ANAHEIM, Calif .– Most of the time in professional sports, it’s easy to think that everything has been done already.
With so many refined athletes constantly pushing themselves to the pinnacle of human potential, we can experience unprecedented displays of sports genius every week of our lives. But it’s really rare to witness something that isn’t fundamentally a better, more prolific version of something we’ve seen before.
That’s why Shohei Ohtani’s astonishing redefinition of modern baseball caught the world’s attention so vividly in 2021 – and that’s why the two-way Los Angeles Angels superstar is the winner of the award. Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year.
The Unanimous MVP of the American League has staged an unparalleled season in the past century of his sport. Hardly anyone had played back and forth every day for many decades – and no one has been both one of baseball’s best hitters and one of its best starting pitchers since Babe Ruth. played home plate and mound for the Boston Red Sox in 1919.
“He’s doing something we haven’t seen in our lifetime, but he’s also doing it at the top level of hitting and throwing,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said at the end of the regular season. “He does more than the other players, but he also does better than almost everyone on this pitch, and they’re the greatest players in the game, his contemporaries. He plays their game, but he also plays a different game. “
Ohtani hit 46 home runs and produced 100 runs with a .965 OPS while playing in 126 games as the AL’s designated top hitter, as evidenced by his Silver Slugger award. He finished third in the circuit majors after leading the sport for much of the season.
Ohtani, 27, also started 23 games on the mound, going 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 130 innings as the Angels ace and one of the best right-hangers in the game. the AL. It has a fastball at 100 mph, but its splitter might be the best baseball field, with motion that resembles a ball rolling over the edge of a table.
The 6-foot-4 Ohtani was also among the majors’ fastest baseline runners, stealing 26 goals and scoring 103 points. He even led the league with eight trebles – and he also played a bit off-field when asked.
Any of those accomplishments would be impressive for a player reaching his peak in his fourth season since moving from Japan to the big leagues.
Doing all of this at the same time is something almost no one alive today has ever seen.
Ohtani has kept baseball historians and statheads metaphorically buried eye-to-eye in dusty record books all summer as they dug through the annals of the turn of the 20th century to identify the last players to accomplish the statistical superlatives that ‘Ohtani was currently blazing.
Mike Trout, a three-time Ohtani AL MVP teammate, called Ohtani’s season “nothing short of electric”.
“Sometimes I felt like I was back in Little League,” Trout added. “To see a player pitch eight innings, hit a home run, steal a goal and then play on the right ground was amazing.”
Fans around the world agree: Despite his soft-spoken personality and focus on his sport, Ohtani has become an icon wherever baseball is played and a figure known even beyond the traditional boundaries of the game.
“I’ve never seen fans come into the stadiums so early and stay until the end,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said in July. “That’s what he brings to the equation. I love it. Seems like every pitch when he’s at plate you can hear the oohs and aahs. I think that’s great for baseball. “
Ohtani’s success not only caught the attention of fans on both sides of the Pacific, but also reignited a debate long considered to be over on the merits of specializing in sports in a country where young athletes are often encouraged to stop playing. compete in several disciplines even before reaching adolescence. . No one currently has Ohtani’s global talents, but big league teams are increasingly open to the possibility of two-way contributors within their organizations.
Ohtani leads a quiet life in Anaheim and Japan, but he is unfailingly kind when praised for his unique accomplishments. Sometimes he seems just as surprised by his multi-faceted success as the rest of the world, while at other times he expresses the quiet confidence needed to do such a thing in the first place.
“I’m a student of the game, so I feel like I have to grow up every year, and I think I was able to do it,” Ohtani said through her performer and constant companion, Ippei Mizuhara. .
Ohtani’s accomplishments are even more impressive as they happened with the Angels, arguably the most disappointing majors franchise of the past half-decade despite their payrolls and elite talents in sunny California’s South.
With Trout missing most of the season with injury, Los Angeles won just 77 games despite Ohtani’s Herculean efforts, missing the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year and posting their sixth consecutive loss record. Ohtani accomplished his home base exploits with often terrible training protecting him in the batting order.
Better times look possible for the reshuffle Angels in 2022, and Ohtani says his biggest goal is to win in his next two years with the club. No matter what his future holds for him, Ohtani will always be remembered for a 2021 season that has blown the collective spirit of the sports world.
“Just a fabulous, fabulous year,” Maddon said. “There is only one person who can duplicate him. That would be him.”