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 USA 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 one-third innings. It was the first full season on the mound for the 27-year-old right-hander since Tommy John surgery in 2019.
He averaged 95.6mph with his fastball, 28th in the major leagues among qualified pitchers, and had a 93.6mph 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.”
Harper received 17 of 30 first-place votes and 348 points from a separate panel. Washington outfielder Juan Soto was second with six firsts and 274 points, and San Diego shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr was third with two firsts and 244 points.
Harper overcame getting hit on the left cheek with a 96.9mph pitch from Génesis Cabrera of the St Louis Cardinals on 28 April, a ball that ricocheted off Harper’s left wrist. Tears came to his eyes when he learned he had won, and he talked about what he had overcome.
“I was, ‘Oh, I’m great. I’m fine.’ I’m pressing my face, `I’m good and I’m OK to get back,′ not knowing that maybe it was a little bit too soon for myself,” Harper said.
He hit .211 with three RBIs in May, then went on the injured list between 22 May and 5 June.
“I had to take a break and understand that my wrist was still hurt, my face and my mental state probably wasn’t the greatest,” Harper said.
He finished with a .309 average and 35 homers for Philadelphia. The 29-year-old slugger led the majors with a .465 slugging percentage and 1.044 OPS, tied for the lead with 42 doubles and had 84 RBIs.
Harper was a unanimous MVP winner with Washington in 2015 and became the fifth player to win MVPs for different teams after Jimmie Foxx, Frank Robinson, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.
“This one just felt a little bit different,” Harper said. “I think being a little bit older, a little bit more mature, being able to have the teammates I do, have the family now that I do with my kids.”
Harper earned a $500,000 bonus for winning MVP in his third season of a $330m, 13-year contract.
He thanked his personal chef, Dan.
“Knowing I wasn’t going to have an empty stomach any night,” Harper said. “Having family dinner each night is big for us. So after a game, no matter if I’m 0 for 4 or 4 for 4, no matter if we lost or if we won, and everybody’s happy, everybody’s sad, I was getting home and we were going to have dinner together each night. And being able to sit down with your family and have dinner kind of puts things in perspective.”
Soto, a first-time All-Star at age 23, hit .313 with 29 homers and 95 RBIs. He led the majors with 145 walks and a .465 on-base percentage.
Tatis, 22, led the NL with 42 home runs, hitting .282 with 97 RBIs.
Toronto first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr was second in the AL vote with 29 seconds and 269 points, and Blue Jays second baseman Marcus Semien was third with 232 points. Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez got the other second-place vote.
Guerrero, 22, tied for the major league lead with 48 homers, batting .311 with 111 RBIs. His father, Vladimir, won the 2004 AL MVP award with the Anaheim Angels.
Semien batted .265 with 42 homers and 102 RBIs. The 31-year-old is among the top free agents this offseason.
This marked the first time since the Chicago Cubs’ Andre Dawson and Toronto’s George Bell in 1987 that neither MVP’s team made the playoffs.