ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Earlier than Shohei Ohtani stepped into the intense lights of Hollywood and signed essentially the most profitable contract in skilled sports activities historical past, baseball’s two-way famous person put collectively yet one more season of unparalleled brilliance from Tokyo to Anaheim.
What can this singular expertise probably do subsequent? The Los Angeles Dodgers are eagerly paying $700 million to see for themselves.
However what Ohtani already did in 2023 — each for the Los Angeles Angels and for Japan’s group within the World Baseball Basic — is the rationale he was chosen as The Related Press’ Male Athlete of the Yr for the second time in three years.
“Shohei is arguably essentially the most proficient participant who’s ever performed this recreation,” stated Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, after signing Ohtani to a 10-year contract final week.
Ohtani edged Inter Miami famous person Lionel Messi and tennis nice Novak Djokovic for the AP honor in voting by a panel of sports activities media professionals.
Ohtani acquired 20 of 87 votes, whereas Messi and Djokovic obtained 16 apiece. Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets’ NBA Finals MVP, obtained 12 votes.
After profitable his first AP Male Athlete of the Yr award in 2021, Ohtani has joined a formidable checklist of two-time winners of the honour, which was first handed out in 1931.
A number of-time winners embrace Don Budge, Byron Nelson, Carl Lewis, Joe Montana, Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps and four-time honorees Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong. 4-time winner LeBron James is one other generational famous person who selected Los Angeles as a free agent, whereas two-time honoree Sandy Koufax stays one of many best gamers to put on Dodger Blue.
Ohtani has upended many years of standard knowledge throughout his six years within the majors, even surpassing most achievements of Babe Ruth whereas enjoying in an infinitely tougher period. Most new frontiers in sports activities are crossed incrementally and regularly, however Ohtani has toppled boundaries that stood for a century with peerless expertise, confidence and laborious work.
Ohtani unanimously gained the AL MVP award in 2021, and he repeated the feat in 2023 after ending second in 2022 to Yankees slugger Aaron Choose, final yr’s AP Male Athlete of the Yr.
This yr started with Ohtani’s dazzling MVP efficiency for Japan’s championship group within the World Baseball Basic — full with a clinching strikeout of Angels teammate Mike Trout. He then turned in his third consecutive spectacular season each on the mound and on the plate in Anaheim regardless of an early finish after he injured his pitching elbow in August.
Ohtani led the AL with 44 homers, 78 extra-base hits, 325 whole bases and a 1.066 OPS because the Halos’ designated hitter. He additionally held hitters to an AL-best .184 batting common whereas rating second within the league with 11.39 strikeouts per 9 innings and third with a 3.14 ERA on the time of his harm.
“There’s no one like him, and there’s nothing that you’d say he can’t do,” former Angels supervisor Phil Nevin stated late within the season. “Something is feasible with Sho. I don’t know who else you possibly can say that about in baseball historical past.”
Ohtani left Japan in late 2017 to pursue his desires at his sport’s highest degree, and his exploits are adopted in microscopic element by his followers in his homeland. When he obtained his first likelihood to play for Japan within the World Baseball Basic final spring, Ohtani seized the second with each arms.
Ohtani was excellent in Japan’s video games in Tokyo and Miami, batting .435 with 4 doubles and a homer regardless of getting walked 10 occasions. He additionally pitched 9 2/3 innings, racking up 11 strikeouts with a 1.86 ERA.
The championship recreation resulted in storybook vogue with Ohtani putting out Trout, the three-time AL MVP and Ohtani’s longtime Angels teammate, for the ultimate out in Japan’s victory over the U.S.
Ohtani then turned in one other excellent, distinctive season with the Angels earlier than he harm his elbow and finally had a second surgical procedure that may nearly actually stop him from pitching in 2024, simply as he missed practically all of 2019 and 2020 as a pitcher.
His harm historical past did nothing to suppress his free-agent worth, partly as a result of Ohtani can stay one of many majors’ finest hitters whereas he waits to see if his pitching elbow will heal once more.
“One of many many issues we’ve come to understand over time about Shohei is watching him by no means take a pitch off, irrespective of the rating of the sport,” Friedman stated. “I’ve seen him in video games the place his group is up huge or down huge, grinding every pitch late in an at-bat — hustling, doing the whole lot he can to leg out an infield hit late in a recreation.”
Whereas Ohtani has redefined what’s doable in trendy baseball, he completed one other unprecedented feat by signing his record-setting contract. The deep-pocketed Dodgers eagerly invested within the 29-year-old Ohtani’s subsequent decade whereas figuring out his worldwide fame generates income no different baseball participant can contact.
“I’m nonetheless within the pinch-me section, to be sincere,” Dodgers supervisor Dave Roberts stated. “Can’t imagine we’re going to have the chance to have him put on a Dodger uniform. One of the vital proficient gamers ever to placed on a baseball uniform is now a Dodger.”
Ohtani did practically the whole lot besides win with the Angels, who haven’t had a profitable season since 2015. When he hit free company this winter, he finally selected the close by membership that has had solely two shedding seasons within the twenty first century, none since 2010.
The Dodgers gained the aggressive competitors for Ohtani’s companies by providing that gargantuan — and structurally artistic — contract, but in addition a supportive setting on the West Coast, supremely proficient teammates and the sources to get extra — together with a profitable tradition round a group that has made 11 consecutive playoff appearances.
“I can’t wait to affix the Dodgers,” Ohtani stated by way of his translator, Ippei Mizuhara. “They share the identical ardour as me. They’ve a imaginative and prescient and historical past all about profitable. I share the identical values.”
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