How Shoehei Ohtani and Kyler Murray Make 2023 Year of the GOATs

It’s Saturday, October 28th, 2023—Game 7 of the World Series. Starting on the mound is baseball’s best pitcher—and hitter. He’s pitching to the reigning MVP—of the NFL.

National Football League (NFL) teams are preparing for the 2019 NFL Draft on April 25, and Major League Baseball (MLB) teams are preparing for Opening Day on March 28. That, of course, means the headlines are dominated by shocking reports of the Heisman-winning quarterback’s height and hand size and that same quarterback’s dismissal of Bryce Harper’s 13-year, $330 million contract, despite it being worth $230 million more in guaranteed money than the top NFL quarterback’s contract.

For now, the Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft pick of the Oakland Athletics is choosing football over baseball, and for good reason. He stands to make a lot more money early in an NFL career than he would in MLB. But will that be the case if the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) can’t secure fully guaranteed contracts in 2021 collective bargaining negotiations? And with MLB Hot Stove gasbags whispering allegations of collusion despite the game’s top free agents signing fully guaranteed contracts that are longer and richer than ever, is the NFL really where Murray makes his living long-term?

Baseball’s Badly Needed, Surgically Repaired Arm

Meanwhile, back in baseball, pitcher/hitter Shoehei Ohtani will be limited to designated hitter duties while recovering from Tommy John surgery this season. Even though the reigning Rookie of the Year in the American League was one of baseball’s better hitters in 2018, his offensive contributions couldn’t make the Los Angeles Angels competitive, even with baseball’s best player in Mike Trout on the roster. The same will be so for 2019, but he will hit well enough to earn a contract extension with the Angels.

Ohtani did have the 40th-ranked OPS+ (152) amongst all batters in 2018, above both Manny Machado (146) and Bryce Harper (133). But his 367 plate appearances made for a small sample size. In 2019, Ohtani will prove to be a consistent, even heavy hitter in the bigs. But the possibility of Ohtani becoming an elite starting pitcher will seem less likely when he returns to the mound in 2020.

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Ohtani will hardly looked like an ace given his diminished velocity, but he’ll find a way to win 15 games in spite of it. He’ll be the Angels’ best starting pitcher, but he won’t have much competition. Well out of contention at the MLB Trade Deadline, the Angels will send the game’s best player and impending free agent to his hometown Phillies for right-handed starter Adonis Medina (64th-ranked prospect according to MLB), lefty starter Jojo Romero (projected number three starter), center fielder Odubel Herrera, and Andrew McCutchen, owed $20 million in 2021. The Phillies will win it all in 2020 behind Harper and Trout, and seem well-positioned to do so for a long time, but at considerable cost.

Ohtani’s second year pitching after the surgery will see him start to return to form. By 2021, he’ll be baffling both hitters and pitchers, carrying the new-look Angels into the playoffs. In 2022, he’ll anchor a pitching staff and lineup that reaches the American League Championship Series and wins him MVP honors. But in 2023, Ohtani will do something never before seen. So will Kyler Murray.

Football’s Unneeded, Undersized Underdog

It’ll take awhile for the number one overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft to adjust to the speed and complexity of NFL defenses, and his athleticism will get him hurt a few times. Murray will surely miss time due to injuries sustained running the ball in his first few seasons, and with Arizona unsure of what they have in Murray, no contract extension talks will take place. Entering the fourth and final year of his rookie deal, Murray will win MVP, and the Cardinals could lose him and get nothing in return. Regardless, Murray’s sure to be the highest paid player in the history of the NFL. But the Cardinals won’t be the first team to offer Murray a contract.

When Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft, no one expected the soon-to-be Super Bowl champion to start playing baseball. But Wilson was a fourth-round pick of the Colorado Rockies; Murray is a first-round pick of the Oakland Athletics, and might be good enough to make MLB reconsider its rule preventing newly drafted, minor-league players from getting MLB contracts.

But just before the calendar turned over to 2023: Year of the GOATs, Murray will be selected by the New York Mets in the Rule 5 Draft prior to Week 14 of the NFL season. Needless to say, the Cardinals’ stellar season and upcoming game to clinch their division won’t dominate the headlines. Mets outfielder and former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow will graciously attempt to answer questions for which he has no answers except, “Of course I’d love to play with Kyler. He’s an incredible athlete,” and, “No, I have not been in contact with Kyler. But I’m certainly willing to share what I know about this great organization and what we could accomplish. I also know how busy he is, though.”

The day after the Super Bowl, the New York Mets will make Murray an offer he can’t refuse. With Tebow already roaming the outfield (well, a very small part of it), the thought is that adding another quarterback to the mix would at the very least sell tons of tickets. For this the Mets would pay dearly, but with Robinson Cano coming off the books and Noah Syndergaard and Jacob DeGrom long gone, money was one thing the Mets will have in 2023.

With the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) negotiating to lift the salary restrictions on contracts and signing bonuses for players with no service time in ’21, Murray will be in a position to make a lot of money just to try baseball. In the event Murray didn’t make the Mets’ 25-man roster out of Spring Training, it would still cost the Mets $10 million just to release him from his contract.

Unlike his rookie deal with Oakland, Murray’s signing bonus would be nonrefundable this time. And if Murray made the team, his deal could be worth as much as $23 million with incentives—a million dollars more than Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers would make. But with the endorsement opportunities that would come with being the NFL’s best quarterback and a two-sport athlete in New York City, Murray’s agent estimated annual earnings in the hundreds of millions—for playing one season of baseball. Murray would be baseball’s biggest star, even with Ohtani’s two-way game casting such a vast shadow.

The Greatest Single Season of All Time in MLB

Despite all the advanced statistics, the single greatest season in MLB history is as debatable as the single-season, home run record was when Roger Maris hit 61 in ’61, and as debatable as it remains, with an artificially enhanced Barry Bonds smashing 73 in 2001. Wins above a replacement-level player (WAR) certainly seems like the best means of measuring baseball’s single greatest season, but when did MLB really become Major League Baseball? Was it when the National League (NL) was formed in 1876 or when the American League (AL) came around in 1901?

If we consider the pre-American League MLB, the record for WAR in a single season is 20.2, set by 26-year-old Tim Keefe in 1883, who won 41 of his 68 starts, completing every one of those games for the New York Metropolitans. The post-American League MLB record for WAR in a single season is Walter Johnson’s 16.4 in 1913.

For position players, Babe Ruth’s single-season record of 14.1 WAR posted in 1923 hasn’t been challenged since Carl Yastrzemski posted 12.5 WAR in 1967. Even Bonds only posted a WAR of 11.9 in 2001, despite smashing 32 more homers than The Babe hit in ’23. A century later, the Babe Ruth of Japanese baseball will look like a combination of the 1916 Ruth, who led AL pitchers in ERA, and the 1924 Ruth, who won his first and only batting title. Ruth and Guy Hecker are the only players to have won both an ERA and batting title in their careers. Shoehei Ohtani will become the first and only player to win both in the same season—2023: Year of the GOATs.

The single greatest season of all time in MLB history isn’t measured by WAR or any other statistic, advanced or antiquated. The unit of measurement for baseball’s single greatest season is irrelevant when someone does something in the game no one else has done. Expecting Ohtani or anyone to break the record for WAR in a single season, regardless of when we consider MLB history to begin, is more than a tall order given the number of games in which starting pitchers had their hands, and number of batting practice pitches those hands offered hitters back in the day. No one has ever been baseball’s best hitter and pitcher in the same season. No statistic or championship is necessary to determine the single greatest season in MLB history when there’s a list with only one name on it. The same goes for Kyler Murray.

The Single Greatest Season of All Time in Sport

Deion Sanders came so close to winning a World Series with Atlanta in 1992, and it wasn’t because of him the Braves didn’t. His .533 batting average led all participants. He stole five bases in six games, and his win probability added (WPA) of .37 was second to only Ed Sprague’s, who homered in one of his two at-bats for Toronto. Had anyone else in an Atlanta uniform done much of anything, Sanders would be the only athlete to have won both a World Series Championship and a Super Bowl. Instead, he’s the only athlete to have played in both championship games. Well, he was.

The 2023 Mets’ Spring Training was an absolute circus, and despite all the media attention around the team, Murray managed to show he could hang in the bigs, especially defensively. The Mets badly needed someone with range to make Tebow less of a defensive liability, and Murray at least offered that. His swing developed more slowly, but his plate discipline was apparent. With no real competition, Murray did enough to earn a spot on the 25-man roster, which meant NFL teams would have to wait until after the MLB season to sign him. Murray’s contract did not allow him to participate in potentially harmful activities like riding motorcycles, cliff jumping, or playing professional football.

The Mets’ duo of quarterbacks in the outfield did indeed sell tons of tickets Opening Weekend, and attendance in the season’s first month was tops in the league as both Murray and Tebow feasted on pitchers still figuring out their stuff. But come May both were slumping. Luckily, the Mets’ pitching wasn’t too terrible. Steven Matz, the lone holdover from the Syndergaard/DeGrom years, was looking like an ace. And Franklyn Kilome, Anthony Kay, and David Peterson were keeping the Mets in ballgames. Murray’s defense certainly played a role in the sudden effectiveness of the pitching staff, and despite his on-base percentage being closer to .300 than .400, the Mets were still in the hunt come June. Just as attendance dipped and the Mets were being dogged by gasbags to release Murray, both he and Tebow found their swings, and was it ever so sweet.

The Mets suddenly had more than a publicity stunt in Murray and Tebow. At the end of June the Mets were surprising buyers at the MLB Trade Deadline and didn’t disappoint the fans they were perfectly prepared to disappoint if their publicity stunt turned out to be nothing more than that. After scoring affordable rental and extension candidate, Kenta Maeda, the Mets added Trevor Bauer, who was under contract for another year.

The moves made for a formidable playoff rotation, but more importantly, Murray forcing a move into the leadoff spot with Tebow and Cano behind him allowed New York’s new starting rotation to pitch with a lead more often than not. That played perfectly into the sure hands and swift feet of Murray, and the quarterback arms of Murray and Tebow.

The trades allowed the Mets to climb into the NL Wild Card Game, as the Phillies finished second in the NL, having lost Harper to injury for two months. Bauer proved his worth with a win over Atlanta in the one-game playoff, and Maeda stole Game 2 of the NL Division Series in St. Louis, allowing Bauer an extra day of rest and the phenom Kilome a less stressful postseason debut. With Bauer following Kilome’s win with another in Game 4, the Mets cruised to the NL Championship Series to face the Phillies, who feasted on Colorado pitching thanks mostly to Mike Trout and partially to the thin, mountain air.

After dispatching their division rivals in seven games, Murray and the Mets took Ohtani and the Angels to seven more, culminating in the single greatest season of all time in sport. Murray hardly had time to enjoy becoming the first athlete ever to win both a World Series and Super Bowl in the same calendar year. A week later he was preparing to play quarterback in Week 9 of the NFL regular season—for the New York Jets.

Anthony Varriano
Anthony Varriano
Anthony Varriano is a writer, editor, and podcast host at Grandstand Central. He spent six years as a newspaper journalist, columnist, sportswriter, and photographer. He is also editor of Go Gonzo Journal and host of Foul Play-by-Play, a podcast about the week’s cheats, cheap shots, and alleged criminals in sports.


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