A Japanese trailblazer is set to transform baseball

THE PAST five years have been a golden age for tactical experimentation in Major League Baseball (MLB).  Defensive alignments and bullpen-usage patterns that would have been unthinkable a decade ago have now become commonplace. Yet even the clubs most inclined to think out of the box have never questioned one of the sport’s fundamental truths: pitchers pitch, hitters hit, and never the twain shall meet.

In 2018, however, this bedrock belief will be put to a long-overdue test. On December 8th Shohei Ohtani—an unprecedented two-way star, who has a strong claim to be both Japan’s best hitter and its best pitcher—announced that he would sign with the Los Angeles Angels. The team in turn promptly declared it planned to use the 23-year-old as a batter on the days he does not pitch. The last player deployed this way with any success was Babe Ruth, the greatest star in baseball history. He started out as a pitcher and briefly excelled in both roles, but gave up pitching for good when he joined the New York Yankees in 1920.

On one hand, the potential benefit of a two-way player is so vast that their extinction long ago might seem surprising. Modern starting pitchers throw just once every…Continue reading

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The mysterious reggaeton bangers of Mexico’s election

FOR evidence that modern democracy has lost its pep, look back to the age of cheery campaign jingles. The art form dominated elections from America to the Philippines after the second world war. Australian political parties used them well into the 1980s. It is tempting to believe that melodious campaigns …

Redeeming Mary Magdalene

EVERY generation of artists has brought its own sensibilities and experiences to the depiction of canonical Christian stories. Giotto, an Italian painter, set Bible scenes in medieval Tuscany. Rembrandt gave his a hint of mercantile 17th-century Amsterdam. “Mary Magdalene” is similarly a retelling of some of the faith’s main events …

The maddest March: at last, a 16-seed upsets a number one

THE line separating the improbable from the impossible is hard to pin down. The annual single-elimination tournament to crown the champion of North America’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in men’s basketball is known as “March Madness”, thanks to the steady diet of upsets it produces. Every year, a few …