Shohei Ohtani has a puppy. That's really what we learned Thursday night, when baseball's most marvelous — and most mysterious — superstar was briefly required to reappear on our screens to accept his second AL MVP Award.
The honor was a foregone conclusion, which will happen when you bash 44 homers and lead MLB in OPS+ as a hitter, make 23 starts with a 3.14 ERA as a pitcher and rack up 9.0 total WAR, also leading MLB. Though more than 30 players have won two MVPs, Ohtani is the first to dominate emphatically enough to win two of them unanimously. We have seen what is required to keep a fully operational two-way Ohtani season from claiming his league's MVP hardware, and it's a 62-homer Barry Bonds impression from Aaron Judge.
So that part wasn't really a question. Everyone tuned in because of all the other questions about the superstar who is now entering free agency as one of the most intriguing, most sought-after athletes ever. All those pressing questions — Does Ohtani have any preferences in free agency? Does he think it's actually realistic to be hitting by Opening Day 2024? What is his dog's name? — went unanswered.
Unsurprisingly, the celebratory TV inquiries only drew him out on, "How sweet is it to win your second MVP?" and "How are you feeling?" Then, due to technical difficulties, his conference call with reporters was canceled. Ohtani has not spoken to reporters since Aug. 9.
And perhaps there’s nothing else he could say. Over the past three seasons, he has realized and surpassed the grandest individual performance ambitions that anyone could have rested on his shoulders as the Player Who Could Do Both. Since the start of 2021, he has …
stepped into the batter’s box 1,904 times in 447 games with a .277 AVG, 124 homers (fourth in MLB) and a 161 OPS+ (fourth in MLB, min 1,000 PA).
pitched 428 1/3 innings over 74 starts, with a 2.84 ERA (third in MLB, min. 400 innings), 151 ERA+ (second in MLB) and 542 strikeouts (14th in MLB).
Either line would equate to a superstar. Emanating from the same physical being, they equate to a generation-demarcating phenomenon.
Within that phenomenon, though, the joy of his sheer exceptionalism had started to carry a twinge of melancholy, of anxiety. The Los Angeles Angels, despite also employing Mike Trout and often spending lavishly, never fielded a strong enough or deep enough team to put that phenomenon on the postseason stage that might elevate it even further.
Whether it sunk in for you with the brutal thud of the injury news, came with the sinking feeling of his quiet departure from the team or simply withered amid the slow Angels-induced comedown from his World Baseball Classic triumph, Ohtani's glorious proof of concept ran into a grim reality in Anaheim — his moments in the MLB spotlight would be repeatedly relegated to occasions like Thursday night: sofa-bound, staged, neither bat nor ball in hand. A verbal performance where he strongly prefers the physical.
One of baseball’s most expressive faces between the lines, Ohtani’s reaction to that plight and his plans to overcome it in this historic second crack at choosing a franchise have been meticulously hidden from view.
Somewhere along the line, like a latter-day Frank Sinatra, he became content to let us guess.
On Thursday night, we didn't glean any hints about where Ohtani will sign in free agency, or get much more detail about the elbow surgery that will put his two-way act on hold for at least 2024. We didn't even squeeze any feelings out of him about the injury and the gut-punch disappointment that was the Angels' 2023 season or the toll all of it may or may not be taking on him. No longer attached to the Angels, and in a way no longer tied down to anything except his own ambitions and his own closely held ideas of how to best achieve them, Ohtani is once again in a position to chart his own never-before-traveled course. But disinclined to declare anything about the new chapter that he is undeniably entering, he will make us wait and craft the first words ourselves.
For now, we have to fervently color in our own impressions of Ohtani based on what we have seen, what we have heard and what we can only pretend to know.
Shohei Ohtani has a puppy. The baseball player at a turning point has added a new friend. The sports figure most desperately in need of better backup has found a new sidekick. Read into it whatever you’d like, but remember that you don’t even know the dog’s name.