Photo Credit: Mogami Kariya, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
What a bummer. What a sad, sick joke. It feels totally tragic, yet impossibly inevitable.
Shohei Ohtani – baseball’s truest phenom, baseball’s definitive two-way player, the 21st Century’s answer to Babe Ruth – has a torn UCL. And his two-way days might be over.
It’s the kind of injury that usually requires the surgery that strikes fear into the hearts of pitchers everywhere: Tommy John surgery. Multiple reports are suggesting that Ohtani may try to tough out the injury and continue hitting, but his season as a pitcher is undoubtedly over.
It’s a shame. What Ohtani was doing this season – batting .304/.405/.664 with an MLB-leading 44 home runs while simultaneously going 10 - 5 with a 3.14 ERA and MLB-best 5.8 hits per 9 innings – was not only unprecedented, it’s the greatest season in baseball history.
Even The Great Bambino himself can’t top that (though Ruth’s 1918 & 1919 seasons deserve wayyy more appreciation). Ohtani is a top hitter (arguably THE top hitter) and a top pitcher, all at the same time. That is, until last night. Now, we can’t be sure what he is.
It’s not like Ohtani’s future was certain before the injury. He’s a free agent at the end of the year. His current team (the perpetually underwhelming Los Angeles Angels) will be crippled without him – even if he can still bat. The Angels have the 23rd-ranked team ERA ( in baseball, and that’s with one of the best starters in the game. That number ain’t going down.
There’s also the Angels’ winning problem: they don’t win. At least, not enough, given their $235 million payroll. The way the Angels wasted a combo like Ohtani and 3x MVP Mike Trout will go down as one of the greatest “What Ifs” in baseball history, if it isn’t there already. It should surprise no one if Ohtani looks to greener pastures in the offseason, especially if the lustful Dodgers down the road throw caution to the wind and hand the 29-year-old native of Oshu, Japan half a billion dollars with no strings attached.
The saddest part, though, is that his injury was frustratingly predictable. Pitchers get hurt. Duh. It’s obvious, but obvious doesn't equal insignificant. Even the most durable pitchers in the game go on the shelf from time to time. Tommy John surgery is as commonplace as 100 mph fastballs are these days. And while the surgery isn’t the baseball death sentence it’s been in the past, it’s not a walk in the park either – as Ohtani can attest when he went under the knife in 2018.
Now, the question is: will we see two-way Ohtani ever again? Magic eight ball, you have anything to say? “Reply hazy try again.”
The Dodgers were apparently wary of him pitching when they courted eleven years ago when he was an eighteen-year-old making his first foray into professional baseball. He chose Two-Way Shohei, and played for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters for four years before making his MLB debut with the Angels. That was before he tore his UCL – for the second time.
After having Tommy John surgery in 2018, Ohtani didn’t pitch again until 2020 – and even in that season, he only made two appearances. If you were an MLB owner, and you were about to make Ohtani the richest man in MLB history, you might not get too excited about the idea of another pitching-related injury. Even if Ohtani hates it, he’s going to have the conversation about leaving his two-way days behind with every front office he meets with – even the Angels.
But, even if we have seen the last of Two-Way Shohei, it’s worth remembering that he’s got a chance to get 60 homers this season, surgery be damned. He’s still having the greatest season in baseball history (and man, there have been a ton of excellent seasons), and he’s still the greatest two-way player of all-time. It might not have ended the way we wanted, but Ohtani left little on that particular bone. Speedy recovery, sir.