Induction in the baseball Hall of Fame celebrates great playing careers. It does not require members to have much common sense.
Jack Morris proved that the other day. Celebrated in Cooperstown for the great pitcher he was, Morris now works as an analyst on Detroit Tigers television broadcasts.
The Tigers were playing the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim a few days ago when Shohei Ohtani came to bat. The Japanese star is a modern day version of Babe Ruth – a terrific pitcher combined with outstanding slugging ability.
So Morris, a craftsman as a pitcher, was asked how he would approach throwing to the Japanese slugger. Morris thought it would be hilarious to answer with a Japanese accent.
It was a real thigh slapper.
Several innings after the unfortunate remark, Morris apologized. It was too little, too late. He was suspended indefinitely from future Tiger broadcasts and advised to take some sensitivity training classes.
To his credit, Ohtani shrugged off the episode and it had no effect of his performance. He simply went out and hit his major league leading 40th home run on the same night that he pitched eight effective innings to push his mound record to 8-1.
The man is a phenomenon doing the kind of things not seen in baseball since Ruth burst on the scene. Pitchers are not supposed to be sluggers and sluggers are not supposed to be lights out pitchers, Ruth defied that rule 100 years ago and now Ohtani is doing the same thing.
The Detroit crowd had come to see hometown hero Miguel Cabrera swing for his 500th career homer. Instead they saw Ohtani put on a show that has him in the running for both Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award. His earned run average is now to 2.79 and he has a heathy 120 strikeouts in 100 innings pitched.
It is a bit over the top to compare Ohtani, who is in just his fourth Major League season with the career achievements of Ruth, who was the game’s signature slugger for a generation after starting his career as a dominating pitcher before his slugging abilities forced the Boston Red Sox to convert him to the outfield.
Ohtani became the first Major League player to hit 40 homers in a season in which he pitched at least 15 games. The previous record was 29 homers by Ruth in 1919. Besides home runs, he also leads the league with 265 total bases and a .648 slugging percentage.
Babe Ruth would have admired that.