Tuesday night’s World Baseball Classic final had fans on the edge of their seats, particularly the final at-bat pitting Mike Trout against his Angels teammate Shohei Ohtani, a riveting, three-minute chess match that ended with Japan celebrating its third title in five tries. It was, in many ways, the perfect ending, a scene of Shakespearean proportion between a pair of living legends, both running on pure adrenaline after three grueling weeks of international competition.
While Tuesday’s dramatic finale was widely lauded as the tournament’s signature moment and, arguably, a turning point in baseball’s trajectory, the game was met with yawning indifference from ESPN personality Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, who was seemingly unimpressed by Trout and Ohtani’s memorable ninth-inning encounter.
“Can I throw cold water on this, please?” asked Russo, eager to dismiss Trout’s widely anticipated matchup with Ohtani. “The game was awful. That game was a bad game. I was bored stiff.”
While Russo did, begrudgingly, acknowledge Ohtani’s greatness, delivering the late knockout punch Japan sorely needed, he didn’t hold back in his criticism of Trout, scoffing at the notion that his career accolades measure up to all-time greats like DiMaggio and Ruth. “Ohtani’s great. He did a great job. Let’s leave him alone and put him on the side for a second,” said Russo during his weekly appearance on First Take. “Did you see the headlines today? Epic at-bat. Incredible moment. What? Why, because they’re teammates? Trout does nothing but strike out. Trout struck out twice in the game. Everybody talks to me about Trout as DiMaggio. Trout strikes out 175 times a year.”
Trout actually struck out three times in the loss to Japan, though suggesting his legacy will be defined by one at-bat against a flame-throwing mutant throwing 102 mph is laughable analysis, exemplifying the kind of cartoonish, clickbait arguments that have become a staple of debate television.
“We’re going to make this out to be an epic at-bat?” asked an exasperated Russo. “It was two outs, nobody on. It wasn’t like the bases were loaded. It wasn’t like he was the winning run at the plate. It wasn’t like he fouled off any pitches.”
Of course, this performative bluster is more or less Russo’s calling card, embracing his role as First Take’s nominal contrarian, adamantly defending athletes from the past while scarcely acknowledging today’s stars, who he sees as entitled and undisciplined. The radio veteran of “Mike and the Mad Dog” fame would later make a startling admission, copping to taking an edible at a recent Bruce Springsteen concert, much to the discomfort of his ESPN colleagues Molly Qerim and J.J. Redick.
If nothing else, the gummy-loving 63-year-old certainly has a knack for going viral.