Shohei Ohtani has been scratched from his scheduled start Friday against the Oakland Athletics, due to lingering arm soreness. ESPN reported Thursday that Ohtani may not pitch again this season. This probably makes good sense, in the most Los Angeles Angels way possible: Despite Ohtani’s historic two-way heroics the Angels are once again irrelevant crud, and therefore have no real reason to subject their best players to the dangers of playing baseball over the final full month of the season.
And there are dangers! Take Thursday’s game against the Chicago White Sox, for example: In the ninth inning of an eventual 9–3 Angels win, reliever Mike Wright Jr. fired a 90-mph 0–1 fastball a good two feet off the inside of the plate and missed plunking a quick-reacting Ohtani by mere centimeters. Wright’s next pitch, a changeup, again came inside and bounced wildly in front of the plate. The fourth pitch of the at-bat was another fastball, again a couple feet inside, and this one rocketed off of Ohtani’s unprotected lower leg. Ohtani made his way to first base. Home plate umpire Chris Conroy convened a meeting on the infield grass to discuss the incident.
Umpires had some recent history to consider. Three White Sox players had been plunked over the course of the series. Though none of the plunkings appeared at all to be intentional, White Sox manager Tony La Russa is exactly the sort of crusty old relic who would view that as an imbalance that the sport’s once-time-honored informal system of retaliatory justice would dictate be settled by at least one Angels player feeling the sting of a thrown baseball. Wright was comfortably around the strike zone working against Brandon Marsh and David Fletcher for the first two outs of the inning; with one Angels out left in the series, and with his opponent’s best and most important player at the plate in a game that had been all but decided, suddenly Wright’s fastball was magnetized to the lefty batter’s box. Maybe it wasn’t intentional! But it for sure was suspect.
Second-base umpire Bill Welke ejected Wright after a brief conference. La Russa marched out to register an objection, and after a brief argument was also given the gate. After the game La Russa said “the reasoning did not make sense” and insisted that Ohtani’s plunking was unintentional, but also noted that umpires “didn’t do anything” earlier in the series when “it was all us getting hit.” It’s worth noting that this context-flattening tallying-up of hit batsmen and umpire actions is the whole dipshit foundation of baseball’s dumb old unwritten code of protection. Baseball these days is less about this stuff than ever, but the code is not completely gone, and won’t be as long as there are old fossils totaling up unintentional hit batsmen like debts to be squared.
Still I must insist that teams and pitchers refrain from directing their vengeance at quite literally the most special player to have played Major League Baseball in my lifetime, and possibly ever. No disrespect to Ohtani’s teammates, but if you must plunk an Angels player, please throw at one of those other bozos. Who even are those guys?