So what turned Ohtani into a phenom and the frontrunner to win American League MVP honors in 2021? All he needed turned out to be a blessing from the Sports Pope.
Mike Francesa jinxed Shohei Ohtani in 2018
This might be difficult to envision given how well Ohtani has played in 2021, but he began his Major League Baseball career off on the wrong foot. Or, given that he’s a two-way player, maybe it’d be feet.
Ohtani struggled to hit or pitch well in spring training during the 2018 season. Some in the media suggested the Angels send their marquee offseason signing to the minor leagues so he could develop there.
And what did Mike Francesa, the legendary New York sports radio host, think about it all? Francesa appeared on MLB Network’s High Heat in the spring of 2018. The episode served as a reunion between him and High Heat host Chris Russo, his longtime partner on WFAN in New York.
Francesa, a New York Yankees fan, quickly wrote Ohtani off and suggested that the Angels were in trouble.
“They brought a guy in, and they were talking this guy up like crazy, and he hasn’t produced anything yet. The Yankees are lucky they didn’t get him.”Mike Francesa
But Mike, what about all of those suggestions that Ohtani would be the Japanese version of Babe Ruth?
“He might not be Babe Ruth,” Francesa observed. “He doesn’t even seem like he’s a little bit of Babe Ruth. I mean, what if he can’t get anyone out? He didn’t hit. … It’s dangerous, plus it’s gonna get so much attention. It could really hurt that club, which is trying to rebuild.”
The Yankees, and pretty much every other team, could really use Ohtani right now
Francesa made those comments on March 28, 2018. Ohtani officially played his first MLB game the next day and recorded his first career hit.
Ohtani earned AL Rookie of the Months honors in April 2018 (the award also covered any stats recorded in March) after hitting .341 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in 12 games during that span. Despite his preseason pitching struggles, he went 2-1 with a 4.43 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 20.1 innings.
Those concerns about Ohtani not being able to hit or get anyone out had vanished by the time the phenom officially earned AL Rookie of the Year honors. However, injuries limited him to 104 games in 2018 and 106 games in 2019.
After struggling in last year’s pandemic-shortened season, Ohtani hit .279 with a league-high 33 home runs and 70 RBIs in the 2021 MLB season’s first half. The first-time All-Star went 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA and 87 strikeouts across 13 starts and 67 innings. He already holds MLB’s single-season record for the most home runs by a Japanese player.
It sure sounds like the Yankees — and, really, any other MLB team — could use Ohtani’s prowess right now. Right, Mike?
Francesa is famous for his ‘mushes’ and predicting the opposite of reality
For all we know, Ohtani might be back in Japan right now if Francesa, who has a history of jinxing and ‘mushing’ people, hadn’t spoken up on High Heat.
If Francesa projected someone would be a star, they usually never panned out. When he predicted the Dallas Cowboys would defeat the Philadelphia Eagles, fans of America’s Team probably suffered the emotional anguish of a heartbreaking loss.
Later in 2018, Francesa proclaimed New York Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold would be the biggest star in town. Darnold lasted three seasons with the Jets and is now on the Carolina Panthers.
If Jets fans want any good news, Francesa hadn’t tweeted about rookie quarterback Zach Wilson as of publication. But if he tweets it, the interceptions and injuries will come. We’re already fully prepared.