Two years in a row, Shohei Ohtani has been given the AP Award as the Top Male Athlete

Shohei Ohtani getting an AP Award

ANAHEIM, California – Before signing the most costly deal in American professional sports history, Shohei Ohtani put together another season of unprecedented excellence from Tokyo to Anaheim.

What will this rare genius accomplish next? The Los Angeles Dodgers are willing to pay $700 million to find out for themselves.

But it was his performance in 2023, both for the Los Angeles Angels and for Japan in the World Baseball Classic, that earned him the Associated Press’ Male Athlete of the Year award for the second time in three years.

“Shohei is arguably the most talented player who’s ever played this game,” said Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers, after signing Ohtani to a 10-year deal last week.

In voting by a group of sports media experts, Ohtani beat off Inter Miami superstar Lionel Messi and tennis great Novak Djokovic for the AP award.

Ohtani garnered 20 votes out of 87, while Messi and Djokovic both received 16. Nikola Jokic, the NBA Finals MVP for the Denver Nuggets, received 12 votes.

Ohtani, who won his first AP Male Athlete of the Year title in 2021, joins an outstanding history of two-time winners of the award, which was originally given out in 1931.

Don Budge, Byron Nelson, Carl Lewis, Joe Montana, Michael Jordan, and Michael Phelps have all won several times, as have Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong. Another generational talent who picked Los Angeles as a free agent is four-time winner LeBron James, while two-time honoree Sandy Koufax remains one of the finest players to wear Dodger Blue.

During his six years in the majors, Ohtani has defied decades of conventional thinking, even surpassing most of Babe Ruth’s accomplishments while playing in an immensely more challenging period. Most sports boundaries are crossed slowly and gradually, but Ohtani has demolished centuries-old barriers with matchless abilities, confidence, and hard effort.

He won the American League MVP title unanimously in 2021, and he repeated the feat in 2023 after placing second behind New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, last year’s AP Male Athlete of the Year, in 2022.

This year began with Ohtani’s stunning MVP performance for Japan’s championship squad in the World Baseball Classic, which included a game-winning strikeout of Angels teammate Mike Trout. He subsequently had his third consecutive great season in Anaheim, both on the mound and at the plate, despite an early finish due to a pitching elbow injury in August.

As the Los Angeles Angels’ designated hitter, Ohtani led the AL with 44 home runs, 78 extra-base hits, 325 total bases, and a 1.066 OPS. At the time of his injury, he had an AL-best.184 batting average while ranking second in the league with 11.39 strikeouts per nine innings and third with a 3.14 ERA.

“There’s nobody like him, and there’s nothing he can’t do,” remarked former Angels manager Phil Nevin late in the season. “With Sho, anything is possible.” I’m not sure who else in baseball history you could say that about.”

Ohtani departed Japan in late 2017 to chase his aspirations at the top level of his sport, and his performances are closely watched by fans in his native country. When he was given his first opportunity to play for Japan in the World Baseball Classic last spring, Ohtani grasped it with both hands.

Despite being walked 10 times, he batted.435 with four doubles and a home run in Japan’s games in Tokyo and Miami. He also threw 923 innings with 11 strikeouts and a 1.86 ERA.

Ohtani struck out Trout, the three-time AL MVP and Ohtani’s longtime Angels teammate, for the final out in Japan’s championship game triumph over the United States.

Ohtani, 29, then enjoyed another great, one-of-a-kind season with the Angels before injuring his elbow and requiring a second surgery that will keep him from pitching in 2024, just as he missed practically all of 2019 and 2020 as a pitcher.

His injury history has little effect on his free agent value, in part because Ohtani can continue to be one of the best hitters in the majors while waiting to see if his pitching elbow would recover again.

“One of the many things we’ve come to appreciate over the years about Shohei is watching him never take a pitch off, no matter the score of the game,” Friedman went on to say. “I’ve seen him in games where his team is up big or down big, grinding each pitch late in an at-bat, hustling, doing everything he can to leg out an infield hit late in a game.”

While Ohtani has rewritten the rules of modern baseball, he also accomplished an unprecedented achievement by signing his record-breaking deal. The Dodgers’ huge pockets gladly invested in Ohtani’s next decade, knowing that his international renown produces cash that no other baseball player can match.

“I’m still in the pinch-me phase, to be honest,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts admitted. “I can’t believe we’ll have the opportunity to see him in a Dodger uniform.” “One of the most talented players in baseball history is now a Dodger.”

Ohtani accomplished practically everything with the Angels, who haven’t won a game since 2015. He finally picked the local club that has had only two losing seasons in the twenty-first century, none since 2010.

The Dodgers won the aggressive competition for Ohtani’s services not only by offering that massive – and structurally creative – contract, but also by having a supportive West Coast environment, supremely talented teammates and the resources to acquire more, and a winning culture centered on a team that has made 11 consecutive playoff appearances.

“I can’t wait to join the Dodgers,” Ohtani told Ippei Mizuhara, his interpreter. “They are inspired by the same things I am. They have a winning vision and a winning past. I share your ideals.”

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