One of a kind: Ohtani wins AP Male Athlete of Year award

Dec 28, 2021, 11:11 AM | Updated: Dec 29, 2021, 3:40 am
FILE - Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani is greeted in the dugout after he hit a solo home run duri...

FILE - Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani is greeted in the dugout after he hit a solo home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Seattle. Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels’ two-way superstar, is the winner of The Associated Press’ Male Athlete of the Year award. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Most of the time in professional sports, it’s easy to think it’s all been done before.

With so many finetuned athletes constantly pushing each other to the peak of human potential, we can experience unprecedented demonstrations of sporting brilliance every week of our lives. But it’s truly rare to witness anything that isn’t fundamentally just a better, more prolific version of something we’ve already seen.

That’s why Shohei Ohtani’s astonishing redefinition of modern baseball captured the world’s attention so vividly in 2021 — and that’s why the Los Angeles Angels’ two-way superstar is the winner of The Associated Press’ Male Athlete of the Year award.

The unanimous American League MVP put together a season with no analogue in the past century of his sport. Almost no one had been an everyday two-way player for many decades — and nobody has been both one of baseball’s top power hitters and one of its best starting pitchers since Babe Ruth starred at the plate and on the mound for the Boston Red Sox in 1919.

“He’s doing something we haven’t seen in our lifetimes, but he’s also doing it at the very highest level of hitting and pitching,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said late in the regular season. “He’s doing more than other players, but he’s also doing it better than almost everybody else on that field, and those are the greatest players in the game, his contemporaries. He’s playing their game, but he’s also playing a different game.”

Ohtani hit 46 homers and drove in 100 runs with a .965 OPS while playing in 126 games as the AL’s best designated hitter, as evidenced by his Silver Slugger award. He finished third in the majors in homers after leading the sport for much of the season.

Ohtani also started 23 games on the mound, going 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts over 130 1/3 innings as the Angels’ ace and one of the AL’s top right-handers. He has a 100-mph fastball, but his splitter might be the best pitch in baseball, with movement that resembles a ball rolling off the edge of a table.

The 6-foot-4 star also was among the fastest baserunners in the majors while stealing 26 bases and scoring 103 runs. He even led the league with eight triples — and he also played a little outfield when asked.

Any one of these achievements would be impressive for a 27-year-old hitting his prime in his fourth season since moving from Japan to the major leagues.

Doing it all at the same time is something that almost nobody who’s currently alive had ever seen.

Ohtani kept baseball’s historians and statheads metaphorically buried up to their eyes in dusty record books all summer as they dug into the early 20th century annals to identify the last players to accomplish the statistical superlatives Ohtani was currently blazing past.

Mike Trout, Ohtani’s three-time AL MVP teammate, called Ohtani’s season “nothing short of electric.”

“At times, I felt like I was back in Little League,” Trout added. “To watch a player throw eight innings, hit a home run, steal a base and then go play right field was incredible.”

Fans across the world agreed: Despite his soft-spoken personality and single-minded focus on his sport, Ohtani has become an icon wherever baseball is played and a known figure even beyond the game’s traditional borders.

“I’ve never seen fans get to ballparks so early and stay to the end,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said in July. “That’s what he’s bringing to the equation. I love it. Seems like every pitch when he’s at the plate, you can hear the oohs and aahs. I think it’s great for baseball.”

Ohtani’s success not only commanded fans’ attention on both sides of the Pacific, but also reignited a debate long considered finished about the merits of sports specialization in a country where young athletes are often encouraged to stop competing in multiple disciplines even before they reach their teens. Nobody currently has Ohtani’s overall talents, but big-league teams are increasingly open to the possibility of two-way contributors across their organizations.

Ohtani lives a quiet life in both Anaheim and Japan, but he is unfailingly gracious when lauded for his unique achievements. Sometimes he seems just as surprised by his multifaceted success as the rest of the world, while at other times he expresses the quiet confidence necessary to do such a thing in the first place.

“I’m a student of the game, so I do feel like I need to grow every year, and I think I’ve been able to do that,” Ohtani said through his interpreter and constant companion, Ippei Mizuhara.

Ohtani’s achievements are even more impressive because they’ve happened with the Angels, arguably the majors’ most disappointing franchise of the last half-decade despite their hefty payroll and elite talent in sunny Southern California.

With Trout missing nearly the entire season due to injury, Los Angeles won only 77 games despite Ohtani’s Herculean efforts, missing the playoffs for the seventh straight year and posting their sixth straight losing record. Ohtani accomplished his feats at the plate with an often terrible lineup protecting him in the batting order.

Better times seem possible for the revamped Angels in 2022, and Ohtani says his biggest goal is winning in his next two years with the club. No matter what his future holds, Ohtani will always be remembered for a 2021 season that blew the sports world’s collective mind.

“Just a fabulous, fabulous year,” Maddon said. “There’s only one person that can duplicate it. That would be him.”


More AP sports: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


The Lost Mural hangs in the entryway of Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, in Burlington, Vt., July 29, 2022. T...
Associated Press

Long-hidden synagogue mural gets rehabbed, relocated

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A mural that was painted in a Vermont synagogue more than 100 years ago by a Lithuanian immigrant — and hidden behind a wall for years– has been termed a rare piece of art and has been painstakingly moved and restored. The large colorful triptych painted by sign painter Ben Zion […]
23 hours ago
FILE - In this photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, a missile is fired during a joint tr...
Associated Press

US, South Korea to begin expanded military drills next week

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The United States and South Korea will begin their biggest combined military training in years next week in the face of an increasingly aggressive North Korea, which has been ramping up weapons tests and threats of nuclear conflict against Seoul and Washington, the South’s military said Tuesday. The allies’ summertime […]
23 hours ago
Wilbur Slockish Jr., a river chief of the Klickitat Band of the Yakama Nation, looks at petroglyphs...
Associated Press

River chief imprisoned for fishing fights for sacred rights

THE DALLES, Oregon (AP) — Wilbur Slockish Jr. has been shot at, had rocks hurled at him. He hid underground for months, and then spent 20 months serving time in federal prisons across the country — all of that for fishing in the Columbia River. But Slockish, a traditional river chief of the Klickitat Band […]
23 hours ago
FILE - Visitors view the dramatic bend in the Colorado River at the popular Horseshoe Bend in Glen ...
Associated Press

Colorado River cuts expected for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The federal government on Tuesday is expected to announce water cuts to states that rely on the Colorado River as drought and climate change leave less water flowing through the river and deplete the reservoirs that store it. The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people across seven states […]
23 hours ago
Water rushes through Lyle Falls in the Klickitat River, a tributary that runs into the Columbia Riv...
Associated Press

Columbia River’s salmon are at the core of ancient religion

ALONG THE COLUMBIA RIVER (AP) — James Kiona stands on a rocky ledge overlooking Lyle Falls where the water froths and rushes through steep canyon walls just before merging with the Columbia River. His silvery ponytail flutters in the wind, and a string of eagle claws adorns his neck. Kiona has fished for Chinook salmon […]
23 hours ago
FILE - In this June 7, 2021 file photo, The Federal Hall statue of George Washington overlooks the ...
Associated Press

Companies facing first tax on stock buybacks in Biden bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats have pulled off a quiet first in their just-passed legislation addressing climate change and health care: the creation of a tax on stock buybacks, a cherished tool of Corporate America that had long seemed untouchable. Under the bill President Joe Biden is scheduled to sign into law Tuesday, companies will face […]
23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
One of a kind: Ohtani wins AP Male Athlete of Year award