when Shohei Ohtani Coming to the major leagues for the first time after signing with the Angels, he did so with a very ambitious nickname, too radical even for Los Angeles: Japanese Babe Ruth.
It was an active and evocative nickname that was useful in what it wanted to convey. Ohtani didn’t just pitch and hit, he did both at elite levels. At the same time. We hadn’t seen anything like it since Ruth, so everyone adopted the nickname.
The thing is, it’s not just a nickname. Ohtani doesn’t just live within the odds, he transcends them — like an old movie poster someone forgot to take down. Because comparing Ohtani to Ruth makes no sense: No one in the majors has excelled as a hitter and pitcher at the same time, not even Ruth. Anyone can point to Negro League stars like Martin DiHigo, Bullet Rogan and Double Duty Radcliffe, but none in the National or American Leagues.
Understand that this is not to say Ohtani is as good as Ruth, his contributions to the game as a hitter are almost legendary. While Ruth is the only player in the National or American Leagues to hit and throw at an All-Star level, it’s to admit that even Babe didn’t do it at the same time.
Ruth split significant time between playing the position and pitching during the 1918 and 1919 seasons. The closest Ruth came to what Ohtani did was in 1918, when he finished seventh in AL position player bWAR, 17th in pitching bWAR and fourth overall. Last season, 103 years later and in the biggest American League, Ohtani finished 11th.
In other words, the Ruth comparison was good for building anticipation for what Ohtani had to offer, but it no longer works. Ohtani has no comparison.
Or maybe? Or is he? There’s one player that makes more sense to compare Ohtani to: himself.