Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani became the first Japanese in 20 years to be named Most Valuable Player in the majors when he claimed the American League honor on Thursday, fetching all 30 first-place votes in the balloting from journalists.
Ohtani and Ichiro Suzuki, in 2001, are the only Japanese players to receive a Major League Baseball MVP award, with the winner in each league determined through a vote of eligible Baseball Writers' Association of America members at the end of each season.
The 27-year-old is coming off a season in which he was the first National or American league player in more than 100 years to emulate the pitching and hitting feats of legendary American Babe Ruth.
"I'm really happy," Ohtani said. "The MVP was something I was shooting for obviously, I think anyone is as long as they are playing baseball professionally."
"But I was more appreciative of the fact that American fans, USA baseball, were more accepting, welcoming the whole two-way idea compared to when I first started in Japan. It made the transition a lot easier for me so I'm very thankful for that."
Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who beat Ohtani by two to win the major league home run title, and the Blue Jays' second baseman Marcus Semien were the other two candidates for the AL honor.
Ohtani was all the journalists' top pick as he scored a total of 420 points, followed by 269 for Guerrero and 232 for Semien. Each journalist had voted their top 10 players after the regular season, with a first-place vote earning 14 points. The second-place vote earned nine points all the way down to one point for the 10th-place vote.
Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper won the National League MVP for the second time.
Ohtani hit .257 with 100 RBIs, 46 home runs -- the third-most in the majors -- and 26 stolen bases in 537 at-bats. On the mound, he went 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 23 starts.
Ohtani is the first AL player ever to hit over 45 home runs, steal at least 25 bases and score 100 runs in a single season.
"It's a remarkable achievement. I'm proud as a Japanese national," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters upon hearing the news.
Inside the municipal hall at Ohtani's home city of Oshu in northeastern Iwate Prefecture, over 150 staff and locals clad in the red and white of the Angels celebrated the historical moment.
"I couldn't imagine there'd be such a great day," said Mayor Masaki Ozawa. "He contributed greatly to our energy and smiles. I really thank him. We'll keep cheering for Ohtani as he strives and achieves more."
In the northern city of Sapporo, home to Ohtani's former team the Nippon Ham Fighters, fans also enjoyed the news.
"It's an amazing thing. Hopefully he comes back one day and lifts the mood around the place," said Eiji Tsuda, 45, while a 60-year-old fan club member said it's the "best feeling ever," adding that he hopes Ohtani "will be the best pro baseball player in the world."
Ohtani had already collected several offseason prizes, among them the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award and Player's Choice Awards for Player of the Year and the AL's Most Outstanding Player.
He has also been named Player of the Year by Baseball Digest, Baseball America and the Sporting News, and won the AL Silver Slugger award as best designated hitter.
Ohtani, who proved he was healthy and healed from Tommy John surgery after the 2018 season that limited him exclusively to designated hitter duty in 2019 and two 2020 mound appearances, homered in his first pitching start of 2021 on April 4.
"It was difficult but also rewarding," said Ohtani after featuring regularly in both his roles this season. "I was playing trying to meet the trust and expectations."
"The fact that they (journalists) voted me first place made me happy, and fired me up even more to give my best again next year."
"I'll be in a definitive period in the next five to seven years as I reach the peak of my career."
Ohtani made a never-before-seen two-way All-Star appearance when he was named the AL's starting pitcher and starting designated hitter. He said it was the occasion that sticks in his memory the most from the monumental year.
"If I had to choose one, it's got to be the All-Star experience," he said. "It was my first one, and I got to play with lots of players I've always watched on TV so that was a great experience."
He hit his 46th and final home run of 2021 on the final day of the regular season.
Ohtani was the first draft pick by Nippon Ham in Japan's Pacific League in late 2012 with the club promising him the chance to both hit and pitch.
He became the first player in Nippon Professional Baseball history to reach double figures in wins and home runs, and was named the Pacific League MVP in 2016 when he won 10 games and hit 22 home runs as he steered Nippon Ham to the Japan Series title.
Ohtani was named the majors' Rookie of the Year with the Angels in 2018 when he went 4-2 with 22 homers.
"There has never been a fully welcoming mood (about his two-way game) since I became a pro. There have always been some critical remarks. I wanted to hang in there," Ohtani said.
"There wasn't that rebel spirit, to be honest. I purely wanted to know how good I could be and that helped."