Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout are hurt — how else would the Angels season end?

Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout are hurt — how else would the Angels season end?

Neil Young told us that it was better to burn out than to fade away. In the same fashion, some things are just meant to divebomb so hard into the dirt that they cause a smoldering crater that affects all life on the planet rather than just saunter out to the woods to die in peace. That quickly approaching projectile in the sky, the one so certain of its last course to its demise because it always had to be this way, that this was its destiny, is the Los Angeles Angels.

Of course this is how it ends. The Angels season was over after their post-deadline losing streak, and that was bad enough. They shook their heads at what most said was the logical path, to admit where they were and who they are, cash in on Ohtani, and start over. Know that Ohtani was never going to re-sign with them, come face-to-face with their identity as a baseball backwater, and do the work from there.

No, that wasn’t these Angels, and in the most damn-the-torpedoes style they acquired at the deadline, they were going for it! The thing about damning the torpedoes though is that the torpedoes don’t really know the difference, and they’ll still sometimes go right up your ass anyway. They lost seven in a row and that was pretty much that.

But that’s never that with the Angels, is it? It’s not enough to sign Albert Pujols for all the money in the world and just watch him become bad. He has to be one of the worst hitters in baseball. Or Josh Hamilton has to find the Newport Beach nightlife just too alluring. Or CJ Wilson being unable to throw a ball far enough to make it to home plate. Or Mike Trout’s body suddenly turning into graham crackers. The Angels don’t fade or crash, they immolate.

What Ohtani’s injury means is unclear, though it won’t make much of a difference to the Angels, one suspects. Whether he has surgery or not it’s hard to see how he pitches in 2024, and if he has surgery it’ll be his second Tommy John in five years. Hitting the free agency market as a unicorn isn’t all that likely now. He’ll just hit it as one of the league’s premier power hitters who might, might be an effective pitcher again. Maybe it still lands him the richest contract in baseball history. But the next time he pitches, likely, he’ll be 31 with two Tommy John surgeries and having thrown 480 innings the previous five seasons. The threat of him getting back on the mound and being Ohtani again will probably be enough for most teams, Essentially what teams are getting is Freddie Freeman at the plate and Carlos Rodon on the mound.

Trout came back for one game from his broken hamate and both he and the team decided that was enough to know it won’t work. If Ohtani’s future wasn’t such a big question, the one that would be reverberating around Anaheim with a menacing frequency is what exactly is left of Trout going forward. Even before his injury, his power had fallen off a cliff and he was striking out more than he ever has in his career. Those things don’t tend to get better when a player is already 32. It’s likely the Angels have already missed the window on trading Trout, and they’ve proven how competent they are at building a team around him, even when given the greatest player of all time to start. You can already see a generation of aging Angels fans wandering the streets of Orange County muttering at the sight Trout once was while teenagers stare at them and kids point and ask their mothers, “What’s he talking about?”

Those are concerns for another day. There’s plenty of time for logistics. Right now is probably time for marveling at how everything can go so wrong for the Angels every time. They don’t even roll snake eyes. The dice always bounces off the table and hits them in the balls. This is paranormal.

It’s probably a time for sports mourning too, because we can’t say for sure that Ohtani will be this Ohtani again. Maybe he doesn’t need surgery, maybe it heals, maybe he gets back on the mound. Perhaps part of the joy of watching Ohtani, especially this season, was everyone knowing just how fragile it was. Any pitcher with that kind of stuff is walking a tightrope. Elbows and shoulders aren’t built to do this. Much less piling up four ABs every day on top of it.

But we love things that burned the brightest for only a brief time. Fuck, I’ve been hearing about the ‘85 Bears my whole life. Not just the brilliance, but that element of mystery at how they were able to contain such force for even that long to produce things we hadn’t seen before. Something like a cosmic bull-riding. The fear that’s Ohtani now is real, but it will only give what we did see and what he did do that much more mystique. Catch a glimpse of the meteor, even if it might crash to Earth not too far from you.

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.