The coronation is complete.
It started early in the season, when Shohei Ohtani began doing things baseball hadn’t seen in 100 years. It picked up steam at the All-Star break, when the enormity of the two-way star’s unprecedented skill set was on full display. And even as the Angels faded down the stretch, the hype around Ohtani never seemed to run out of steam.
Already this offseason, he had been named a Silver Slugger, the MLB Players Choice Outstanding Player, Baseball America’s player of the year and the 16th all-time recipient of the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award.
On Thursday, he claimed his biggest honor yet, his historic campaign culminating with the announcement that he had been named the American League’s Most Valuable Player in an unanimous vote.
“I’m extremely happy,” Ohtani said through his interpreter on MLB Network’s award show telecast. “It’s something I was shooting for, obviously. I think any player is as long as they’re playing baseball professionally.”
Ohtani garnered all 30 first-place selections, finishing far-and-away ahead of fellow finalists Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marcus Semien, both infielders for the Toronto Blue Jays. Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies won the National League MVP Award over Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals and Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres.
Ohtani became the fourth Angels player to win the award, joining Don Baylor (1979), Vladimir Guerrero Sr. (2004) and Mike Trout (2014, 2016, 2019); the second Japanese-born recipient, after Ichiro Suzuki in 2001; and the 19th unanimous selection, a feat last accomplished by Trout in 2014.
No past winner, however, had a season quite like his. In the entirety of the sport’s history, Ohtani’s 2021 was seemingly unmatched.
After three injury-plagued seasons to begin his MLB career, Ohtani finally mastered his two-way role. He hit 46 home runs and drove in 100 runs as a hitter, finishing the season with a .257 batting average, .965 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 26 stolen bases. He went 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA as a pitcher, collecting 156 strikeouts in 130⅓ innings.
He was the major league leader in several analytical rankings, including both Fangraphs’ and Baseball Reference’s versions of combined wins above replacement. He also shattered a series of historical milestones, including becoming the first player to be elected to an All-Star game as both a hitter and pitcher.
Guerrero Jr. and Semien made strong cases of their own. Guerrero Jr. led the AL in home runs (48, tied with Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals), slugging percentage and the all-encompassing advanced OPS+ metric. Semien had one of the best seasons in history for a second baseman, belting 45 home runs with 102 RBIs and also winning a Gold Glove.
But in the end, it was Ohtani’s performance that not only made the biggest waves around the sport but also wowed voters the most over 158 total appearances.
A few of his most notable highlights along the way:
In April, during his first career major league game playing as both a hitter and a pitcher, he hit a home run at the plate and flashed nine 100 mph fastballs during a 4⅔-inning start. In July, he hit perhaps his most impressive home run of the season, a 463-foot blast in Seattle that landed in the third deck of T-Mobile Park.
During All-Star week, he participated in the Home Run Derby, then was the AL’s starting pitcher and designated hitter a day later.
And in perhaps his best overall game of the season in August, he pitched eight innings and crushed his 40th home run against the Detroit Tigers.
Heading into next season, there will be plenty of questions surrounding Ohtani’s future — about whether or not he can repeat such stellar two-way production again, and also regarding his looming free agency following the 2023 season.
For all he accomplished, after all, he acknowledged frustration with the fact it wasn’t enough to help the Angels compete for a playoff spot. Near the end of the season, he made comments that seemingly left his desire to stay with the club long-term unclear (though his agent maintained that he is “extremely happy” with his current situation in Anaheim).
Thursday’s announcement, though, wasn’t about any of that.
The award might have been anticipated, but it still cemented the significance of his season. Over the course of one historic year, Ohtani accomplished feats no one in baseball had seen before. And now, it will forever carry the distinction of not only an MVP-caliber campaign, but one recognized unanimously as well.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports