugging percentage: .690.
Ohtani is not Babe Ruth…but he had a Ruthian week. And he is doing Ruthian things.
Shohei’s unbridled talent is as obvious as the 100 mph fastballs he painted against the Oakland Athletics.
It’s too early to make major pronouncements but easy, already, to see the reason for all the Ohtani hype.
Also, and this will remain true forever, spring training statistics don’t mean squat. If they did, the Tijuana Toros would be 4-1 favorites to win the World Series.
It’s also not too early to wonder how the forever-tormented Angels might mess this up. This is a franchise that has, in the second week of April, put one half of its (pipe dream) six-man rotation on the disabled list.
It’s also not too early to ask: why is Ohtani not batting for himself on days he pitches?
You know, like they’ve done for a 150 years in the National League?
In 1965, pitcher Don Drysdale hit seven home runs for the Dodgers.
Will the Angels micro-manage Ohtani into a nervous breakdown?
What happens if his interpreter gets laryngitis?
How long do you keep your best hitter in the No. 8 spot?
These are things we couch-potatoes think as we think we’re watching major league history, possibly, in the making.