ASSOCIATED PRESS / KYODO / RAFU REPORTS
Shohei Ohtani’s two-way season was so incredible, MVP voters filled out the top of their ballots only one way.
Ohtani was a unanimous winner of the American League MVP award Thursday for a hitting and pitching display not seen since Babe Ruth, and Bryce Harper earned the National League honor for the second time.
Ohtani received all 30 first-place votes and 420 points in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“American fans, the U.S.A. baseball, is more accepting and welcoming to the whole two-way idea compared to when I first started in Japan, so it made the transition a lot easier for me,” Ohtani said through translator Ippei Mizuhara. “I’m very thankful for that.”
Ohtani batted .257 with 46 homers, 100 RBIs and a .965 OPS as the Los Angeles Angels’ full-time designated hitter, and went 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 23 pitching starts with 156 strikeouts and 44 walks in 130 1/3 innings. It was the first full season on the mound for the 27-year-old right-hander since Tommy John surgery in 2019.
Ohtani is the first AL player ever to hit over 45 home runs, steal at least 25 bases and score 100 runs in a single season.
He averaged 95.6 mph with his fastball, 28th in the major leagues among qualified pitchers, and had a 93.6 mph exit velocity at the plate, which ranked sixth among qualified batters, according to MLB Statcast.
“MVP is something I was shooting for,” Ohtani said. “I think every player is, as long as they’re playing baseball professionally.”
Ohtani won AL Rookie of the Year in 2018 after leaving the Pacific League’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters to sign with the Angels. This year he became the first two-way starter in the history of the All-Star Game, which began in 1933.
He called that the highlight of his season.
“It was my first one and I got to play with a lot of players that I’ve always watched on TV,” Ohtani said. “That was a great experience.”
Ruth had just two seasons in which he thrived at the plate while pitching regularly. He batted .300 with 11 homers and 61 RBIs in 1918 while going 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA for Boston, then hit .322 with 29 homers and 113 RBIs in 1919 while going 9-5 with a 2.97 ERA. Ruth was sold to the Yankees that December and made just five mound appearances in his final 16 seasons.
Ohtani became the second Japanese MVP winner after Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of doubters, especially from my days in Japan, but tried not to let that get to me, let the pressure get to me,” Ohtani said. “I just wanted to have fun and see what kinds of numbers I could put up and what type of performance I could put up.”
At Angel Stadium in Anaheim, the lighted message board above the main gate flashed “Shohei Ohtani MVP” as fans streamed into the open team gift shop. Updated souvenirs celebrating Ohtani’s new title were already on sale, including T-shirts, patches, pins and magnets.
“It’s a remarkable achievement. I’m proud as a Japanese national,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters upon hearing the news.
Inside the municipal hall in Ohtani’s home city of Oshu in northeastern Iwate Prefecture, over 150 staff and locals clad in the red and white of the Angels celebrated the historic moment.
“I couldn’t imagine there’d be such a great day,” said Mayor Masaki Ozawa. “He contributed greatly to our energy and smiles. I really thank him. We’ll keep cheering for Ohtani as he strives and achieves more.”
In the northern city of Sapporo, home to Ohtani’s former team the Nippon Ham Fighters, fans also enjoyed the news.
“It’s an amazing thing. Hopefully he comes back one day and lifts the mood around the place,” said Eiji Tsuda, 45, while a 60-year-old fan club member said it’s the “best feeling ever,” adding that he hopes Ohtani “will be the best pro baseball player in the world.”
Locally, fans with ties to Japan have embraced Ohtani in a way not seen since perhaps the days of Ichiro, or earlier with the mania generated by the success of Hideo Nomo.
Orange County resident Mami Yoshida has attended dozens of Angels games since Ohtani arrived, and celebrated Thursday’s MVP announcement with a an onine posting that read, “This is what I’ve been waiting for!”
Outfielder Mike Trout congratulated his Angels teammate with a video message from one MVP to another.
“What an unbelieveable season he had,” said Trout, who has won the honor three times, most recently in 2019. “It was like watching Little League all over again, pitching, hitting, moving to the outfield late in games. What an incredible season to watch.”
While still a student at Hanamaki Higashi High School, Ohtani mapped out his future goals with a rather specific list. He shared the list with then-coach Hiroshi Sasaki, who has since shared it with the public.
While it doesn’t mention becoming an MVP in the majors, he includes milestones such as throwing a no-hitter, winning 25 games in a seasin, winning the World Series … and getting married, all by the age of 26. He’s a year behind schedule, but that’s an awful lot to ask while still quite young.
His plan also includes throwing a no-hitter in his final game – at age 40.
Ohtani had already collected several offseason prizes, among them the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award and Player’s Choice Awards for Player of the Year and the AL’s Most Outstanding Player.
He has also been named Player of the Year by Baseball Digest, Baseball America and the Sporting News, and won the AL Silver Slugger award as best designated hitter.
Ohtani, who proved he was healthy and healed from surgery after the 2018 season that limited him exclusively to designated hitter duty in 2019 and two 2020 mound appearances, homered in his first pitching start of 2021 on April 4.
“It was difficult but also rewarding,” said Ohtani after featuring regularly in both his roles this season. “I was playing trying to meet the trust and expectations.
“The fact that they (journalists) voted me first place made me happy, and fired me up even more to give my best again next year.
“I’ll be in a definitive period in the next five to seven years as I reach the peak of my career.”