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Editorial: Ohtani's challenge to baseball norms behind unanimous MVP vote

The Los Angeles Angels' two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani was named the top choice for Most Valuable Player in MLB's American League by all 30 Baseball Writers' Association of America journalists voting for the award this season.

    The MVP award is considered the most prestigious of Major League Baseball's myriad annual awards. Ohtani also became the first Japanese player to be given the accolade in 20 years, since Ichiro Suzuki won the honor in 2001 while playing for the Seattle Mariners.

    Until last season, Ohtani struggled, due in part to surgeries on his right elbow and right knee. Yet this season, his fourth year into the majors, Ohtani built up his physical stamina and pulled off an epoch-making feat as a two-way player.

    As a hurler, he won nine games and lost two, while as a hitter he tallied 138 hits -- 46 of them home runs -- and stole 26 bases. These are eye-popping numbers, and at just 27 years old, he could get even better.

    His versatile performance has thrilled many fans, and helped shake off the gloomy, coronavirus pandemic-era atmosphere. His discreet on-field manners -- picking up trash and showing umpires respect -- also left favorable impressions.

    In the intensely professional world of Major League Baseball, it has long been held that performing at a high level as both a hitter and a starting pitcher is virtually beyond reach. However, the Angels ditched the received wisdom and, just like his previous team, Nippon Professional Baseball's Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, bet on Ohtani's potential.

    Ohtani has even been compared to Babe Ruth, an MLB legend who also pitched and hit a century ago. Ohtani's phenomenal performance probably evoked among fans the image of America's good old days when the "baseball god" lived and played.

    In contemporary baseball, it has become common to foster players in a particular position and role, thanks to technical and strategic developments. However, the essence of baseball comes down to enjoying all of its four elements of pitching, batting, running and defending. Ohtani has precisely embodied this charm of the sport.

    In the United States, children can get to play multiple sports from when they are young. As a result, a handful grow up to play more than one sport professionally, for example baseball and American football or baseball and basketball. That Ohtani's two-way play has been embraced so smoothly may have something to do with this tolerance in American society.

    Ohtani's success teaches us the importance of meeting challenges without limiting our potential. It may also serve as a milestone for a society where each and every one of us can pursue our dreams without being bound by stereotypical views.

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