Opinion: Shohei Ohtani is leading the charge of a new kind of baseball

Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angelos Angels has ushered in a new style of play in Major League Baseball: the ability to both successfully hit and pitch. He captured last year’s American League Most Valuable Player in part because of his unique play style, and more players will likely try to imitate his performance in the coming years.

CADEN SHEA, Sports Writer

For the last couple of years, the world of Major League Baseball has been run by elite pitchers like Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer and hitters like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, but never a combination of both. That was until a man labeled the “Babe Ruth of Japan” arrived on U.S. soil during the 2018 season for the Los Angeles Angels. Shohei Ohtani made a splash nearly immediately, showing his role as both a top hitter and pitcher for the MLB. He was hitting home runs on the regular, paired with being a starting pitcher who could strike anybody out on any given day. Of course, this begs a lot of questions. Why haven’t there been any players like that in such a long time? Is this the start of a new era of players in the MLB? Will the MLB benefit or be harmed by players like this? There are so many questions that this 27 year-old phenom has opened up that will be talked about for years to come. 

Why haven’t there been any players like Ohtani playing at an elite level since Babe Ruth? That is a question that was answered a couple of times in Ohtani’s career: injuries. When somebody constantly makes a difference on both the offensive and defensive sides of the game, there are bound to be injuries. He suffered some elbow injuries and other arm-related injuries that hindered his play and caused him to miss quite a few games during his career. Another reason that Ohtani is a generational player is because he is one of the top conditioned and trained athletes on the planet. He also strays away from specialization in a way that not many people have seen. The game has been dominated by specialization for years because players who are either elite at hitting or elite at pitching get that way by focusing and training on that aspect of that game for all their life. If they are a hitter, they don’t want to focus on pitching because that might hinder their specialized aspect of the game and vice versa. However, Ohtani broke that norm by focusing on both pitching and hitting, becoming one of the best in each area of his expertise. 

I believe that this type of hybrid player will be much more common in the future with Ohtani as the blueprint going forward. His style of play will be imitated for years to come with a lot of young players modeling their playstyles after him. This could lead to more athletes stretching the limits of their abilities to become more versatile in their playing. It will reduce specialization in baseball and make it a more flexible game than what is currently offered. Ohtani has helped make the Los Angeles Angels a top contender in the league alongside another one of the best players in the league in Mike Trout. The fact that they can have both an offensive and defensive superstar in the form of Ohtani and an absolute beast of a hitter in Trout make the Angels a team to fear in the future. 

The last question is, is this kind of player good or bad for the future of baseball? I would personally say yes. And so would a lot of people. In 2021, Ohtani won the award for the American League’s Most Valuable Player. This is the highest award you can achieve as a current MLB player and the fact that he achieved it in such a short amount of time for being exceptional in two very important areas of play is unbelievable. This is an award voted on by top officials out of every market in the MLB, so him winning this is not a feat that should be swept under the rug. Ohtani was also the league’s ninth highest-selling jersey last year which is a big indicator of which players are getting a lot of attention in the league. The more a player sells their jersey, the more of a household name they are. Ohtani’s playstyle is ushering in new fans, including myself, to behold his exceptional playing techniques. 

Shohei Ohtani is a player that will be remembered for years down the line. He is completely altering a game that has been played for hundreds of years and will probably be played for a hundred more. The game has often seen dramatic shifts in how it is played, and usually when one player does something, others follow. And if the above things indicate anything, it’s that there will likely be a lot of followers in the near future.