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MLB: Ohtani feat brings scope of major league history into focus

Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani hits a home run against the Oakland Athletics during the seventh inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The only thing new about Shohei Ohtani winning 10 games and hitting 10-plus home runs this season is that it happened within the confines of one of Major League Baseball's two leagues for the first time since 1918.

    Ohtani achieved this "double-double" twice before, in 2014 and 2016, in the Pacific League, one of Japan's two major leagues.

    The mere fact that this, his third career double-double, is treated as a once-in-a-century accomplishment in the United States is a testament not to Ohtani but to how America sees its place in the baseball world.

    The term "major league" was coined to elevate America's top competitions from lesser "minor leagues," but MLB has since co-opted the term to mean just its American and National leagues.

    If we cast self-serving terminology aside to include major leagues throughout history, we see a broader picture.

    Babe Ruth's 1918 double-double was the majors' first, followed by fellow Hall of Famer Bullet Rogan's in the 1922 Negro National League, Ed Rile in the same league in 1927, and Kim Seong Han's in the Korean Baseball Organization's 1982 inaugural season.

    The two segments of Ruth's career, as a star pitcher and star slugger, intersected for two years, in the same way Rile's and Kim's did en route to a career spent mostly as a power hitter.

    And while the world is being treated to Ruth-Ohtani comparisons, Ohtani's true predecessor is Rogan, who did both extremely well and did both as long as he could.

    Most two-way players have been spawned by necessity. The Boston Red Sox moved their best pitcher to the outfield when their roster was thinned out by the demands of World War I.

    Negro League teams on tight budgets could not afford to turn their backs on two-way talents, and Rogan was just one of many, although few excelled at both the way he did.

    Ohtani's two-way path came in an era when pro baseball people considered it impossible, and would not have happened had he not been poised to move straight to America as a pitcher out of high school.

    Scrambling for ways to keep the hard-throwing Ohtani in Japan, the Nippon Ham Fighters offered him something no one else would: the opportunity to pitch and hit.

    And by excelling at both, Ohtani reminds us of how rich the world of baseball has been, while expanding the limits of what we think is possible.

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