Fans were glued to their screen watching the final World Baseball Classic at-bat between Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, except for Chris “Mad Dog” Russo.
The Los Angeles Angels teammates capped off a memorable 2023 tournament, and Ohtani delivered the final out to give Japan the title victory over Team USA.
The Japanese superstar took headlines as baseball fans were left in awe over the 28-year-old’s dominance in the sport. The stakes were heightened when he struck out his Angels teammate and arguably the best Major League Baseball player in the United States. Russo would be someone who would argue with that moniker.
“We’re gonna make this out to be an epic at-bat? Really?” Russo said on ESPN’s “First Take” on Wednesday. “What is (Kirk) Gibson and (Dennis) Eckersley then in the World Series in Game 1 when Gibson hobbled around the bases and hit the home run against Eckersley in (Los Angeles) Dodgers-(Oakland Athletics) in ’88 — one of the great home runs in the history of baseball. Did you see the headlines today? ‘Epic at-bat.’ ‘Incredible moment’ What? Why, because they’re teammates? And Trout does nothing but strikeout. Trout struck twice in the game.
“Everybody talks to me like Trout is (Joe) DiMaggio. I mean, Trout strikes out 175 times a year. … Plus the fact it was two outs, nobody on, the game was awful. That game was a bad game. I was bored stiff. It was two outs, nobody on — it wasn’t like the bases were loaded. It wasn’t like he was the winning run at the plate. It wasn’t like he fouled any off-pitches.”
Russo did not have anything negative to say about Ohtani, but his comments about Trout definitely invoked a “get off my lawn” attitude MLB fans continue to grow tired of — even Stephen A. Smith and host Molly Qerim could not believe Russo’s comments.
Trout only has struck out more than 175 times in a season just once in his 12-year MLB career, which was in 2014, so he actually doesn’t do “nothing but strikeout.”
Also, Ohtani’s strikeout on Trout was extremely rare in the latter’s career. Trout only had a three-swing strikeout in 24 of his 6,174 career MLB plate appearances, according to Codify Baseball. He also is a career .303 batter with a 1.002 OPS with an 82.4 WAR generated, which is 60th all time and seven spots ahead of DiMaggio.
Whether Trout and DiMaggio deserve to be compared to each other is a different story; It definitely is hard to quantify players who played in completely different eras of the sport.
Gibson’s home run off Eckersley in the 1988 World Series is a special moment, but to suggest Tuesday’s end of the World Baseball Classic also was not special for the modern game does nothing to help hinder the growth of the sport.