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OUTSTANDING OHTANI. Shohei Ohtani (#17), starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels, throws during a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Anaheim, California, in this June 21, 2023 file photo. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)

Shohei Ohtani, left, of the Los Angeles Dodgers, jokes with his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, before an NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints in Inglewood, California, on December 21, 2023. Ohtani has been named The AP Male Athlete of the Year for second time in three years. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

From The Asian Reporter, V34, #01 (January 1, 2024), page 14.

Shohei Ohtani is The AP Male Athlete of the Year for second time

By Greg Beacham

The Associated Press

ANAHEIM, Calif. ó Before Shohei Ohtani stepped into the bright lights of Hollywood and signed the most lucrative contract in professional sports history, baseballís two-way superstar put together yet another season of unparalleled brilliance from Tokyo to Anaheim.

What can this singular talent possibly do next? The Los Angeles Dodgers are eagerly paying $700 million to see for themselves.

But what Ohtani already did in 2023 ó both for the Los Angeles Angels and for Japanís team in the World Baseball Classic ó is the reason he was selected as The Associated Pressí Male Athlete of the Year for the second time in three years.

"Shohei is arguably the most talented player whoís ever played this game," said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgersí president of baseball operations, after signing Ohtani to a 10-year contract last month.

Ohtani edged Inter Miami superstar Lionel Messi and tennis great Novak Djokovic for The AP honor in voting by a panel of sports media professionals.

Ohtani received 20 of 87 votes, while Messi and Djokovic got 16 apiece. Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggetsí NBA Finals MVP, received 12 votes.

After winning his first AP Male Athlete of the Year award in 2021, Ohtani has joined an impressive list of two-time winners of the honor, which was first handed out in 1931.

Multiple-time winners include Don Budge, Byron Nelson, Carl Lewis, Joe Montana, Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, and four-time honorees Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong. Four-time winner LeBron James is another generational superstar who chose Los Angeles as a free agent, while two-time honoree Sandy Koufax remains one of the greatest players to wear Dodger Blue.

Ohtani has upended decades of conventional wisdom during his six years in the majors, even surpassing most achievements of Babe Ruth while playing in an infinitely more difficult era. Most new frontiers in sports are crossed incrementally and gradually, but Ohtani has toppled barriers that stood for a century with peerless skills, confidence, and hard work.

Ohtani unanimously won the AL MVP award in 2021, and he repeated the feat in 2023 after finishing second in 2022 to Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, last yearís AP Male Athlete of the Year.

This year began with Ohtaniís dazzling MVP performance for Japanís championship team in the World Baseball Classic ó complete with a clinching strikeout of Angels teammate Mike Trout. He then turned in his third consecutive spectacular season both on the mound and at the plate in Anaheim despite an early end after he injured his pitching elbow in August.

Ohtani led the AL with 44 homers, 78 extra-base hits, 325 total bases, and 1.066 On-base Plus Slugging (OPS) as the Halosí designated hitter. He also held hitters to 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 Earned Run Average (ERA) at the time of his injury.

"Thereís nobody like him, and thereís nothing that you would say he canít do," former Angels manager Phil Nevin said late in the season. "Anything is possible with Sho. I donít know who else you could say that about in baseball history."

Ohtani left Japan in late 2017 to pursue his dreams at his sportís highest level, and his exploits are followed in microscopic detail by his fans in his homeland. When he got his first chance to play for Japan in the World Baseball Classic last spring, Ohtani seized the moment with both hands.

Ohtani was outstanding in Japanís games in Tokyo and Miami, batting .435 with four doubles and a homer despite getting walked 10 times. He also pitched 9 2/3 innings, racking up 11 strikeouts with a 1.86 ERA.

The championship game ended in storybook fashion with Ohtani striking out Trout, the three-time AL MVP and Ohtaniís longtime Angels teammate, for the final out in Japanís victory over the U.S.

Ohtani then turned in another outstanding, unique season with the Angels before he hurt his elbow and eventually had a second surgery that will almost certainly prevent him from pitching in 2024, just as he missed nearly all of 2019 and 2020 as a pitcher. His injury history did nothing to suppress his free-agent value, partly because Ohtani can remain one of the majorsí best hitters while he waits to see if his pitching elbow will heal again.

"One of the many things weíve come to appreciate over the years about Shohei is watching him never take a pitch off, no matter the score of the game," Friedman said. "Iíve seen him in games where his team is up big or down big, grinding each pitch late in an at-bat ó hustling, doing everything he can to leg out an infield hit late in a game."

While Ohtani has redefined whatís possible in modern baseball, he accomplished another unprecedented feat by signing his record-setting contract. The deep-pocketed Dodgers eagerly invested in the 29-year-old Ohtaniís next decade while knowing his worldwide fame generates revenue no other baseball player can touch.

"Iím still in the pinch-me phase, to be honest," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "Canít believe weíre going to have the opportunity to have him wear a Dodger uniform. One of the most talented players ever to put on a baseball uniform is now a Dodger."

Ohtani did nearly everything except win with the Angels, who havenít had a winning season since 2015. When he hit free agency this winter, he eventually chose the nearby club that has had only two losing seasons in the 21st century, none since 2010.

The Dodgers won the aggressive competition for Ohtaniís services by offering that gargantuan ó and structurally creative ó contract, but also a supportive environment on the west coast, supremely talented teammates, and the resources to get more ó along with a winning culture around a team that has made 11 consecutive playoff appearances.

"I canít wait to join the Dodgers," Ohtani said through his translator, Ippei Mizuhara. "They share the same passion as me. They have a vision and history all about winning. I share the same values."

* * *

Shohei Ohtani reveals dogís name at Dodgersí introduction: Decoy

By Beth Harris

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES ó Nearly all the mystery around Shohei Ohtaniís unprecedented free agency was revealed last month, yet baseball fans kept sniffing around on a most fuzzy question.

Just who was the pup sitting on Ohtaniís lap when he was voted AL MVP for the second time?

Fans speculated the dogís name could have been a hint at his intentions ó What if the pooch was named Dodger? Or Giant? Or Blue Jay?

All a Decoy, turns out.

Introduced by the Los Angeles Dodgers after agreeing to a $700-million, 10-year deal, Ohtani revealed that the brown and white dog who joined him on television is named Dekopin or Decopin in Japanese, depending on the transliteration ó but he suggests Americans call him Decoy.

"I figured it would be hard for American people to pronounce it, so he has an American name," Ohtani said via translator Ippei Mizuhara.

Ohtani didnít speak to reporters after winning his MVP award, and the dogís name never surfaced while Ohtani stayed silent amid highly secretive free agent talks. He was asked about the dog twice during the news conference.

By the time Ohtani announced that heíd picked the Dodgers, even his new teammates were eager to learn more about his furry friend.

"Iíd like to think it was named Walker, but I guess Iíll find out soon," pitcher Walker Buehler had tweeted.

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