Latest Blue Jays, Ohtani frenzy shows dangers of unchecked gossip

By Shi Davidi, Sportsnet

In an information vacuum, when people are so susceptible to being lured into believing whatever they want to believe, it’s so easy to end up with the fevered, fact-free frenzy that surrounded Shohei Ohtani and the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday.

First, a speculative decision-timing post, quickly reinforced by a private charter between the appropriate airports found on an online flight tracker. The connection of B to A makes C, a post from an opera singer with details of a large dinner-party reservation made by Yusei Kikuchi at a downtown sushi restaurant, suddenly seem somewhat plausible. Eager anticipation of the two-way superstar’s fateful call now ratcheted up, D, a report from Dodgers Nation claiming the deal is done, makes so many people fully buy-in.

Only this was a case of putting two, two, two and two together and getting nine.

Ohtani is thought to be nearing a decision and the Blue Jays very much remain in play, but nothing is set as of yet, an industry source told me and Ben Nicholson-Smith. The plane from the SNA-YYZ flight in question, according to two sources, is registered to Robert Herjavec, the Canadian businessman of Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank fame with offices in northeastern Toronto. Ohtani was chilling at his Southern California home when its passengers walked off at Pearson. Can’t say for certain about Kikuchi’s dinner plans, but they weren’t tied to an Ohtani signing. Here’s hoping he enjoys a lovely evening. As for that Dodgers Nation report, it is, at best, premature.

The entire ordeal whipped up fans, agents and executives across the baseball industry and underlined the dangers of treating unchecked social-media gossip as fact, rather than waiting for actual, standards-based journalism. That it’s reflective of manias that emerge around matters of much higher consequence is a major societal problem, and what’s fortunate is that in this instance the only damage is to the emotions of people taken for a ride.

While there were certainly some moments of levity — an opera singer with knowledge of dinner plans is part of the story!?! — the parallels to the craze that surrounded NBA star Kawhi Leonard’s free agency four years ago, after the Toronto Raptors won the NBA title, are troubling.

Amid a secretive free agency — Leonard, intensely private like Ohtani, had everything from his residence to shopping and dining habits read into before he joined the Los Angeles Clippers — anything can be twisted into something believable.

After all, how many urban legends have you heard from a guy who knows a girl who is cousins with someone whose ex-boyfriend’s friend works at the bar where everyone goes? That’s what this became.

In large measure, this is all a by-product of Ohtani’s incredible star power and the unbridled excitement that the Blue Jays’ unexpectedly convincing pursuit of him has created. That what’s expected to be the largest player contract in North American sports history could be doled out by the Canadian club is a remarkable possibility.

Expectations have been high since Ohtani visited the Blue Jays’ Player Development Complex in Dunedin, Fla., this week. A similar tour of Rogers Centre wouldn’t be possible right now, as the stadium is an active construction site amid the second phase of a $300-plus-million renovation, so any visit here would, presumably, be for a physical or to sign a contract.

But word of a deal is unlikely to leak until it’s completely done — none of this agreement-pending-a-physical stuff — because of the stakes involved here. Think back to last year’s Carlos Correa saga — the shortstop had near-deals with the Mets and Giants fall apart before returning to the Twins — and imagine that happening with Ohtani.

There’s no chance the Blue Jays or Ohtani’s representatives at CAA Sports would take that chance with a deal so sensitive to wring out an extra news cycle.

So, one of the most unique and intriguing free agencies ever in sports continues, with fans on edge and an industry eager for Ohtani to get done so other business can follow. Once it’s completed, don’t worry, you’ll know. No piecing together posts about flight trackers or dinner reservations needed.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today