NEW YORK (AP) — 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 U.S.A. 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 1/3 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 95.6 mph with his fastball, 28th in the major leagues among qualified pitchers, and had a 93.6 mph 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.”
Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Miami.The Phillies won 5-0. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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 96.9 mph pitch from Génesis Cabrera of the St. Louis Cardinals on April 28, 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 May 22 and June 5.
“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 $330 million, 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.
The ceremonial first pitch is a baseball tradition that marks the beginning of the game. The first president to throw out the ceremonial first pitch was then-Governor William McKinley in 1892. The presidential first pitch on opening day was started by President William Howard Taft in 1910 at the Washington Senators’ opening day. But the first pitch looked different back then — it was thrown from the grandstands and not from the pitcher's mound. The first president to throw from the pitcher’s mound was Ronald Reagan at the Wrigley Field in 1988.
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The tradition of the seventh inning stretch is one most baseball fans look forward to every game. The seventh inning stretch is the traditional extended break in between the top and bottom half of the seventh inning. The history of the seventh inning stretch is questionable. Some historians credit President Taft, who notably stood up to stretch his legs in the middle of the seventh inning in 1910.
The use of the letter “K” as a reference to a strikeout in baseball started with sportswriter Henry Chadwick, who published rule books and annual guides and created statistics such as batting average and ERA. Chadwick used either the first or last letter of key words in his scoring scheme, using K to represent “struck out” because it’s the last letter in “struck.” Today, fans hang “K” signs after opposing teams strike out.
An event that has evolved from the tradition of the seventh inning stretch is the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The song was written by Jack Norworth while riding a New York City train in 1908. The song gained popularity when White Sox announcer Harry Caray started singing it during the seventh inning stretch instead of the solo organist performance.
Bleacher creatures are New York Yankee fans who occupied sections 37 and 39 in the old Yankees Stadium and section 203 of the right-right bleachers in the new Yankees Stadium. The bleacher creatures have a tradition to yell the starting lineup during the top of the first inning while the Yankee players are on the field. The tradition started in 1998 when the bleacher creatures would announce the Yankees starting outfielders. When “Megaphone John” started orchestrating the roll call, he included the infielders by using his foghorn voice.
The first known rally cap was seen during the 1945 World Series when the Detroit Tigers flipped their hats inside out hoping for a rally against the Chicago Cubs. The Tigers magically started a comeback and ended up winning the World Series. About 40 years later, during the 1985 season, the New York Mets players donned rally caps and the fans started to copy the players. That’s when the baseball trend took off.
The caramel-coated popcorn-and-peanut snack known as Cracker Jack has been served at baseball games since 1896, according to historian Tim Wiles. The snack wasn’t served at an MLB game until 1907, one year before Norworth included the snack in the lyrics of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
Sportswriter Henry Chadwick, the creator of baseball statistics and scorekeeping, designed the first scorecard grid. Chadwick’s original scorecard was nine batters deep and nine innings wide. Chadwick used codes to indicate what the batter did and which fielder handled the ball. Most of Chadwick’s scoring codes, such as the “K,” are still used today. Keeping score has become a tradition for baseball fans to follow and be a part of the game.
The sausage race at the Milwaukee Brewers game started as a virtual race on the scoreboard at County Stadium. When the Brewers moved to Miller Park, the virtual race was thrown out in favor of actual sausage costumes. The sausage race now consists of five sausages (brat, chorizo, hot dog, Italian sausage and Polish sausage) running from the left field foul pole to home plate. The Italian sausage is the all-time winner through September of 2020.
The first documented American sporting event to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” was a baseball game in 1862 during the Civil War and before the song was labeled the national anthem. The tradition of playing it before games gained popularity during World War II.
The tradition of fans throwing back home runs hit by visiting players started with Chicago Cubs fans. Any Cubs fan who caught an opposing teams’ home run knew to throw it back onto the field. The tradition dates back to 1969 when a fan in the bleachers caught a ball hit by Hank Aaron and chucked it back onto the field because of a rejection of trying to return a ball to Aaron a year earlier. It didn’t help that it was a crummy year for the Cubs.
The tradition at Fenway Park is to play Neil Diamond’s recording of “Sweet Caroline” prior to the bottom of the eighth inning during every home game. The tradition began during a 1997 game when a Fenway employee in charge of ballpark music played the Neil Diamond hit because she knew someone who recently had a baby named Caroline. The song found a permanent home in the bottom of the eighth inning when Charles Steinberg became the Red Sox executive vice president and suggested it become tradition.
Teams often switch between home and away every opening day, but not the Cincinnati Reds. MLB opening day is always in Cincinnati. It’s not an official baseball rule, though it is a tradition. The Cincinnati Reds have started every season in Cincinnati since 1876, and it’s because of the weather. According to Reds historians, Cincinnati is always the opening city because it is a southern city.
The rally monkey is a tradition started by the Los Angeles Angels in 2000. In a game against the San Francisco Giants, the video board operators played a clip of a monkey jumping up and down along with a clip from Jim Carrey’s “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” In the ninth inning, the operators played the clip again with the words “rally monkey” above it. The Angels completed a comeback and the rally monkey remained a fixture.
The section of the San Francisco Bay beyond the right field wall of Oracle Park is known as McCovey Cove after Giants first baseman Willie McCovey, who routinely hit home runs into the water. Fans started to line their boats and kayaks waiting for the next home run to splash into the water. Even though the body of water was named after McCovey, the area was made popular by Giantsâ€™ legend and home run king Barry Bonds, who hit 35 baseballs into McCovey Cove.
Similar to the Brewers’ sausage race, the Washington Nationals designed their own version of the race. Instead of sausages, the Nationals race four presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. The race became a team tradition on July 21, 2006, in the middle of the fourth inning. If the game goes into the 13th inning, the presidents get suited up and race again. Teddy Roosevelt is the all-time champion with 35 wins.
The original W flag affiliated with the Chicago Cubs didn’t mean “win” until 1938. Before that season, the W referred to Wilmington Transportation Co., a company purchased by William Wrigley Jr. The Cubs continue to fly the W flag when the Cubs win a game to let passengers on the “L” train know if the Cubs won or lost that day.
The New York Mets added the home run apple to Shea Stadium in 1980. New team owners were looking for ways to attract fans back to the stadium after a long stretch of losing seasons. The Mets encased the home run apple in an oversized top hat in center field, and the apple would appear from the hat after a Mets player hit a homerun. The apple became a staple in Mets tradition. When the team moved into Citi Field, the apple found a new home but the tradition continued.
Train tracks were installed 90 feet above the field at Minute Maid Park in 2000. A 15-foot-high and 56-foot-long replica of an 1862 steam locomotive makes a 40-second trip back and forth on its track every time an Astros player hits a home run. Every time an Astros score a run, the train sounds its bells and whistles.
The seventh-inning stretch at Rogers Centre in Toronto doesn’t play the typical “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The Blue Jays have a signature song called “OK, Blue Jays” that plays during the seventh inning stretch. The song was first released in 1983 by Canadians Jack Lenz and Tony Kosinec.
The St. Louis Cardinals named left-field section 272 “Big Mac Land” as a tribute to former first baseman Mark McGwire. Whenever a home run is hit in that section, everyone at the game is entitled to redeem their ticket for a free Big Mac at all participating McDonald’s.
When baseball fans think of Chicago’s Wrigley Field, they often think of the ivy on the outfield wall. Cubs president William Veeck planted the ivy against the brick outfield wall in 1937. The ivy has made an appearance in Wrigley Field every season since, and even has its own rule. If a ball is stuck in the ivy, it is an automatic ground-rule double.
Ted S. Warren
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. On Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, Ohtani was unanimiously voted American League MVP for a two-way season not seen since Babe Ruth. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)