By Dan Bernstein —
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) We’re doing this again, because we always do and still seem to despite knowing better. Like clockwork, we get mesmerized by the latest exotic import, buying all the sizzle more than the steak.
Shohei Ohtani is probably a good pitcher who can also hit well for a pitcher, and he can be had for less of premium and at a younger age than other previous Japanese stars who have tantalized big league teams. There’s a very good chance that he’s very good, in other words, and all of the frothy hype is for agents and marketers more than anyone else. Baseball at the MLB level is really difficult for either a hitter or a pitcher, and the possibility that Ohtani is something franchise-alteringly special at both — let alone either — is remote.
If we remind ourselves of that and work to avoid the silliness, we’ll be better for it.
Those of us who remember watching videos of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s magical “gyroball” or the sidearm sinkers of Shingo “Mr. Zero” Takatsu must be forgiven for introducing a dose of healthy skepticism into the chase for the next mysterious thing, as well as those in this city who lavished praise on the Cubs 10 years ago for luring Kosuke Fukudome to town with a $48 million deal. White Sox fans may remember him, too.
If Ohtani is indeed seen as a pitcher, it’s wise to note the fate of those who have come over before him, too. Analyst Joe Sheehan put it bluntly upon studying similar hurlers, concluding: “Of greater concern to me is the history of Japanese starting pitchers in the states. The track records grow more stark with each one who comes over: They have initial success and then they fade away or they get hurt.”
It’s human nature to again project unfounded optimism on something new and different and unknown, but that’s no excuse for not being rational, at the very least.