Shohei Ohtani and the injury felt round the world

The latest drama over Shohei Ohtani’s pitching elbow has, according to Teruyo, who is tuned into the social media Ohtani-sphere, caused a wave of recrimination against the Angels for failing to take the precautions needed to prevent his latest ulnar collateral ligament tear.

Because we know precious little about exactly how elbows heal or are damaged beyond self-repair, or what the Angels and Ohtani did to prevent it, or the actual dangers from two-way play, Ohtani’s injury has unleashed a torrent of comments from people talking out their asses.

The Los Angeles Times’ estimable Dylan Hernandez blamed Ohtani, saying he chose the Angels because they would not keep his arm health on a tight leash–unlike the grown-up teams that wanted to sign him such as the Giants, Cubs and Dodgers. Thus it was his fault for a picking a team that would never pull the plug on Ohtani’s thirst for two-way excellence.

Yet, when Ohtani joined the Angels, then-GM Billy Eppler did his best to establish a battery of tests and checks and limits, not only preventing Ohtani from batting on days he pitched, but on the days before and after his starts as well. Hernandez is far closer to the Angels than I am, may have other reasons for questioning the sanity of anyone foolish enough to sign with them.

On Saturday, current GM Perry Minasian said he raised the subject of an MRI after Ohtani came out of a game with cramping in his fingers, but said that Ohtani and his representation, CAA’s Nez Balelo, turned the team down since the pitcher was feeling no discomfort.

Whey Minasian mentioned Ohtani’s “representation” is interesting, because the final decision on it had to be the player’s. Agents, of course, are there to be the bad guys. Players can say “My agent took a hard line” without having to say anything negative himself, while a team can say it was the agent’s fault without pointing a finger at a player.

It’s the MLB equivalent of “the Devil made me do it.”

Had an MRI been conducted, however, there’s no guarantee it would have raised concerns about Ohtani’s ligament. Pitchers get good scans and then get hurt. Had the Angels shut Ohtani down without an MRI, there’s no guarantee that would have spared him either.

The problem with the blame game is that it there is very little knowledge about how much wear and tear is too much for one specific individual and what signs there might be to show that point is approaching and how the breaking point can be prevented.

It is true that after the Fighters’ 2016 championship, then manager Hideki Kuriyama said a big part of his job was putting brakes on Ohtani for his own good. But Ohtani was 22-years-old then, and he’s been working on his two-way program for 11 years now, and one wonders if even Kuriyama would continue to manage the way he had in the past.

I have not heard it yet, but Ohtani’s injury will probably generate a flood of comments from those eager to use these events to reclaim the morale authority of conventional baseball think — that daily two-way play is unsafe and that Ohtani’s quest doomed him to be baseball’s Icarus.

Those criticisms, too, when they come, are sprouting from the same willful ignorance, since the people are basing their claims that two-way play is impossible, not on evidence of a real attempt and its successes and failures, but their conviction that all of baseball convention is based on actual knowledge.

In Japan, it is common to hear that “x is impossible,” when the only thing that is actually known about “x” is that no one has tried it. MLB is exactly the same way. The World Baseball Classic was said to be impossible. Interleague play was said to be impossible. Anytime the establishment lacks the will to do something, the cliché response to end the discussion is “it’s impossible” when the only thing that seems impossible to these people is actually investigating how it might be possible.

But I’ve found people who have an axe are going to grind it, take their take on the truth and spin it so it fits the pitch they’re trying to sell.

I was curious about Robert Whiting’s take on Ohtani’s injury was. The headline to his substack piece “Unfortunate injury could impact value of Shohei Ohtani’s contract in free agency” made me think it would be about money, but it really isn’t. I’ve seen a few pieces that bemoaned his injury because it will torpedo his chances of securing the biggest contract in pro baseball history.

While that would be fun, Ohtani’s quest has never been about just money. He turned his back on a deal likely worth $100 million or more had he waited until he was 25 to come to MLB. Maybe the headline is because of a feeling that America is obsessed with money or that real human worth is measured in compensation.

The bigger surprise was Whiting’s egregious use of his spin on the U.S., about a nation out of control because of liberal policies, a tanking stock market and a porous southern border.

For some reason, he used those Fox News authoritarian talking points that cannot accept the recession that is not coming, a border crisis that doesn’t exist, a stock market that has rebounded, the inflation caused by COVID-related supply chain disruptions that is the second lowest in the G7, and the massive expansion of manufacturing and high-paying union jobs.

The malevolent spin cycle was ostensibly employed to show that even a divided America is united in its love for Shohei Ohtani. He’s not wrong about that, at least.

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