Shohei Ohtani made a World Series appearance this year after all.
Before Game 1 on Tuesday night, Ohtani was honored with the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award for his unprecedented two-way performance this season.
The 27-year-old Angels star became the 16th recipient of the honor, which was first handed out in 1998, and the first to be given the award since commissioner Rob Manfred became commissioner in 2015.
“Over the next few years, I know that there are going to be many, many awards and accolades that come your way,” Manfred said during a news conference at Minute Maid Park, with Ohtani by his side. “But I felt that 2021 was so special that it was important to recognize the historic achievement.”
Ohtani became one of the biggest stories in baseball when he hit 46 home runs and drove in 100 runs in addition to posting a 3.18 earned-run average and 156 strikeouts in 23 starts as a pitcher.
He became the first player to be selected to the MLB All-Star Game as both a hitter and pitcher and performed feats that had last been achieved by Babe Ruth.
It wasn’t enough to help the injury-plagued Angels reach the playoffs, but it made Ohtani the clear-cut favorite for most valuable player in the American League, along with other awards he is likely to win in the offseason.
So, less than an hour before the World Series got underway, the league revealed it would be making a surprise announcement. And Ohtani walked into the stadium in an all-black suit, smiling as Manfred presented him with a gold trophy that hadn’t been handed out since 2014.
“This award is not given out every year, so I know how special it is,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. “I’m not fully sure if I really deserve it, but since Mr. Manfred’s going to give it to me, I’m going to accept it.”
With a laugh, Manfred chimed in: “He does deserve it. I’m pretty sure about that.”
First handed out by Bud Selig in 1998 to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa for their home run chase, the Historic Achievement Award is bestowed at the commissioner’s discretion on those who have made a “major impact on the sport.”
Past winners include Cal Ripken for his consecutive-games streak, the Seattle Mariners for their record-setting 116-win season in 2001, Rachel Robinson for her work with the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and several Hall of Famers for their accomplishments. Derek Jeter and Vin Scully were the most recent recipients. Ohtani is the second Japanese winner; Ichiro Suzuki was honored for breaking the single-season hit record in 2004.
Manfred said he and other executives began considering the honor following’s Ohtani’s showing at the All-Star game, where he participated in the home run derby before starting as both the American League’s pitcher and designated hitter.
Asked how much Ohtani helped MLB, Manfred pointed to his impact at garnering international fans in a year the league wasn’t able to stage overseas events because of the pandemic.
“To have an international star like Shohei emerge this year was kind of perfect timing for us,” Manfred said. “Because it helped us continue to grow the game internationally, which is one of our foremost goals.”
Speaking to reporters for the first time since the end of the season, Ohtani said his body was feeling good after appearing in 159 games. He said he took two weeks off and is getting ready to begin his offseason workout and throwing programs.
“The biggest thing I could take from this season was that I was able to finish the season without getting hurt or being on the IL,” he said. “So this experience is definitely going to help me.”
Before he was led up to a suite for the game, Ohtani reflected on his historic season, recalling the Angels’ trip to play the Little League Classic.
“I want to tell the kids to love the sport and have passion for it,” he said. “As long as they can keep that love and passion for the game, it will take them a long ways.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.