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Sho-Time: The Inside Story of Shohei Ohtani and the Greatest Baseball Season Ever Played

He has been called ‘The Babe Ruth of Japan’. A player who has everything - a starting pitcher who’s also the pick to hit. Drives in his own runs. Dominating on the mound and at the plate. He’s raising the bar so high that there is concern that we will never see a pitcher win the MVP award again, unless they come out to bat as strongly. There’s a chance that he won’t win the Cy Young Award given annually to the best pitcher because he is such a superlative hitter for the Los Angeles Angels and the American League. He’s now influencing the education of amateur players who would usually opt for one or the other discipline.

Shohei Ohtani is literally changing the game of baseball. America’s Sport has become this Japanese man’s plaything.

And yet it was a career that was threatening to be swallowed up in that age-old battle between prospect and prosperity, with the result looking likely to ally with the former. His 2018 AL Rookie of the Year campaign was potentially the highlight of what looked like a lucrative career. There had been injuries and there had been disappointment.

But then 2021 came. And when 2021 finished, Ohtani was not only the American League’s Most Valuable Player, but had become the only player ever selected as an All Star as both a pitcher and hitter, as well as being able to proclaim himself a member of Time 100’s most influential people. He’s already being declared a Hall of Famer. And that is why now is the time to read the definitive account of the story so far. With a foreword by former Angels manager Joe Maddon, Sho-Time: The Inside Story of Shohei Ohtani and the Greatest Baseball Season Ever Played is provided by award-winning sports writer Jeff Fletcher, who has covered Ohtani more than any other American journalist. The fats and remarkable stats come thicker and faster than an Ohtani pitch.

The Angels and Chicago White Sox took ESPN’s first regular season broadcast of 2021. It was Sho-Time. With the TV cameras and the lights upon him, in the first inning, Ohtani threw three pitches at 100 mph or harder. As Maddon tells us within his opening introductory pages for Fletcher’s book, only 57 of the 909 pitchers (6.3 percent) who appeared in the majors in 2021 would throw even a single pitch at 100 mph. He also hit a ball 115 mph. Only 51 of the 1,049 hitters (4.9 percent) who came to the plate would hit a ball that hard in 2021. On the first pitch he faced he hit a 450-foot solo home run.

Fletcher arrives back at Hanamaki Higashi, where this prodigious talent emerged and refined his skills as a two-way player under the guidance of coach Sasaki Hiroshi. He talks to Takashi Ofuchi, the scout for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters who would eventually sign Ohtani (“It was difficult because I felt like I was negotiating with an adult, not a high school student. He’s really smart in that sense.”) who had also truly believed in the common consensus that a player cannot succeed at the highest level while splitting his time between hitting and pitching: ‘And then he saw Ohtani and began to change his mind.’

The book documents the transition to the States, and Ohtani’s duality between trying to live the life of an anonymous young yakyu shonen, whose only care is baseball and a genuinely exciting sports superstar making more than $2 million a year, not including endorsements, with the capability to transcend the diamond: living off an allowance of $1,000 a month, distributed by his mother. Living in the team’s dormitory, ‘like a college student’.

The narrative is so flattering but it is only because Ohtani has created it so. The retelling can almost drift into gushing eulogy because it is so fantastical, and so unique, because content that defies the usual packaging and presentation.

Next year Ohtani will be 29 and be eligible for free agency in 2024, with a contract likely to be greater than any baseball player before. There are even murmurings that a move away from Anaheim could bring down the Angels franchise itself.

Keep an eye on Sho's story, it’s only going to get more enthralling.

We’re just lucky that we’ve got Jeff Fletcher here to document it.

Sho-Time: The Inside Story of Shohei Ohtani and the Greatest Baseball Season Ever Played; Jeff Fletcher; Diversion Books; July 12, 2022; $27.99 Hardcover; ISBN

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