Exactly a century ago the Boston Red Sox had a weak lineup and an ace pitcher who could hit a bit. So they decided to play him in the outfield between starts.
Babe Ruth did this for two years with Boston. The first season, 1918, they won the World Series. Ruth went 13-7, 2.22 as a pitcher while throwing about half as many innings as in the previous two seasons. He also led the league in homers with 11 in 382 plate appearances.
The next season, 1919, he hit 29 homers (a record) and led the league in runs scored and RBIs (and in on-base and slugging percentage). He also had his worst pitching season — 9-5, 2.97, which doesn't sound that bad, but it was the deadball era and there were TEAMS with better ERAs. He made 15 starts and didn't throw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title.
Then Boston traded Ruth to the Yankees, the Yankees made him a full-time outfielder, and he started hitting 50 homers a year.
And no major league team has tried anything like Ruth's dual role since. Until now.
Japanese phemon Shohei Ohtani is officially a minor leaguer in the Angels training camp in Arizona, but he didn't come to the states to ride the buses. He came to pitch AND hit, and pretty much every major league team was willing to give him the opportunity to do something nobody's tried to do since 1919.
(Twins general manager Thad Levine on Ohtani's two-way ambitions before he picked the Angels: "If he's willing to come here, he can do whatever he damn well wants.")
There's no question about Ohtani's talent. He can hit massive homers; he throws a 97-mph heater. If anybody has the skill set to pitch regularly and hit regularly, it's Ohtani.
But there's reason for skepticism too, because this game certainly hasn't gotten easier since Ruth's day. Maybe Ruth could put on the uniform and wing it. Today's players can't. Everybody else is watching video, scouring scouting reports and diligently doing specialized exercises.
The questions abound. If Ohtani's in the lineup, when is he getting ready to make his next start? If he's getting ready to make his next start, when is he getting ready to be in the lineup?
The Angels are said to be planning on a six-man rotation, in large part to accommodate Ohtani. Does that mean a six-man bullpen, or are they going to carry 13 pitchers? When Ohtani's in the lineup, who is he dislodging? Do the Angels want him in right field trying to make the long throw to third between starts? If he's the designated hitter, is the immobile Albert Pujols going to hobble out to play first base?
There is probably no manager today more old-school than Angels skipper Mike Scoscia. My guess is that he would prefer to just make Ohtani a pitcher and skip the hitting stuff, but that's not what Ohtani expects.
So this is going to be one of the most fascinating stories of 2018. There's a big payoff if it works.