Phil Nevin, the Angels’ interim manager, grew up in the shadow of the Big A. His father took him to see Nolan Ryan pitch.
“I wasn’t at any of his no-hitters,” Nevin said.
Think about that. The first thing Nevin said was that something remarkable did not happen, because he and his father had come to see a player so special that something remarkable could happen every time he took the field.
Who else can you say that about?
Shohei Ohtani, who very nearly threw a no-hitter of his own Thursday night.
“You expect something like that to happen every time he takes the field,” Nevin said, “whether it’s in the box or pitching.”
Ryan could perform magic every fourth day. Ohtani can perform magic every day.
“He gets two hits and almost throws a no-hitter? You don’t see that, ever,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said.
Ohtani is the Greatest Sho in Baseball.
Why else would the Angels, 32 games out of first place, have sold more than 31,000 tickets for a game against the 100-loss Oakland Athletics? On the two previous nights against the A’s, the Angels sold 19,000 tickets one night and 24,000 on the other.
The last homestand of the Angels’ season regularly used to feature these words on the outfield wall, in bright yellow letters: 3 MILLION FANS. Not this year. The Angels are not even on pace for 2.5 million this season.
They have sold fewer than 23,000 tickets for 19 games. As recently as 2018, they never sold so few tickets for any game.
Ohtani sold that many tickets for all of his pitching starts in Anaheim except one, a game that started at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday. And, of those 14 pitching starts, all but two came in midweek games. The Angels never played their drawing card on a weekend until September.
In his postgame news conference, Nevin called Ohtani “invincible in certain ways.”
Said Nevin: “The greatest pitchers of all time — and I put him in that category already — some of them never threw a no-hitter.”
Thursday’s start marked Ohtani’s last at Angel Stadium this season. He carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning before giving up a single with two outs. A no-hitter for Ohtani appears more a question of when, not if. It would be a shame if he threw a no-hitter next season, in the uniform of another team.
The Angels are for sale, and whether a new owner can persuade Ohtani to stay beyond next season is very much an open question. But baseball is an entertainment business, and nothing could damage the Angels’ brand this winter more than trading their most sensational player.
Could the Angels use an infusion of prospects? Sure. Would they get maximum value for a player one year from free agency? Of course not. (See: Betts, Mookie.)
Should they trade the player that offers fans the chance to see something they never have seen before on a nightly basis? Of course not. This is entertainment, not asset management, and the Boston Red Sox forever will be known as a team that willingly moved a star under their control. (See: Betts, Mookie and Ruth, Babe.)
This dismal season was less than a week from being put out of its misery, and yet there was joy at the ballpark, in “M-V-P” chants for Ohtani, and in the fan holding up a sign that read: “GREATEST SEASON OF ALL TIME!!!”
Three exclamation points!
The Angels have been here before.
Ryan had thrown four no-hitters for the Angels and, in 1979, started the first postseason game in club history. After a 16-14 season, general manager Buzzie Bavasi let him go in free agency, with a quote that haunts the franchise five decades later.
How, Bavasi was asked, would the Angels replace Ryan?
“You mean, where can I find two 8-7 pitchers?” Bavasi said.
Ryan signed with the Houston Astros, then a member of the National League. There was no interleague play, so Ryan did not pitch again at Anaheim Stadium until 1989, after he had signed with the Texas Rangers.
He was 42. He threw a shutout, giving up three hits and striking out 12, to the delight of the home crowd. As Joni Mitchell sang: don’t know what you got till it’s gone.
Once the Seattle Mariners clinch their wild-card spot, no American League team will have gone longer without a postseason appearance than the Angels. Give the long-suffering fans what they want: Ohtani 2023, because they know exactly what they’ve got. No need to hurry the “till it’s gone” part.