‘Electric’ Japanese star Ohtani named American League MVP
Japan’s Shohei Ohtani was the unanimous choice as baseball’s American League Most Valuable Player on Thursday after a sensational 2021 campaign both at the plate and on the mound for the Los Angeles Angels.
Ohtani hit 46 homers and drove in 100 runs as a designated hitter and went 9-2 with a 3.18 earned run average in 23 pitching starts, his rare two-way talents earning comparisons to the legendary Babe Ruth.
Ohtani received all 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America panel to beat Toronto Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Blue Jays infielder Marcus Semien for the award.
He is the second Japanese player to earn the honor, joining Ichiro Suzuki, who won AL MVP as a rookie in 2001.
“MVP is something I was shooting for, obviously,” Ohtani said. “I think any player is, as long as they are playing baseball professionally.
“But I was more appreciative of the fact that American fans, the whole USA baseball, was more accepting and welcoming of the whole two-way idea, compared to when I first started in Japan,” he added.
“It made the transition a lot easier for me, so I’m very thankful for that.”
The MVP was the latest in a string of awards garnered by Ohtani, who received a Silver Slugger batting award and won the player-decided Major League Baseball Player of the Year and American League Outstanding Player awards for 2021.
He also received the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award for a season in which his exploits drew attention even from outside the baseball world.
Time magazine named him among its 100 most influential people of 2021.
His historic campaign was a vindication after a dismal pandemic-shortened 2020 when Ohtani, who had made a laborious return from Tommy John elbow surgery, failed to find his form either on the mound or at the plate.
Ohtani was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2018 before suffering the torn elbow ligament that required surgery and temporarily stalled his major league progress.
Many wondered if his pursuit of both pitching and batting success remained a realistic goal, but the 27-year-old’s determination to pursue his unusual path paid off this season.
On offense, he delivered an AL-leading eight triples and stole 26 bases — becoming the first major leaguer with at least 45 homers, 25 stolen bases and five triples in a season.
No player had ever hit more than 30 homers while making at least 15 starts on the mound — where he pitched 130 1/3 innings and struck out 156 in a season full of captivating exploits.
Harper wins NL MVP
Ohtani became the fourth Angels player to win the award, joining Don Baylor (1979), Vladimir Guerrero (2004) and Mike Trout (2014, ’16 and ’19).
“Shohei’s season was nothing short of electric,” teammate Trout said in a statement.
“At times, I felt like I was back in Little League. To watch a player throw eight innings, hit a home run, steal a base and then go play right field was incredible.”
But what impressed him the most about Ohtani, Trout said, “is the way he carries himself both on and off the field. With so much on his plate daily, he still manages to do it with a smile.”
Ohtani showed little fatigue during the demanding campaign, his pitching numbers improving as the season progressed.
“I feel like the fact that I was able to play in as many games as I did” led to his outstanding campaign, Ohtani said.
“That’s the most proud part about this season. I really want to thank the trainers and medical staff that allowed me to get through and play as many games as I did.”
Angels manager Joe Maddon said he didn’t see why it couldn’t continue in 2022.
“I think it’s sustainable from both sides,” he said.
The National League MVP went to the Philadelphia Phillies’ Bryce Harper, who was in tears as he accepted the award announced live on the MLB Network.
It was a second MVP triumph for Harper, who won the 2015 award while with the Washington Nationals and became just the fifth player to win MVP with two different teams.
Harper got 17 first-place votes and defeated former Nationals teammate Juan Soto and Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. in the balloting.
Harper batted .309 with 42 doubles and had 49 extra-base hits and 65 walks in the second half of the season.
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