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Flash: Olympics beat COVID

In Saturday’s stupid news of the day, we were informed that the Tokyo Olympics have provided the solution to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have shown it is possible to keep the pandemic at bay. And that is a very important lesson from Tokyo to the rest of the world.”

–Brian McCloskey, chair of the Independent Expert Panel for the Olympics according to Kyodo News, Aug. 7, 2021

In other words if you can seal off the world, test, trace and treat, with vaccines available to all, then the coronavirus can be kept at bay.

My ballpark figure from a week ago, had Japan’s push to stage the Olympics costing the nation a 7,500 unnecessary deaths, and that number will probably go up, but let’s all celebrate the successful experiment stewarded by the loving hand of the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC is a parasite that wraps itself in the attractive morsel of an Olympic games, which Japan’s leaders eagerly swallowed whole, and which has reduced its ability to deal with the pandemic, because feeding and sustaining the parasite took precedence over its own wellbeing.

But why on earth would anyone ingest that poison? Because the Olympics represent a basket of goodies for winning bidders.

They allow organizers and power brokers to indulge their desires, either to show how progressive they are or to cultivate their racist nationalistic agendas, to repay political debts to invest in infrastructure and collect bribes from contractors.

Not only do they cost money to acquire, they require care and feeding, but those costs are never born by those who get their share of the benefits.

Thanks to the wonderful work of Jake Adelstein in the Daily Beast, we learned this past week that had organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori not been forced out, “pure Japanese” Hideki Matsui would have lit the Olympic cauldron instead of Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, whose father is Haitian.

In another Daily Beast article, Adelstein explained how influential elites used the games to dole out favors, with former prime minister Shintaro Abe forcing the opening ceremony to include music from an ultranationalist xenophobic composer who is a big Abe contributor.

Outside the box

Outside the gates of the Olympic village and the venues, the coronavirus, runs on unchecked. the positivity rate for coronavirus testing in Tokyo has been climbing steadily since the middle of June. It was 3.9 percent on June 11, when roughly 8,000 tests were recorded per day. On Friday, Aug. 6, it was 22.3 percent while total tests have only increased to around 1,300 a day while confirmed infections have soared.

As a Tokyo resident, the news that the Tokyo Olympics have solved the problem amid this huge surge in infections would be a huge source of relief if it had anything to do with the real world and wasn’t some masturbatory release by those concerned about the Olympic self image.

Not only were Olympic volunteers urged to delay their second vaccinations over concerns venues would lack proper staffing, but Japan discovered the first case of the Lambda COVID strain days before the Olympics and declined to inform the public.

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Ohtani’s rare ability

A lot of what drives the “Shohei Ohtani isn’t that great” talk is just some peoples’ desire to be contrary: “Sure he hits home runs, but he doesn’t hit for average and he’s not the best pitcher on the planet.”

This, of course, is a criticism that would eliminate every player other than Shohei Ohtani from a discussion of greatness, so that borderlines on criticizing a player’s baseball value for his eating habits or his relationship with the media.

But eight years ago, the Ohtani two-way experiment was really an experiment and not the successful test we’ve seen in 2016 and again in 2021 that people are still treating as if it’s something he can’t really do.

In 2013, Ohtani didn’t wow people in Japan as a hitter or a pitcher, and while 90 percent of the fans loved the idea of a player being able to do both, 90 percent of Japan’s former players were dead set against it in public.

I didn’t have an opinion about whether Ohtani should pitch or hit or do both. I merely thought that his succeeding at both would be — as non-butt hole MLB fans are discovering this year — about the coolest thing imaginable.

What was interesting was that in 2013, virtually everyone who was against Ohtani splitting his time between the outfield and the pitcher’s mound was convinced that the true future of an 18-year-old with a 100 mph fastball was as a pitcher.

But when I actually looked at Ohtani’s numbers, it occurred to me that while the fastball gave him rare potential as a pitcher in a country where virtually nobody throws 100 mph, his upside as a hitter was far more unique.

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As an 18-year-old rookie, Ohtani batted .238 with three home runs in 204 plate appearances. He went 3-0 with a 4.23 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 61-2/3 innings as primarily as a starting pitcher. And with those numbers, the chorus for pulling the plug on his batting career got really loud.

What sold me on his hitting, was the context, the shape of Japanese pro baseball, where 18-year-old pitchers who can command their secondary pitches and who have decent stuff are not a dime a dozen, but they’re not that rare either.

Japan youth baseball focuses so much on winning, that it kills off entire generations of elite elementary school arms in the search for the next Daisuke Matsuzaka. It is a baseball analogy of the Imperial Japanese Navy making its aviator training so insanely difficult, that its elite corps of pilots was far too small for a prolonged conflict.

Japanese youth baseball ruins so many young arms before they even get to junior high school, that the number of 18-year-olds who can develop elite velocity is close to zero. That was the attraction of a big strong Shohei Ohtani. But the flip side is that, in Japan, a youngster with “B+” velocity and really good stuff and command comes along every few years.

Since Japanese pro baseball expanded and split into two leagues in 1950, 27 pitchers younger than 19 have pitched 50-plus innings with an ERA lower than 5.00 while striking out over six batters per nine innings. Needless to say, a number of them turned out to have tremendous careers.

Nineteen did it before 2000, and three of those are Hall of Famers, six won 100 games in their careers, six won fewer than 50.

What if we do hitters? The most remarkable thing about Ohtani was an 18-year-old hitting 15 doubles in 204 plate appearances.

Just over 10 percent of his plate appearances resulted in an extra-base hit. The only players in NPB history to do that before Ohtani were Kazuhiro Kiyohara, who isn’t in the Hall of Fame because of his drug arrest, and Hall of Famer Kihachi Enomoto, period.

How many 18-year-olds have ever hit 13 doubles in an entire Japanese season? Ohtani was the eighth. In addition to Kiyohara and Enomoto, the other seven before Ohtani were: Hall of Famer Yasumitsu Toyoda,

How many 18-year-olds have ever hit 13 doubles in an entire season? Ohtani was the eighth. In addition to Kiyohara and Enomoto, the other seven before Ohtani were: Hall of Famer Yasumitsu Toyoda, Shoichi Busujima — who should be in the Hall of Fame, catcher Minoru Tanimoto — a two-time all-star, Enomoto, Masahiro Doi– who should be in the Hall of Fame, Kiyohara and Hall of Famer Kazuyoshi Tatsunami.

As a pitcher, Ohtani’s peer group was a few Hall of Famers, a bunch of really good players, and a few more ordinary talents.

On the other hand, the worst member of Ohtani’s hitters’ peer group was a two-time all-star who played over 1,000 games, while the other six all belong in the Hall of Fame.

And though it’s hardly the most rigorous of studies, that’s why when people told me after the 2013 season that Ohtani’s real future was as a hitter, I had to be the contrarian in the crowd.