Shohei Ohtani, a baseball player for the Los Angeles Angels and Japan’s national team, won this year’s Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year award. He is only 23 years old and has already become one of his sport’s most exciting players ever. What are some reasons why he made such an impact at such a young age?
(AP) ANAHEIM, Calif. — It’s tempting to believe that everything has been done before in professional sports.
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 23: Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels pitches against the San Francisco Giants in the first inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in Anaheim, California on June 23, 2021. (Getty Images/Katelyn Mulcahy photo) )
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We may see extraordinary displays of sports genius every week of our lives because there are so many finely tuned athletes continuously pushing each other to the limit of human potential. But it’s really unusual to find anything that isn’t just a better, more widespread version of what we’ve previously seen.
That’s why Shohei Ohtani’s astounding reimagining of contemporary baseball drew worldwide notice in 2021 — and why the Los Angeles Angels’ two-way phenom was named Male Athlete of the Year by The Associated Press.
The unanimous American League MVP had a season that had no precedent in baseball’s history. Since Babe Ruth shined at the bat and on the mound for the Boston Red Sox in 1919, almost no one has been an everyday two-way player for decades — and no one has been both one of baseball’s top power hitters and one of its greatest starting pitchers.
Angels manager Joe Maddon remarked late in the regular season, “He’s doing something we haven’t seen in our lives, but he’s also doing it at the greatest level of hitting and pitching.” “Not only is he doing more than other players, but he’s also doing it better than practically everyone else on the field, and his contemporaries are the best players in the game.” He’s in on their game, but he’s also in on something else.”
As proven by his Silver Slugger title, Ohtani hit 46 home runs, drove in 100 runs, and had a.965 OPS in 126 games as the AL’s top designated hitter. After leading the majors in home runs for most of the season, he finished third.
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA – JULY 07: Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels knocks a single home run against the Boston Red Sox in the fifth inning of a game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in Anaheim, California on July 07, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Michael Owens)
As the Angels’ ace and one of the AL’s best right-handers, Ohtani also started 23 games on the mound, finishing 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 130 1/3 innings. He throws a 100-mph fastball, but his splitter, which moves like a ball sliding off the edge of a table, may be the finest pitch in baseball.
While stealing 26 bases and scoring 103 runs, the 6-foot-4 star was also one of the quickest baserunners in the majors. He even led the league with eight triples, and when asked, he even played some outfield.
Any of these accomplishments would be outstanding for a 27-year-old in his peak in his fourth season in the big leagues after migrating from Japan.
Performing all of this at the same time is something that nearly no one living today has ever seen.
All summer, Ohtani had baseball historians and statheads buried up to their eyeballs in old record books, digging into the early twentieth century annals to find the last players to achieve the statistical superlatives Ohtani was presently blazing past.
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Ohtani’s three-time AL MVP teammate Mike Trout described his season as “nothing short of explosive.”
“It felt like I was back in Little League at times,” Trout said. “It was unbelievable to witness a man pitch eight innings, smash a home run, steal a base, and then go play right field.”
Despite his soft-spoken demeanor and singular concentration on his sport, Ohtani has become an idol everywhere baseball is played and a well-known figure well beyond the game’s conventional limits, according to fans across the globe.
In July, Red Sox manager Alex Cora observed, “I’ve never seen fans go to ballparks so early and remain until the finish.” “That’s what he brings to the table.” It’s fantastic. When he’s at the bat, the oohs and aahs seem to come with every pitch. It’s fantastic for baseball, in my opinion.”
BOSTON, MA – MAY 16: In the ninth inning of a game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday, May 16, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts, Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels knocks a go-ahead home run. (Image courtesy of Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos/Getty Images)
Ohtani’s success not only drew the attention of fans on both sides of the Pacific, but it also sparked a long-simmering discussion over the virtues of sports specialization in a nation where young athletes are sometimes encouraged to quit participating in several sports before they reach their teens. Nobody presently has Ohtani’s total abilities, but major-league clubs are becoming more receptive to the idea of having two-way players across their organizations.
Ohtani leads a modest life in both Anaheim and Japan, but when praised for his successes, he is always courteous. He seems to be as startled as the rest of the world by his varied accomplishment, yet at other moments he exudes the serene confidence required to undertake such a thing in the first place.
“I feel like I need to progress every year as a student of the game, and I believe I’ve been able to achieve that,” Ohtani remarked via his translator and frequent companion, Ippei Mizuhara.
Despite their big salary and exceptional talent in sunny Southern California, the Angels have been probably the majors’ most disappointing organization over the previous half-decade.
Despite Ohtani’s heroic efforts, Los Angeles won just 77 games owing to Trout’s injury, missing the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year and earning their sixth consecutive losing record. Ohtani’s at-bat prowess was aided by an often dreadful lineup that shielded him from the opposition.
Better times seem to be on the horizon for the Angels in 2022, and Ohtani says his top priority is to win in his first two years with the team. Whatever his future holds, Ohtani will be remembered for a 2021 season that blew the minds of the whole sports world.
“It’s been a fantastic, fantastic year,” Maddon added. “It can only be duplicated by one individual.” He’d be the one.”
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(The Associated Press, Copyright 2021.) All Rights Reserved by the Author. It is forbidden to publish, broadcast, rewrite, or disseminate this content.)