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Carig: Is Shohei Ohtani done with angels? For the sake of the sport, hopefully

The end of a curious era arrived Friday night in an Anaheim clubhouse, with a lousy team playing out yet another losing season, while the business of the greatest player to ever put on a Los Angeles Angels uniform was packed. At the end of the evening, all that was left was a mostly empty locker and a full gym bag.

No farewell ceremony. No expression of gratitude. Just a tender oblique and a good old Gen Z ghost.

How appropriate. Now the credits roll on a baseball parody.

Shohei Ohtani deserved better. The game deserved better. Both deserved the promise that was made years ago on the two-way star’s first day in uniform, when the Angels hailed his arrival as a historic day that would propel them to the World Series. That day, Ohtani stood up to Babe Ruth, while revealing the mechanism behind 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 gaining ground on the Bambino and never stopped getting closer, elbow surgery be damned. The problem, of course, was that he was working for pranksters. And once again, the world was reminded that singular excellence cannot compete with collective mediocrity.

The Angels sabotaged everything, ensuring Ohtani would never have a winning season, much less the October scene. They did this because of general mismanagement and their own incompetence. These sins have persisted despite managerial turnover and front-office dieting, only further reinforcing the fact that all credit for this failure goes to the one constant throughout it all: owner Arte Moreno.

This all surfaced over the last four months, when Moreno gutted the farm system, only for the Angels to fall out of contention, which was hastened by arm fatigue that turned out to be a torn UCL for Ohtani. Then came the hasty decision to cut their losses with an unprecedented players’ giveaway. For the shameless, the waiver shenanigans were incredibly shrewd. To everyone else, they were incredibly humiliating.

It all led to an empty locker, a full bag, and so many broken promises.

The scene punctuated what has been a relentless wave of missteps, which taken together paint a picture of an organization in disarray.

It might be simplistic to say the Angels wasted having two generational stars in Ohtani and Mike Trout, especially since their primes weren’t exactly competitive. That said, some franchises are still waiting to employ their first such supernova. What remains staggering about all this is the level of waste. The Angels managed like no one to do so little with so much.

Healthy organizations create a plan and then follow it. These angels, not so much. A throughline can be drawn from Albert Pujols to Anthony Rendon, with the extension of Ohtani and Trout in between. What is clear is that all these expensive deals were not part of any grand plan. Rather, they were the product of a billionaire collecting trinkets, just faces to slap on a billboard.

For Ohtani, free agency beckons, and for anyone who cares about the greater good of the game, the desired outcome is obvious. Ohtani needs to end up anywhere but where he started, a very expensive and very frustrating baseball backwater.

What a shame. Orange County has been home to the Angels for decades. The area has a deep baseball tradition and a loyal fan base. They were smart enough to appreciate what Ohtani is: a unique talent.

If only the Angels could have followed suit.

Securing Ohtani came with a much bigger obligation than just making sure his paychecks arrived on time. He demanded that the organization do everything in its power to shed its reputation for buffoonery. Instead, the Angels managed to never make the playoffs with Ohtani. They never got particularly close either.

Remarkably, all these losses do not guarantee Ohtani’s loss. The Angels showed they would pay. They also showed that they were content to let Team Ohtani take the lead. That type of autonomy is far from guaranteed elsewhere — and Team Ohtani knows that with the Angels, it would still be part of any future arrangement. The franchise also knows that its relevance outside of its home base is tied to its association with Ohtani.

There should be a chance for Angels fans to say goodbye, just in case. On Saturday, general manager Perry Minasian said that even though Ohtani’s oblique injury would end his season — and even though he would soon undergo some sort of surgery on his injured elbow — he would be there for the final home game of the team. Minasian reiterated that the Angels would pursue Ohtani in free agency. Logic.

But the best outcome 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 by simply telling him to leave. It would of course be foolish to expect this kind of benevolence, although there is no harm in hoping for it.

Because this much is indisputable: the best chance for the game’s most transcendent player to reach his greatest stage is to take that filled gym bag in front of his empty locker and make sure it gets shipped elsewhere.

The Angels are not a good fit for Shohei Ohtani, and there is no evidence to suggest that will change anytime soon.

(Photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

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