The Los Angeles Angels don’t come through Pennsylvania very often. They are here this week, though, in a three-game series against the Phillies, and there is no better time to see one of the game’s most amazing players: Angels outfielder/pitcher Shohei Ohtani.
Records are meant to be broken and almost all of them are in due time. I’ve seen many things, both ordinary and amazing, in my nearly 38 years of being both an athlete myself, and the most devout of sports fans. But when something or someone comes along that’s so rare that you can’t quite compare it to anything, you take note. When you’re watching history in the making it’s like time slows down and offers you a chance to take it in. These once-in-a-lifetime feats are special and they’re worth handing down to your children and grandchildren.
One such feat is the player — and more particularly, the 2023 season — of Ohtani.
At the time of writing, Ohtani leads all of Major League Baseball with 44 home runs. With a .305 average, he’s also in the top ten in batting average. This is remarkable enough and probably sufficient numbers to earn him American League MVP honors, but add onto that this unbelievable stat: he’s 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA as a starting pitcher. Further, when he isn’t on the bump, he’s not relegated to the designated hitter slot… he plays the outfield, and he does it quite well. And not only is he an above average outfielder, he has 21 stolen bases to date, which for a 6’4’’-210 pounder doesn’t happen much in the big leagues.
It simply can’t be understated how rare it is to have a major league baseball player that is both a Cy Young caliber pitcher and an MVP caliber hitter. This feat has never been equaled.
In baseball’s entire history, there is one comparable player in my view – Babe Ruth himself. Before becoming the Sultan of Swat, Ruth was a dominant pitcher for the Red Sox. His bat proved so valuable that his skipper apparently couldn’t afford NOT having it in the lineup, which is my best educated guess as to why the Bambino gave up starting pitching. But almost 100 years later Ohtani has replicated this feat, and has perhaps done it better.
There have been special athletes in the history of sports. Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, to name two modern examples, were able to play both baseball and football at the professional level with excellence. Others have shown similar ability, like Joe Mauer, who was an all-star catcher for the Twins who could have instead gone pro as a football quarterback, earning the Gatorade National Player of the Year award as a high school senior en route to Florida State. White Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi earned Ohio Mr. Basketball honors in his high school career, which is awarded to the best basketball player in the state — an amazing accomplishment considering Ohio has produced basketball players such as LeBron James. These are all exceptional cases, athletes of the highest caliber, showcasing an amazing skill set at a very high level of play.
But none of these great players has been able to equal what Ohtani has done. Baseball is the hardest of the professional sports to play. It’s not just strength and agility, but finesse and motor skills one has to master. Tracking down a sinking fly ball is easier said than done, and catching up to a mid-90’s fastball, even if you know it’s coming, is next to impossible. Then throw in each of the cerebral elements to the game of baseball at the highest of levels; the number of scenarios, signals, and positions is literally endless. And it’s not just the 330 million Americans one has to compete against, but the best players from around the globe.
There are many leagues but only “one” major league, 30 teams in total. And if you’re good enough and lucky enough to break a big-league roster, you’re either a pitcher or a position player, NEVER both. But Ohtani is both, and he’s arguably the best in the major leagues at both. In my years as a baseball fan, it’s never been necessary to argue whether a player was the best position player AND pitcher in baseball. But now that argument is viable thanks to Shohei Ohtani.
Despite a very recent elbow injury that puts the brakes on Ohtani’s season from the mound, he’ll likely still help his below-average Angels team by hitting DH for the final month of the season. And even if his season ended now totally you’d be crazy not to vote for this guy for AL MVP. Because after all, this is one of those sports moments that you just have to take in before it’s over. It’s a once-in-a-century achievement, maybe never to be duplicated again. It’s like watching Babe Ruth in his prime, and as sports fans we ought to appreciate that. We can now tell our kids and grandkids that we once saw Shohei Ohtani play the game of baseball.
State Rep. Joe D’Orsie represents the 47th District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, including portions of York County. He was first elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 2022.