The other day, I was interviewed by a delightful Japanese reporter, Kazumasa Masuyoshi from Kyodo News, and he asked me back-to-back questions like so:
How high can Shohei Ohtani get on the list of all-time baseball greats?
Does he need postseason play — World Series play, specifically — to get to that lofty place?
I’ve answered that first question many times already; Ohtani, the last three seasons, has done things that have never been done before, and my feeling is if he could maintain that absurd level for, say, eight-to-10 more years, he’d have to be in the discussion for greatest-ever.
The second question … well, my first impulse was to stand up for the individual, to say, “Hey, Shohei Ohtani can’t singlehandedly make a bad team good, no baseball player can do that …” And my second impulse was to think of Ted Williams, one postseason, one World Series, hit just .200 with no home runs, and we all place him in that stratosphere of all-time greats anyway (as we should).
But then, my third impulse was to say this: Yes. To reach his highest heights, Shohei Ohtani absolutely needs to not only play in the postseason but also do magical things once he gets there. Ted Williams played in a different time. Ernie Banks played in a different time. October has always been baseball’s biggest stage, but it is now baseball’s only stage.
You can win 104 games like Atlanta … and the season can feel like a bust. “How can we fix this?” a desperate Braves fan wrote to me. You can win 100-plus games like the Dodgers have the last three years and have fans desperate for change. You can be the story of baseball for six months the way the Baltimore Orioles were this year, and then, in three devastating games, become utterly forgotten.
This thought returned on Friday night at the end of World Series Game 1. The game had been thrilling, the Diamondbacks ran the bases like Whitey Herzog was in charge, the Rangers tied it in the ninth because Corey Seager is a Marvel Superhero, and in the 11th inning, Adolis García stepped to the plate.
Three weeks ago, I imagine, the majority of people who would call themselves light-to-moderate baseball fans had never heard of Adolis García. Sure, he was a good player in Texas, a two-time All-Star, but, you know, how many light-to-moderate baseball fans outside of Texas pay attention to what’s happening in Texas? If any of them knew García at all, it was probably through his friendship with Randy Arozarena, who beat him in the Home Run Derby this year and had made a bit of a name for himself in Octobers past.
Three weeks ago, Adolis García was somewhere in that group of “Wow” players, as in “Wow, I didn’t realize this guy had that good of a year.” Others in that group might include Luis Robert Jr., Brent Rooker, Isaac Paredes, Seiya Suzuki, Jeimer Candelario, Jorge Soler and, yes, a bunch of Diamondbacks such as Ketel Marte and Christian Walker.
That was three weeks ago. And what strikes me now is not only that baseball fans of all dimensions have come to appreciate the awesomeness of Adolis García, it is that when he stepped to the plate in the 11th inning to face Diamondbacks reliever Miguel Castro with the bases empty and the score tied, every part of the baseball brain thought: “Home run.” My wife, Margo, one of those light-to-moderate baseball fans, said out loud: “Home run.” When the count got to 3-1, I said aloud: “The home run happens now.”
Next swing — he hammered it the other way, 106 mph to rightfield, not a titanic home run, but instead a preposterous feat of strength. García hitting that home run, opposite field, pure muscle, immediately made me think of an imaginary but familiar scene revolving around a high striker game at a county fair, you know, the kind where you swing down with a hammer and try to send the puck up to ring the bell? Only this high striker is fixed, nobody can ring the bell, the puck always dies about halfway up; only then, a muscle-bound strongman wearing a tank top walks up, and he doesn’t say a word. He just observes the game, acknowledges it, spits on his hands, picks up the sledgehammer, and crashes it down so hard that the puck not only soars to the top, it knocks the bell clear off.
Please don’t ask me why my mind goes to such places.
The point is not that he hit that home run … it is that we all knew he would do it. You knew it. I knew it. Diamondbacks fans still reeling from the game-tying home run that Seager hit in the ninth knew it. Rangers fans who were on Adolis García long before the nation caught up — not unlike early REM fans in Athens — knew it.
In three weeks, Adolis García’s entire story has unfolded before us. We now know he is nicknamed “El Bombi,” and while you would think that’s because he hits bombs, it is actually short for “bombilla,” which means “lightbulb.” People say that García’s head is shaped like a lightbulb.
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