Play Ball! Lessons From the Ohtani Rule

ohtani rule

Spring has sprung, and thankfully we have also gotten the return of baseball season! Although things got a big tense over the winter during the lockout, the players and owners were able to work it out to start the season.

In addition to the new labor deal, the league also announced some rule changes for the 2022 season, including one that has some valuable lessons: the so-called “Shohei Ohtani Rule.”

For those who don’t follow baseball, a little context: Shohei Ohtani plays for the Los Angeles Angels, and won the American League MVP Award last season. He’s a slugger who hit 46 home runs mostly as a Designated Hitter (DH)…and also the ace of their pitching staff. That’s right, Ohtani is a two-way player like baseball legends Babe Ruth or Bullet Rogan.

What a tremendous opportunity for Major League Baseball, right? A superstar who hearkens back to the all-time greats! But there was a problem: some of the rule changes in intervening years actually made it more difficult for Ohtani to showcase his talents.

Because most pitchers are notoriously poor batters, the American League adopted the Designated Hitter Rule in 1973. But fast forward to the present, the rule also meant that the Angels could either use Ohtani as a hitter in a given game, or as a pitcher…but not both, unless they lost their DH whenever Ohtani as pitcher left the game.

The intention behind the rule was to make sure teams only used the DH to replace a pitcher, not to replace another poor hitter at another defensive position. They hadn’t given serious consideration to the idea that a pitcher might actually be good enough as a hitter to stay in the lineup. Ohtani was an unforeseen superstar.

Hence the new rule: teams can start a player at both pitcher and DH, and remove them from one role but not necessarily the other. Practically speaking, the Angels can replace Ohtani with a relief pitcher late in the game when he tires, but still have him in the lineup to bat with the game on the line. It’s a win for Ohtani (and any other 2-way players), the Angels, and baseball.

The point of this long story is this: we have to be willing to make sure that the self-imposed rules we’re following, the policies we enforce on ourselves, are actually doing what they’re intended to do.

The DH Rule, controversial as it is, is nearly 50 years old, and yet Major League Baseball was open to making a change that, at present, really only impacts one player – because the spirit of the rule and the letter of the rule had come into conflict. It’s better for baseball to make a change that lets stars like Ohtani play more than to follow a half-century old rule written by people who thought two-way stars were a thing of the past.

Some rules are untouchable. Ethics rules? Follow them to the letter. Governmental regulations? Cross every t and dot every i. But other things, which are often unwritten and boil down to “the way we do things around here,” should be open for consideration.

Let’s use an example. Maybe you’ve always opposed offering remote work options for employees. Be willing to examine the option. Would a remote work policy allow you to bring in high-caliber employees who would benefit the organization? Are there digital tools that you can use to resolve some of the concerns you have about remote work? This particular issue was brought to the fore for many companies in the past 2 years. When you do your due diligence on the topic, you might decide to change your policy, in whole or in certain circumstances. And even if you decide not to, you’ll be better prepared to discuss it with anyone who asks and explain the reason behind your policy.

Changing your mind on something doesn’t mean you were necessarily wrong before. The world moves fast; things change. Rules that work under one environment can be detrimental in another. Being successful in business will require you to exercise good judgment. So are you open to new ideas? Are you willing to reinvent yourself in ways large or small? Are you able to implement changes that benefit the company, even when it means getting out of your comfort zone?

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