If you type “Sultan of Swat” into Google translate and ask for the Japanese translation, the end result shows “Suwatto no Surutan.” Now, I speak about as much Japanese as I do French, which means I know “yes” and “thank you,” so I’m going to have to trust Google on this one. This is like I’m going to have to trust the words of people who have watched phenomenon Shohei Ohtani before he steps foot in Major League Baseball.
When we think of historically great two-way players, the first one to come to mind is the legendary Babe Ruth, who started his career as a pitcher, then was moved to the outfield and dabbled on the mound in the closing years of his career. Yes, it was a different time, but Ruth was one of the greatest hitters to step foot on a baseball field. He was so great, that he was moved away from his spot on the bump to get more plate appearances.
Now, you might think it’s easy to make such a decision with a player who can hit the cover off the ball the way Ruth did. But he was actually an amazing pitcher. After a relatively rough debut season (four games in 1914) with a an ERA of 3.91, Ruth never found himself with an ERA above 3.00 until his single pitching appearance in 1920. To make the move and put such a dominant hurler in the outfield, his bat would have to be something special, which it was.
Ohtani is described as having incredible pop to all fields, and he’s only 23 years old. However, he could be the inverse of Ruth and become a more dominant pitcher. After he split time between the mound and the outfield his first two professional seasons, Ohtani was a full-time pitcher as of his third season. A dominant presence, Ohtani’s fastball regularly hits triple figures and former big leaguer Stefen Romero said on BaseballAmerica.com that his forkball looks like a fastball, then drops right off the table into the dirt. Romero says the other trouble comes from the drastic change of speed on his fastball from 100 mph down to 94 mph.
I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a bit of a video game nerd, just a bit. The only series I really geek out over is Assassin’s Creed. (Stay with me now.) There’s an idea presented in the middle of the series that there’s a particular individual whose DNA is essentially recycled throughout history. His current body dies, but his DNA and being live on forever. (It’s a whole thing.) He is known as “The Sage.” Now, I know it’s fake, but hear me out. Seeing what Ohtani does and how he plays the game of baseball makes me think of a baseball form of The Sage, because we’ve really only seen this caliber of two-way player one other time. The other player who could have been The Sage? Babe Ruth. After all, heroes get remembered, but legends never die.
Photo by Brigham Berthold