The writing on (and off) the wall: Getting too judgy in the Ohtani-Judge discussion

Tom Hoffarth /

Come Judgement Day 2022, when the Baseball Writers Association of America voters attempt to separate the G.O.A.T.s from the unicorns, Aaron Judge will be the chosen one for the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award.

New Yorkers won’t have it any other way.

Anaheimers know better.

Shohei Ohtani, who has somehow put together a more stunning resume than last year’s AL MVP season, appears to have set a bar far too high. Others are under duress trying to quantify what is normally thought of superior greatness when put up against unworldly achievement.

The social-media banter starts civil and devolves into something logic can’t always appropriate:

Ohtani is not only the game’s most valuable commodity, but also its most invisible. He is the greatest influencer as well as the sport’s most cost-effective player. A meager $5.5 million stipend from the Angels’ payroll — or what it costs for a 30-second Super Bowl TV ad — equates to what Justin Verlander ($28 million this year) and teammate Mike Trout ($37.2 million this year) are both doing right now.

How do you reward him, if not with cash, than with proper recognition?

Judge, in the last year of a $10 million annual salary deal, and having already turned down a seven-year, $213 million extension, is possibly launching a free-agent frenzy. Imagine him batting behind Trout and Ohtani in the Angels’ lineup in 2023 — or don’t.

But wait, there’s more, if you’re trying to establish territorial rights:

Let’s catch our click-bait breath a second.

Comparing the legends of the Big Apple and Orange County forces us to re-evaluate all traditional measurements of success, and figure out an equitable way of honoring an outstanding performance by a lead actor in a recurring series, comedy or musical drama.

On fan juice alone, New York must feel overdue for a new idol, and in their eyes, this No. 99 is The Great One. Southern California isn’t numb to Ohtani’s achievements — but mostly they aren’t even sure how it has become a debate. In fact, Ohtani might have actually helped Judge’s case during some of their head-to-head meetings:

If we defer to Angels interim manager and former Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin, he said it the other day after Ohtani pitched seven scoreless innings with a blister, drove in a run and scored the other, plus made a dazzling defensive play on the mound in his team’s 2-1 win over the playoff-bound Seattle Mariners:

Shohei Ohtani (17) and interim manager Phil Nevin during the Angels’ game against Oakland at Angel Stadium last August. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY)s

“(Ohtani is) the most valuable player of our game right now. Until somebody can come in and do the things he does on both sides, I don’t see it going any other way. I love Aaron Judge like a son, but I’ll continue to say it: (Ohtani) can take over a baseball game like nobody can.”

One could split the vote, right? You’re suggesting voter fraud? Let’s not go down that N.Y.-relatable path.

In 1979, the National League MVP award was shared by (yawn) Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell, because of a fluke in the voters consensus — 10 gave Stargell the top vote as something to honor his career achievement and the Pirates’ season, yet four left him off the top 10 list entirely.

Ohtani-Judge is more like the 1941 AL MVP campaign, when Ted Williams hit .406 and an MLB-best 37 homers but the trophy went to Joe DiMaggio and his N.Y.-boss 56-game hitting streak (with an MLB-tops 125 RBIs to go with 30 homers). They’re still debating that one. Six years later, Williams won the Triple Crown (.343, 32 HRs, 114 RBIs) but again, somehow, DiMaggio (.315/20/97) prevailed again, by one voter point — a scorned Boston writer left Williams off the ballot entirely.

There can be a win-win for two athletes that MLB fans and BBWAA voters, in general, genuinely admire. An illogical conclusion/compromise may lead to the MLB creating a second straight Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award for Ohtani, which seems more fitting. Then listen to Ohtani’s interpreter try to explain to him the logic behind how that happens.

By the time Ohtani makes his next (and maybe last) start on the mound for the playoff-eliminated Angels, Friday in Minnesota, Judge may have broken Roger Maris’ AL single-season home-run record as his team gears up for the postseason. MLB Network should break in on either performances for live coverage.

But consider this: In 20-something years, someone else will eclipse Judge’s AL-record of 60-whatever HRs. Who will ever come close to matching or surpassing what Ohtani is doing now, which can’t easily be visualized with mistake-filled graphic charts and post-WAR analysis.

If this ends up as an exercise in who can be most gracious, Team Ohtani has this figured out. We already know the history of 10 years ago when a Triple Crown winner was given precedent over an up-and-coming five-tool Angels superstar. We even debated that one at the time and sided with Caberra over Trout. The fact Trout collected a Rookie of the Year trophy for his efforts, then won three MVPs over the next seven seasons and finished second three other times isn’t the suitable consolation we thought we’d be willing to accept.

The Shiny Object Syndrome baseball world (homers are cool!) is where we still live. A higher power that decides this eventually even after needy New Yorkers talk this into existence.

The rest of us will just follow Ohtani’s lead. Smile, nod, and not get too judgy.

Shohei Ohtani (top, second from left) and Aaron Judge (top, third from left) team up for the American League roster shot before the 2021 All Star Game in Denver (Photo by Kyodo News/Getty Images)

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