The end of a strange era came Friday night in an Anaheim clubhouse as a lousy team played after another losing season while the belongings of the greatest player to ever wear a Los Angeles Angels jersey were being packed up. At the end of the evening, all that was left was a mostly empty locker and a packed duffel bag.
No celebratory farewell. No expressions of gratitude. Just a gentle slash and some good old fashioned Gen Z ghosting.
How fitting. The end credits of a baseball travesty are now rolling.
Shohei Ohtani deserved better. The game deserved something better. Both earned the promise the two-way star received years ago on his first day in uniform, when the Angels celebrated his arrival as a historic day that would bring them back to the World Series. That day, Ohtani rejected the Babe Ruth comparison while revealing the mechanism underlying his greatness: “I think today is actually the real starting point for me, and I just want to get as close to him as possible.”
Ohtani wasn't kidding: He started catching up to the Bambino and never stopped getting closer, elbow surgery be damned. The problem, of course, is that he worked for Joker. And once again the world was reminded that unique excellence is no match for collective mediocrity.
The Angels sabotaged the whole thing, ensuring Ohtani would never have a successful season, let alone reach the stage in October. They did this through general mismanagement and their own brand of incompetence. These sins continued despite the exodus of managers and front office regimes, only further emphasizing that full responsibility for this failure lies with the constant: owner Arte Moreno.
Shohei Ohtani's locker was cleaned out after the Angels' 11-2 home loss to the Tigers on Friday.
– The Athlete (@TheAthletic) September 16, 2023
All of this came to the surface over the past four months as Moreno emptied the farm system, only for the Angels to fall out of contention, accelerated by arm fatigue that turned out to be a UCL tear for Ohtani. Then came the hasty decision to limit losses through an unprecedented player raffle. For the shameless, the abstinence shenanigans were incredibly clever. For everyone else, they were incredibly humiliating.
It all led to a locker cleaned out, a bag packed, and so many unfulfilled promises.
This scene marked the culmination of a relentless wave of missteps that, taken together, paint a picture of an organization in disarray.
It would be an oversimplification to say that the Angels wasted having two generational stars in Ohtani and Mike Trout, especially since their primes didn't exactly occur at the same time. However, there are some franchises that are still waiting to deploy their first such Supernova. What remains astounding in all of this is the extent of the waste. The Angels have managed to do so little with so much like no other.
Healthy organizations create a plan and then follow it. These angels, not so much. A continuous line can be drawn from Albert Pujols to Anthony Rendon, with the extension of Ohtani and Trout in between. What is clear is that all of these major transactions were not part of a grand plan. Rather, they were the product of a billionaire collecting jewelry, just faces to slap on a billboard.
Free agency beckons for Ohtani, and for anyone with the game's best interests at heart, the preferred outcome is obvious. Ohtani has to end up somewhere but where he started: a very expensive, very frustrating baseball deficit.
A pity. Orange County has hosted the Angels for decades. The area has a long baseball tradition and a loyal fan base. They were smart enough to recognize what Ohtani was: a unique talent.
If only the angels could have followed suit.
Securing Ohtani came with a much bigger commitment than just making sure his paychecks arrived on time. She demanded that the organization do everything in its power to shed its reputation as a buffoon. Instead, the Angels managed to never make the playoffs with Ohtani. They never got particularly close to them either.
What's worth noting is that all of these losses are no guarantee of losing Ohtani. The angels have shown that they will pay. They have also shown that they are comfortable letting Team Ohtani take charge. That kind of autonomy is far from guaranteed elsewhere — and Team Ohtani knows it would remain part of any future deal with the Angels. The franchise also knows that its importance outside of its home base is tied to its connection to Ohtani.
There should be a way for all Angels fans to say goodbye just in case. On Saturday, GM Perry Minasian said that even though Ohtani's oblique injury would end his season – and even though he would soon undergo surgery on his injured elbow – he would play in the team's final home game. Minasian reiterated that the Angels will pursue Ohtani in free agency. Makes sense.
But the best result is that the superstar resists any temptation to stay. Because at this point, given his employer's continued lack of imagination and foresight, the Angels would be doing a public service if they simply asked him to leave. It would be foolish to expect this kind of goodwill, of course, but there is no harm in hoping for it.
Because this much is indisputable – the game's standout player's best chance of reaching his biggest stage is to take the packed duffel bag in front of his empty locker and arrange for it to be sent somewhere else.
The Angels are unsuited for Shohei Ohtani and there is no indication that that will change any time soon.
(Photo: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)