Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani has been described as a baseball "Frankenstein." Photo: AFP
baseball

Shohei Ohtani: Japan's baseball 'Frankenstein' enjoying monster success

16 Comments
By Andrew McKIRDY

He's the "Frankenstein" taking baseball by storm and following in the legendary footsteps of Babe Ruth -- but Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani is still humble enough to pick up litter.

Ohtani this season became Major League Baseball's biggest star after a breakthrough campaign with the Los Angeles Angels and is a red-hot favorite to win an MVP award.

Not since Ruth a century ago has there been a baseball player capable of pitching and hitting on a regular basis -- most players do one or the other -- with the 27-year-old Ohtani wowing fans with his skill on the mound and dominance at the plate.

Time magazine named Ohtani among its 100 most influential people of 2021 and former New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez said that Ohtani was already a more complete player than Ruth.

"If you were to Frankenstein every unique talent into one player, you'd get Shohei Ohtani," Rodriguez wrote.

But there is more to Ohtani's magnetic appeal than just sublime athletic ability. He melts hearts with his megawatt smile and sunny disposition, always taking time to talk to fans and reporters.

Ohtani is unstintingly polite and regularly clears up rubbish from the Angels dugout.

"I don't want anyone, including myself, to be hurt in preventable accidents," he recently explained to reporters.

Tokyo-based author Robert Whiting, who has written several books on Japanese baseball, says that Ohtani is "too good to be true".

"He doesn't care about the money that much," said Whiting, author of the new book "Tokyo Junkie".

"He's a purist -- he just wants to be the greatest baseball player that ever lived and it's just so refreshing."

Ohtani was a high-school prodigy from northern Japan who initially wanted to skip the domestic league and head straight to the majors.

Instead, he signed with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in 2013 and spent five seasons there before joining the Angels.

Injuries hampered his first few years in the majors, but he missed only four of his team's 162 games in the 2021 season and hit 46 home runs -- just two short of the MLB lead.

Despite his heroics with bat and ball -- including launching fastballs at over 100 mph -- the Angels missed out on the playoffs.

It's no surprise that Ohtani's every move is headline news back in Japan and his achievements a matter of national pride.

"A lot of Japanese people are shy, and that culture doesn't always fit in so well," 25-year-old fan Akira Kioka told AFP outside Tokyo Dome -- the stadium where Ohtani once hit a ball so hard it got stuck in the ceiling. "So it's great that he has found his place and that he's so loved in a different country."

Ohtani is not the first Japanese player to succeed in MLB, with Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui all having made a big impact over the years.

But Whiting says Ohtani, who is more than 190 cm tall and weighs 95 kg, is changing perceptions of what a Japanese athlete should look like, and providing a "huge boost to national ego".

"When you look at Ohtani, the image of the Japanese as physically smaller or inferior people just disappears," Whiting said. "He's set a new standard for Japanese, and everybody feels really good about it. He just makes people proud to be Japanese."

Whiting believes Ohtani can keep playing for "at least another 10 years", and the player himself thinks he can reach "higher levels" yet.

"If I learn to pitch with more confidence and perform consistently over a full year, I'm sure I'll have a better season," Ohtani told reporters after the Angels' final game of the season.

© 2021 AFP

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


16 Comments
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Instead, he signed with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in 2013 and spent five seasons there before joining the Angels.

This. I was so fired up when he was just days away from signing a MLB contract straight outta high school. Then the Japanese old boys in NPB somehow made him do a 180 at the last second.

He was red hot out of high school and I'm sure he would've been smoking had he gone to the US six years ago. He'd already have or be on the way to a lot of records.

I'm glad he's a monster there now but I can only just imagine if this were his 7th year rather than his first in MLB.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

"Frankenstein" comes across as a little negative and freakish. I prefer to use the term "unicorn" to describe Ohtani.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

A once a century talent. Am hoping he has a long injury free career. He might be the only thing that could get me back to being a baseball fan again.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

More like Don Juan.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I like that he picks up garbage. Sure wish the majority of Japanese people that litter everywhere would do so.

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

Great player. MVP!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Its been a pretty lousy news year all around, but reading about Ohtani has been a nice break from that for us baseball fans. I hope he has a great 2022 season too.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I like that he picks up garbage. Sure wish the majority of Japanese people that litter everywhere would do so.

Go to a Japan baseball game and a game in the U.S. or stadium in most other countries if you want to see who is good about picking up garbage.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

In comparing attendance at a baseball game in San Francisco a few years ago, it was really enjoyable and kind of professional focusing on the players' individual skills and statistics. On the other hand, I attended a few Hanshin Tigers games in Osaka and almost had to leave early because of the non-stop noise and chanting and those annoying noise devices they use which gave me a migraine. I have no idea why people can't relax and watch the game.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Whiting is practically dripping with gaijin superiority complex when he says 'When you look at Ohtani, the image of the Japanese as physically smaller or inferior people just disappear'.

Seriously? The year is 2021 and Ichiro won the MVP TWENTY YEARS AGO, Matsui won the World Series MVP 12 years ago, Hideo Nomo was an All-Star 25 years ago. I think the HS players in Japan today know full well that they can compete at the highest levels. Ohtani insisted on playing both even when he signed with MLB. If he truly thought of himself as inferior, he would have never even tried to go to MLB, let alone insist on both hitting and pitching. And Japan won the first two World Baseball Classics, the first one close to 15 years ago and the second one over twelve years ago.

I guess they just had to find an old (close to 80 years old) white guy to opine on Ohtani for the sake of the largely white, older MLB audience.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

He had a great season and is deserving of all the accolades but his season is over. Glad the Angels didn't make it because it would be unbearable dealing with the over coverage on Japanese media how their "fans" would suddenly pop up everywhere. It's good that as a real fan of the sport I won't have to be bombarded all day every day during the playoffs and World Series with articles like this too. Enjoy it but it was only ONE season.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

I always said that Ichiro was the world's baseball GOAT.

Another season like this and we will probably have to proclaim Ohtani as GOAT!

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Whiting is practically dripping with gaijin superiority complex when he says 'When you look at Ohtani, the image of the Japanese as physically smaller or inferior people just disappear'.

I don't think its fair to slam Whiting for that comment. That ugly sentiment is still unfortunately alive in the discourse in the US and he is clearly pushing back against it, not supporting it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I am just glad that Japanese don't have biased images of non-Japanese. I can only imagine the number of Japanese single women that want to marry this guy.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

"It's no surprise that Ohtani's every move is headline news back in Japan"

Nope. Not if you live here. A half hour of news has become 25 minutes of Shohei Ohtani and the other five stuff that actually matters.

"... and his achievements a matter of national pride."

Which is weird, since it is HE who accomplished it, not the nation, and definitely not the people sitting at home watching. Why do people become so proud of things they have zero to do with? The guy is amazing (not sure "Frankenstein" is apt -- makes it sound like he was created rather than running off his own talent), but saying that to Old Man Taro downstairs shouldn't make him beam with pride and pat himself on the back anymore than if I said Babe Ruth was amazing too... and yet, Old Man Taro DOES beam with pride, as if he himself were Ohtani, or the latter's talent has something to do with his passport.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Just about every athlete, in just about every sport, shares pride with her/his hometown...

Just take a look at how well received Manny Pacquiao, Fernando Tatis, Djokovich, Ronaldo, Olympic gold medalists, Tiger Woods, Pele, (the list is endless) are celebrated by their fans. In fact, many of these athletes are literally quoted as saying that they are happy to bring pride to their countries.

Which is weird, since it is HE who accomplished it, not the nation, and definitely not the people sitting at home watching. Why do people become so proud of things they have zero to do with?

? uh, what are you on about...

he guy is amazing (not sure "Frankenstein" is apt -- makes it sound like he was created rather than running off his own talent), but saying that to Old Man Taro downstairs shouldn't make him beam with pride and pat himself on the back anymore than if I said Babe Ruth was amazing too... and yet, Old Man Taro DOES beam with pride, as if he himself were Ohtani, or the latter's talent has something to do with his passport.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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