Chaos reigns Friday with flight trackers, conflicting reports

Shohei Ohtani’s free agency is entering deranged territory. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)

As far as we know, Shohei Ohtani did not agree to a deal with an MLB team on Friday.

The most anticipated free agency in recent memory hit a fever pitch at the end of the week, with MLB fans spending an entire day thinking Ohtani was about to land with the Toronto Blue Jays. It was a massively confusing day replete with misinformation and conflicting reports.

Fans, and many other MLB free agents, have waited weeks for Ohtani to sign what is anticipated to be the largest contract in league history. The Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Angels were all reported to be the finalists earlier in the week, but they all exited the Winter Meetings without a deal for Ohtani.

So fans made their own fun. Here is our best attempt at assembling a timeline of how the day played out.

8:39 a.m. ET: Ohtani’s decision is reported to be imminent

The confusion of Friday doesn’t happen without some priming, and that came courtesy of MLB Network reporter Jon Morosi.

Morosi tweeted Friday morning that Ohtani’s decision was imminent, with reports coming potentially as soon as that day.

Some observers noted that Friday was the six-year anniversary of Ohtani making his decision to sign with the Los Angeles Angels in his first foray into MLB, adding some weight to the idea that the day was special. At the very least, it reinforced the idea that Ohtani’s timeline on this decision could be similar.

Blue Jays fans start flight-tracking

The Blue Jays became the team to follow soon after Morosi’s report, as many fans on social media noticed a private flight scheduled to take off from John Wayne Airport near Anaheim that morning and land in Toronto that afternoon.

More than 4,000 people reportedly started following that public flight tracker, making it the most followed flight on FlightAware.

This is familiar behavior for any person who closely follows college football. In that sport, coaches leaving for other schools are often tracked from local airports and sometimes welcomed by fans at their destinations.

9:42 a.m.: An opera singer says Yusei Kikuchi rented a sushi restaurant

This is where we really hit silly season.

An account purporting to be an opera singer claimed that Blue Jays starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi had reserved an entire sushi restaurant near the Rogers Centre, almost as if he were planning to celebrate a big occasion for the team.

This report was entirely unsubstantiated, but it had the kind of specificity that made you wonder why anyone would make it up. It got more than 1,000 retweets as the day progressed.

1:53 p.m.: A veteran Dodgers reporter says it’s the Blue Jays

This is when Ohtani-to-Toronto (Sho-eh? Sho-Jay?) passed the point of no return. Random fan speculation is one thing, but J.P. Hoornstra is a veteran reporter who has reported on the Dodgers for more than a decade and a half with the Southern California News Group.

Now writing with Dodgers Nation, Hoornstra reported that Ohtani had chosen the Blue Jays, citing “multiple sources.”

2:03 p.m.: Not so fast, my friend

It took about 10 minutes for someone to throw cold water on the report.

Sportsnet reporter Ben Nicholson-Smith tweeted that Ohtani had not made a decision and that there was no timeline to make a decision, directly disputing Hoornstra’s and Morosi’s reports. Nicholson-Smith reiterated that the Blue Jays remained a finalist for the phenom.

ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez reported the same thing minutes later.

At this point, it was hard not to see some gamesmanship here. Hoornstra could’ve been wrong, yes, but it also seemed possible that he was right and the Blue Jays and Ohtani were in full denial mode because teams often like to have control over an announcement when it’s as big as Ohtani.

4:01 p.m.: Morosi says Ohtani is en route to Toronto

The hype picked up again hours later, when Morosi jumped back into the fray to report that Ohtani was en route to Toronto — but without a signed agreement.

It was around this point that misinformation started really circulating. Multiple accounts with blue checkmarks tweeted video purporting to be Ohtani arriving in Toronto, while the original poster claimed it showed him arriving at the airport in Anaheim. There was a Christmas tree in the background, but the video was not from Friday.

5:11 p.m.: Ohtani is not en route to Toronto

No fewer than five reporters soon tweeted that Ohtani was not headed to Canada and remained in Southern California, including USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, The Athletic’s Jim Bowden, Nicholson-Smith, the New York Post’s Jon Heyman and the Orange County Register’s Jeff Fletcher.

It was the full “Friends” finale: Ohtani wasn’t on the plane.

5:54 p.m.: We found out who was on the plane

A fun little footnote arrived from CBC News’ Devin Heroux, who reported that his outlet’s photographer was at Toronto Pearson International Airport and confirmed that Ohtani was not a passenger on that widely followed private jet.

It was instead Canadian businessman Robert Herjavec, whose major claim to fame is being a host on the television series “Dragon’s Den,” the Canadian precursor to the U.S. show “Shark Tank.” Herjavec now has a very fun story to tell.

There was so much to learn Friday — from the dangers of confirmation bias to the importance of waiting for multiple credible sources to the mechanics of flight tracking. What we did not learn, at least for now, is where Ohtani is signing.

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