The end of a curious era arrived on Friday night in a clubhouse in Anaheim, with a lousy team playing out the string of yet another lost season, as the belongings of the best player to ever have donned an Angels uniform were packed up. All that was left by the conclusion of the evening was a mostly empty locker and a packed duffel.
No ceremonial sendoff. No expressions of gratitude. Just a tender oblique and a good old-fashioned Gen Z ghosting.
How appropriate. Now the credits roll on a baseball travesty.
Shohei Ohtani deserved better. The game deserved better. Both deserved the promise that arose years ago on the two-way star’s first day in uniform, when the Angels hailed his arrival as a historic day that would vault them back to the World Series. On that day, Ohtani demurred when compared to Babe Ruth, while also revealing the mechanism that undergirds his greatness: “I think today actually is the real starting point for me, and I just want to get as close to him as possible.”
Ohtani wasn’t joking: He started gaining on the Bambino and never stopped getting closer, elbow surgery be damned. The problem, of course, is that he was working for jokers. And once more, the world was reminded that singular excellence is no match for collective mediocrity.
The Angels sabotaged the whole thing, ensuring that Ohtani would never experience a winning season, much less grace the October stage. They did this through general mismanagement and their own brand of incompetence. Those sins endured despite their churn of managers and front office regimes, only further reinforcing that the full credit for this failure falls at the feet of the constant throughout it all: the owner, Arte Moreno.
Shohei Ohtani’s locker was cleared out following the Angels’ 11-2 loss to the Tigers at home Friday.
Ohtani, 29, has missed the last 11 games with the oblique injury. He will be a free agent at the end of the year.https://t.co/5JSy5XIk1f
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) September 16, 2023
All of this bubbled to the surface over these past four months, when Moreno emptied the farm system, only for the Angels to tumble out of the race, which was hastened by the arm fatigue that turned out to be a torn UCL for Ohtani. Then came the hasty decision to cut their losses with an unprecedented player giveaway. For the shameless, the waiver shenanigans were incredibly savvy. For everyone else, they were incredibly demeaning.
All of which led to a cleaned-out locker and a packed bag and so much promise unfulfilled.
That scene punctuated what has been an unrelenting wave of missteps, which taken together paint the picture of an organization in disarray.
It might be an oversimplification to say that the Angels squandered having two generational stars in Ohtani and Mike Trout, especially since their primes weren’t exactly concurrent. That said, there are some franchises that are still waiting to employ their first such supernova. What remains stunning in all of this is the level of waste. The Angels have succeeded like nobody else in doing so little with so much.
Sound organizations create a plan and then follow it. These Angels, not so much. A throughline can be drawn from Albert Pujols to Anthony Rendon, with Ohtani and Trout’s extension in between. What’s clear now is that all of these big-ticket transactions weren’t part of some grand plan. Rather, they were the product of a billionaire collecting baubles, just faces to slap on a billboard.
For Ohtani, free agency beckons, and for anyone who cares about the greater good of the game, the preferred outcome here is obvious. Ohtani must end up anywhere except for where he started, a very expensive, very frustrating baseball backwater.
What a shame. Orange County has hosted the Angels for decades. The area boasts a deep baseball tradition and the fanbase is loyal. They were smart enough to appreciate Ohtani what he is: a once-in-the-lifetime talent.
If only the Angels could have followed suit.
Securing Ohtani came with a much bigger obligation than simply making sure his paychecks arrived on time. It demanded that the organization do everything in its power to shed its reputation for buffoonery. Instead, the Angels have managed to never make the playoffs with Ohtani. They also never came particularly close.
Remarkably, all that losing is no guarantee of losing Ohtani. The Angels have shown that they’ll pay. They’ve also shown that they’re content to let Team Ohtani call the shots. This kind of autonomy is far from guaranteed elsewhere — and Team Ohtani knows that with the Angels it would remain part of any future arrangement. The franchise also knows that its relevance outside of its home base is tied to its association with Ohtani.
There should be a chance for Angels fans to say goodbye, just in case. On Saturday, GM Perry Minasian said even though Ohtani’s oblique injury would end his season — and even though he’d soon undergo some kind of procedure on his injured elbow — he would be around for the team’s final homestand. Minasian reiterated that the Angels will pursue Ohtani in free agency. Makes sense.
But the best outcome is that the superstar resists any temptation to stay. Because at this point, given his employer’s persistent lack of imagination and foresight, the Angels would be doing a public service by just telling him to go. It would be foolish to expect this kind of benevolence, of course, though there’s no harm in hoping.
Because this much is by now indisputable — the best chance of the game’s most transcendent player finally reaching its biggest stage is by taking that packed duffel bag in front of his empty locker and making sure that it gets shipped elsewhere.
The Angels are unfit for Shohei Ohtani, and there’s zero evidence to suggest that this will change any time soon.
(Photo: D. Ross Cameron / USA Today)