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Ohtani Situation Could Provide Haunting Déjà Vu for Local Sports Fans

Ohtani Situation Could Provide Haunting Déjà Vu for Local Sports Fans

Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani, from Japan, celebrates as he runs the bases after hitting a solo home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals in Kansas City on June 17, 2023. (Charlie Riedel/AP Photo)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

7/28/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

Mike Babcock, who coached the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to within one victory of a Stanley Cup championship in 2003, is not much of a baseball fan.
Reached during a summer vacation before he returns to NHL coaching with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Mr. Babcock was not familiar with the current Shohei Ohtani scenario.
After receiving a crash course on the remarkable two-way exploits of the Angels’ prize pitcher/designated hitter, and learning of Ohtani’s impending free agency, Mr. Babcock offered an immediate thought.
“Paul Kariya,” he told The Epoch Times.
Indeed, the fascinating situation surrounding Ohtani, especially now that the Angels have decided not to deal him for what likely would have been a bushel of prospects before Major League Baseball’s Aug. 1 trade deadline, is strikingly reminiscent of something the Ducks endured 20 years ago.
Leftwinger Paul Kariya #9 of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in action during the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Calif., on Nov. 11, 1998. The Mighty Ducks defeated the Hurricanes 5-4. (Elsa Hasch/Allsport)

Leftwinger Paul Kariya #9 of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in action during the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Calif., on Nov. 11, 1998. The Mighty Ducks defeated the Hurricanes 5-4. (Elsa Hasch/Allsport)

Unexpectedly finding himself a free agent when the Ducks declined to exercise a $10 million contract option, and despite coming off the greatest playoff run in franchise history to that point, Mr. Kariya jumped to the Colorado Avalanche.
An extremely cerebral player, he believed his best chance to reach the ultimate hockey high was in the Rocky Mountains with a star-laden team that had captured two Stanley Cup championships in the previous eight seasons.
“Rolling the dice” in hopes that a run to the post-season will convince Ohtani to re-sign this winter, the perennially underachieving Angels not only are keeping the greatest dual-threat player in baseball history, at least for now, but also parted with two of their top prospects, pitcher Ky Bush and catcher Edgar Quero, to acquire veteran pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez from the Chicago White Sox.
And yet, even after winning eight of their past nine games, including a double-header sweep in Detroit on July 27, the Angels’ odds of reaching the playoffs were at only 22.6 percent, according to baseball statistics and analytics website fangraphs.com.
Unless Ohtani stays in Anaheim, the ultimate bill for these decisions will be astronomical, and quite possibly could prevent the Angels from contending again for who knows how long.
“If you said to Angels fans right now, the Angels are going to go all the way to the seventh game of the World Series, but you’re going to lose Ohtani, or you’re going to lose him now, what do you do?” former Ducks assistant general manager David McNab asked The Epoch Times.
Shohei Ohtani (17) of the Los Angeles Angels pitches during the first inning of a game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park in San Diego, Calif., on July 4, 2023. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Shohei Ohtani (17) of the Los Angeles Angels pitches during the first inning of a game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park in San Diego, Calif., on July 4, 2023. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

“I can see where the Angels are coming from,” Mr. McNab continued. “They’re saying maybe we just owe it to everyone in the organization to make a run. Maybe this is our best chance. They’ll get a lot of heat if they miss the playoffs, but it may satisfy season-ticket holders.”
Even post-season success, however, wouldn’t guarantee the Angels being able to avoid what Mr. McNab called “upheaval in the organization” caused by “the face of the franchise leaving.” And surely, Orange County sports fans don’t need such a haunting sense of déjà vu.
“We missed the playoffs the following year,” Mr. Babcock recalled. “Paul Kariya was a star. And if you think you can replace stars, you can’t. Suddenly, when he leaves – you honor that and you respect his decision because he’s doing what’s right for him and he’s earned the right – but being self-serving, you sure wish it didn’t happen.”
The decision not to tender the hefty qualifying offer to Mr. Kariya came from the Ducks’ original owner, the Walt Disney Company, which wanted out of the sports business and wound up selling the team two years later.
The late Bryan Murray, general manager of the Ducks in 2003, responded by offering Mr. Kariya and his former running mate and close friend, free agent Teemu Selanne, a combined $10 million, “split any way they wanted,” Mr. McNab said.
Paul Kariya (9) of the St. Louis Blues skates against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., on Oct. 17, 2009. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Paul Kariya (9) of the St. Louis Blues skates against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., on Oct. 17, 2009. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Mr. Selanne, who had starred for the Ducks before previous general manager Pierre Gauthier sent him to San Jose in a 2001 trade, and Mr. Kariya instead signed a package deal with Colorado. While Mr. Selanne received $5.8 million, Mr. Kariya took just $1.2 million for what turned out to be just one season with the Avalanche.
“It stung, him choosing to go to Colorado, but at the same time, you understand someone’s motives,” former Duck Steve Rucchin told The Epoch Times. “Paul is a friend first and foremost. I kind of knew what was going on in his head.”
Mr. Rucchin, who had centered a line that featured both Mr. Kariya and Mr. Selanne in previous seasons, wound up succeeding Mr. Kariya as Ducks captain.
“Would I have liked him to be there and not go anywhere? Absolutely, but it’s the nature of sports,” Mr. Rucchin said. “We sat next to each other for 10 years. We were teammates, so there’s no question that it stung a little bit, but at the same time, my thoughts were for his well-being. But no question, it was difficult to lose our biggest piece.”
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Dan Wood

Dan Wood

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Dan Wood is a community sports reporter based in Orange County, California. He has covered sports professionally for some 43 years, spending nearly three decades in the newspaper industry and 14 years in radio. He is an avid music fan, with a strong lean toward country and classic rock.

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