I don’t believe all this hype about 23-year-old Shohei Otani, the so-called “two-way baseball superstar” from Japan.
No, I’ve never seen him play. But I’ve seen his stats – and c’mon, sure he’s an outfielder and pitcher, but his numbers don’t “wow” me like he’s the next Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth. It’s not like he’s hitting .400 or 50+ home runs. C’mon.
Masahiro Tanaka made all the headlines when he was 24-0 in his final season in Japan before joining the Yankees. And sure, in the big leagues in America he had a great first half of the 2014 season as a rookie, but he broke down after that. This past season, yes, he helped the Yankees reach the postseason, but he’s had an up-and-down career in the majors and 2017 was pretty much the same (as evidenced by his 4.74 ERA).
Look, I’ve never seen Otani play, but I don’t think he’ll be a “superstar” in Major League Baseball. Sure, teams will bid for him and sign him, and buy into this hype. If you think about it, though, there’s been just one great superstar from Japan – Ichiro Suzuki. Everyone else? Either mediocre or average.
Hideo Nomo? He had two great seasons – his first two years in the big leagues. That was it. He was badly outpitched in his two postseason starts, by the Reds’ David Wells and the Braves’ Tom Glavine. After that, he was pretty much a journeyman, pitching for the Mets, Brewers, Red Sox, Tigers, Devil Rays, and Royals (and Dodgers again) for a 4.61 ERA. In fact, by his fifth big-league season, even the pitching-starved Chicago Cubs released him, not wanting him on their major-league roster. That year alone (1999), both the Mets and Cubs released him, the Brewers waived him (and he was picked up by the Phillies), and the Phillies dumped him by granting him free agency and not signing him. Yes, he threw a no-hitter for the 2001 Red Sox (his second career no-no), but Boston opted not to re-sign him after his one season in town.
Okay, look at Hideki Matsui, you say? Yes, he was a World Champion with the 2009 Yankees, winning Series MVP honors that year. But he had arrived from Japan as “Godzilla,” a 50-homer man. In Major League Baseball, he cracked the 30-home run mark just once, with 31, and that came in his second year. I mean, if you looked at his stats, you could argue he had two, maybe three, great seasons. Sure, he was already 29 by the time he arrived in North America, but still… another example of a player who came over and had a few great years – but not a big superstar that others made him out to be.
Instead of finding the next “superstar” in Asia, why not look more at the talent in America? There’s been talk about how African Americans are more into basketball and football. Why not get them involved in baseball? We should be celebrating those players who are stars in American colleges/high schools, even if they’re two- or three-sport athletes, and get them to choose baseball.
That reminds me of Deion Sanders. I recently watched Game Two of the 1992 NLCS (on YouTube) where then-Braves GM John Schuerholz was interviewed about Sanders, and Schuerholz was adamant that his two-sport star should be committed to the Braves’ playoff run instead of going to play for the NFL Falcons that Sunday afternoon. I don’t get it. Here you’ve got a two-sport star in “Prime Time” – and he was representing two sports team in the same town. Why not promote the heck out of that, to get the community rallying behind both teams?? How short-sighted is that?
Instead, the media turned on Sanders for going on to play for the Falcons against Miami that Sunday, and people were calling him “selfish” etc. C’mon. Why not celebrate the greatness of a real star athlete performing and excelling in his sport(s) at the highest level? You could get the Atlanta community involved in seeing this great player and sell tickets. Very short-sighted. If you’ll recall, throughout the 1990s the Braves failed to sell out their playoff games on numerous occasions. I guess those geniuses there couldn’t market and sell tickets. No sympathy there. They didn’t know how to promote Sanders and their team.
And back then you had the media (remember Tim McCarver getting doused by Sanders in the locker room?) crucifying him, labelling him as selfish, etc. But interestingly, when I spoke to Jay Howell about my 1988 Dodgers book, he brought up the topic of Sanders on his own. The former Dodgers closer played in Atlanta in 1993, and he told me Sanders worked harder than the other Braves players. In fact, Howell compared Sanders to Kirk Gibson (!!), saying even he was surprised at how “Prime Time” worked. Howell believes it was because of both men’s football background that they had a similar type of work ethic. Yet, you never heard about this from the media, who had their own agenda (I guess) in portraying Sanders as something else. And hey, that Tomahawk chop and chant that the fans perform at Braves games? That was thanks to Sanders, and again you never hear about that from the media.
My point? Why not focus on African-American talent back home and get them to commit to baseball? Again, there’s been so much talk about how there’s lack of African Americans in the sport of baseball. I’ll take local talent over over-hyped Japanese “superstars” any day of the week. But that’s just me.