Baseball fans love to debate the greatest player of all time. The discussions run the gamut, with individuals providing their own arguments for what they feel are the most important elements of the game. Pitching, hitting, defense and speed are all discussed, with Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Joe Di Maggio, Ty Cobb, Barry Bonds and, most recently, Mike Trout being nominated as possibilities. In nearly every discussion, someone will invariably say, “Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs and was a dominant pitcher. Case closed.” It’s a tough argument to refute. No one in history has dominated on the mound and at the plate like Ruth. In fact, no one had even come close. Until Shohei Ohtani came along…
Shohei Ohtani began the regular season with the proverbial bang! Through the first 27 games, he was batting .264 with nine home runs and 22 RBI in 106 a-bats, while posting a 1-0 record and a 3.29 ERA in 13.2 innings pitched. But this excellent start comes as no surprise to those who have watched him play. Rather, it is simply confirmation that things are returning to normal for the young Angels star.
Leading into the 2018 season, American baseball fans learned about a dominant young player in Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League named Shohei Ohtani. At 6’ 4” and 210 lbs., he is big, strong and, like Babe Ruth, could take over a game with his arm and his bat. Word spread about this multi-faceted star when it became known that he was looking to leave his native Japan to play in the major leagues. Ohtani, who was free to join any team under MLB’s international signing rules, reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Angels and brought his many talents to Anaheim.
With the hype machine in overdrive, Ohtani fever hit the card market hard. Very quickly Ohtani cards became the top pull in a number of baseball products. Cards like the 2018 Bowman Chrome Rookie Autographs Shohei Ohtani #BCRASO were soon on many want lists and several of his low-numbered parallels and inserts sold for five figures.
Unfortunately for collectors, the Ohtani craze hit a speed bump with a series of injuries that sidelined the young star. A sprained right elbow forced him onto the disabled list in June of his rookie season, and despite returning to finish the season admirably (.285, 22 home runs, 61 RBI and the American League Rookie of the Year Award), Ohtani underwent Tommy John surgery after the season. He did not pitch while recovering in 2019 but contributed similar offensive numbers after spending the season as a designated hitter. Ohtani saw action in 44 games during the Covid-19-impacted 2020 season, again mostly at DH. The results were poor as he batted .190, with 7 HRs and 24 RBI in 153 at-bats and was 0-1 with a 37.80 ERA in just two pitching appearances.
By the time he entered the 2021 season, Ohtani had a few major league seasons, recovery from a significant surgery, his worst statistical season and the Covid-19 craziness all under his belt. That is a lot to pack into a short career, but it appears that the Angels star has overcome it all and is prepared to resume his spot among the top players in the game. He had a monstrous spring training, the highlights of which include his fastball peaking at 101 mph and hitting a 468-foot home run to deep centerfield against the Texas Rangers.
In reaction to his return to greatness, the hobby has responded enthusiastically to Ohtani’s resurgence. Prices have surged across the board on his rookie issues with a PSA 10 example of his 2018 Bowman Chrome Rookie Autographs Shohei Ohtani #BCRASO Gold Refractor selling for $20,000 on April 13.
In spite of his dominance on the mound, Babe Ruth was eventually relieved of his pitching duties because his bat was too valuable to only have in the lineup every fourth day. Ohtani might be in the same position if not for the advent of the designated hitter position, an option that was not available to the Great Bambino. How Ohtani is utilized in the future is not yet certain, but one guarantee is that baseball fans around the world will be watching the Halo hero with great interest and card collectors will respond accordingly!