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Shohei Ohtani

In this 2015 file photo, Japan starter Shohei Otani pitches against South Korea during the semifinals of the Premier12 world baseball tournament at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo.

Shohei Ohtani. Shohei Ohtani. Shohei Ohtani. Get used to the name. Or, if you write sports by trade, get used to spelling the name.

Shohei Ohtani.

So far so good.

You may know Ohtani by a different name. Back in April, Sports Illustrated proclaimed him the "Babe Ruth of Japan."


He is unlike anything Japanese baseball has ever seen, a right-handed pitcher with a 100 mph fastball and a left-handed hitter with a power stroke to die for.

In 2016, his strikeout rate of 11.2 per nine innings was better than Clayton Kershaw, while his 22 home runs in 382 plate appearances produced a better home run rate than Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.

It's the kind of thing Babe did a century earlier in our version of the game, maybe not in the same season, but close.

Babe the pitcher went 18-8, 23-12, 24-13 and 13-7 in 1915 through 1918. In 1919, he became less a pitcher and more an outfielder/hitter, blasting a then-record 29 home runs while also going 9-5 with a 2.97 ERA in 17 games on the mound.

The transition to position player was complete after that, resulting in 54 homers in 1920, 59 in 1921 and, well, 714 by the time his career ended. Ruth's final pitching stats included a 94-46 record and a 2.28 ERA, making him a dual threat unparalleled in baseball history.

Now there is Ohtani, a 23-year-old who will play in the major leagues next season. We don't know where yet, but should very soon. Whoever lands him will have to pay a $20 million posting fee to his former team in Japan in addition to bonus money.

His stated desire is to play on the West Coast and for a small-market team, at least that's what he or his people told the Yankees, Red Sox and others he's crossed off his list.

Of the seven that remain, not all fit that criteria.

The Texas Rangers have the most bonus money available, $3.54 million, so they're in. As are the Cubs, even with their Midwestern locale and a mere $300,000 in bonus money to spend. West Coasters still in the hunt include the Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Angels and Mariners. 

The Cubs, Dodgers and Padres overspent their international-pool allotments last year, leaving them with $300,000 to offer. 

Ohtani is weighing all of it this week, meeting with each of the "finalists" to determine the best fit.

Here's hoping it's the Cubs.

That's not easy to say for a second-generation Cardinal fan who, in his youth, could mimic the batting stance of every hitter in the lineup of the 1967 World Series champions.

Their names remain fresh and in order 50 years later ... Brock, Flood, Maris, Cepeda, McCarver, Shannon, Javier, Maxvill, Gibson. The allegiance to the franchise was strong and has never wavered.

So "Why the Cubs?" you ask.

Of Ohtani's suitors, the Cubs offer the best chance to see him play on a regular basis. There is no close second.

We watch the Cubs at my house. It happens when you look into the eyes of a Cub fan and say "I do." They don't put everything in the vows.

We also watch the Cardinals, but we don't see much of the Rangers, Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Angels or Mariners. Mostly that is time-zone driven. As great as the Angels' Trout is, and the Dodgers' Kershaw is, many of their finest moments come at or near midnight Central time.

Thus, the selfish thing is to root for the Cubs in this "Babe Ruth of Japan" sweepstakes, even if you don't root for the Cubs. Ohtani is intent on trying to be a full-time major league pitcher and hitter. If you're a baseball fan, you want to see as much of that as possible.

Maybe he'll fail. Most believe he will ... that the game is too specialized and difficult to succeed at both. Maybe, like Ruth, he'll flourish at one and then the other. 

We'll have a while to find out. His chosen team will have six years of control over his rights. That's a lot of games and telecasts.

Just this once, Go Cubs Go.

Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: @pg_kindred


Sports Editor

Sports editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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