Shohei Ohtani wins Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award

We still have a couple of weeks until we know if Shohei Ohtani won the American League Most Valuable Player award from the American Baseball Writers Association. But the 2021 season of the Japanese phenomenon was so extraordinary, sensational and unique that Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has formally acknowledged its historical significance.

On Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park, before Game 1 of the World Series, Manfred presented Ohtani with the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award. Former Commissioner Bud Selig created such an honor in 1998, but this is the first time that Manfred has selected the winner since taking over from Selig in 2015.

The award is given to recognize those who, either through a particular feat in a particular year, or through lifetime achievement, make a greater impact on the game of baseball. And by becoming, among many other things, the first player to attend the All-Star Game in two distinct roles – starting in the AL lineup as a pitcher and designated hitter – Ohtani certainly did just that.

“Over the next several years, I know there will be many awards and recognitions for you,” Manfred told Ohtani during a press conference to announce the award. “But I felt that 2021 was so special that it was important to recognize this historic achievement of 2021 with an award focused on 2021.”

Ohtani is the 16th winner of the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award, which was designed by Tiffany & Co. and has a silver base with a gold ball mounted on top.

“This award is not given every year, so I know how special it is,” Ohtani commented. “I’m not really sure I deserve it, but since Mr. Manfred isn’t giving it, I’m going to accept it.”

The previous winners are:

• 1998: Cal Ripken Jr., commemorating the end of his legendary 2,632-game streak in a row.
• 1998: Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, for the fight for the record of home runs in a season.
• 2001: Barry Bonds, for setting up a new homer mark in a year with 73
• 2001: Rickey Henderson, for his all-time records for stolen bases (1,406), walks (2,190, later broken by Bonds) and runs scored (2,295)
• 2001: Tony Gwynn, for his eight NL batting titles
• 2001: Seattle Mariners, for tying the record for most wins in a year with 116
• 2004: Roger Clemens, for his 300 wins and seven Cy Young Awards
• 2005: Ichiro Suzuki, for breaking the record for most hits in a season in 2004 (262)
• 2006: Roberto Clemente, post mortem, during the 2006 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, for his extraordinary career on the field and his humanitarian contributions off the field
• 2007: Rachel Robinson, on the 60th anniversary of the year her husband Jackie broke the barrier of racism and for her efforts to uphold his legacy
• 2011: Ken Griffey Jr., for his great career and enormous popularity
• 2013: Mariano Rivera, retired as the all-time saves leader (652)
• 2014: Vin Scully, for his 65 years as a baseball storyteller
• 2014: Derek Jeter, for his postseason hits (200), runs (111) and bases reached (302).

Throughout the 2021 season, stat collectors had a difficult task finding precedents for several of Ohtani’s accomplishments, such as when he became the first pitcher since Babe Ruth in 1921 to make a start while leading Major League Baseball in home runs or the first pitcher since Venezuelan César Tovar – who started that day to play all nine positions – in 1968 to start a game as a pitcher and leadoff hitter.

But the truth is that Ohtani’s campaign is unprecedented.

As a hitter, he had 46 home runs, 26 doubles, eight triples, 100 RBIs, 26 stolen bases, a .965 OPS and 103 runs scored. As a pitcher, he was 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 130.1 innings.

No player in the American League or the National League had made 10 starts and hit 30 or more homers. And none of them had hit 10 or more homers and struck out 100 batters.

To put Ohtani’s season in the right context, consider how he compares to two of the most recognizable stars of one of the most popular teams: Ohtani’s 158 OPS + in 639 trips to the plate was fifth best in the majors, ahead of Yankees slugger Aaron Judge (149). His EFE + of 141 in 130.1 innings was the 17th best among those pitchers with at least 100 innings, and better than that of Cy Young candidate and Yankees ace Gerrit Cole (133).

So, with all possible respect for Ruth, who for a short time between 1918 and 1919 was really a pitcher and a hitter at the same time, we have never seen a season like Ohtani’s. It was a much more impressive year when you consider the level of baseball today and how difficult the schedule is, with trips across the country and constant night games. During the All-Star holiday festivities, Ohtani participated in the Home Run Derby one night and then opened the Midfield Classic on the mound and leadoff the next day.

That was part of a trend in which Ohtani embraced all the attention that came with his unique skill set and, as such, served as one of the game’s greatest ambassadors. The Commissioner took notice.

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