Japanese baseball star Ohtani 'honoured' by Babe Ruth comparisons

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Baseball star Shohei Ohtani is a national hero in his native Japan (AFP/Behrouz MEHRI)
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Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani said on Monday that he is "honoured" to be compared to the legendary Babe Ruth and aspires to go down in baseball folklore.

The Los Angeles Angels star has picked up an array of awards over the past month and is now favourite to win the American League's Most Valuable Player Award.

The 27-year-old is following in the footsteps of Ruth by playing as a pitcher and a batter, and has become MLB's biggest star after a breakthrough season.

"It’s an honour to even be compared to him," Ohtani said at Japan's National Press Club of Ruth, the last player to pitch and hit on a regular basis, 100 years ago.

"It’s not just his statistics that made him a great player. There aren’t so many players who are remembered for so many years and that’s something that I as a player must aspire to.

"I never saw him play live but lots of people know Babe Ruth. I would like to be a player like him."

Ohtani has already won the MLB Players Choice Outstanding Player prize and the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award.

He has been named on a short-list of three for AL MVP, with the winner to be announced Thursday.

But Ohtani is already looking beyond that.

"I want to be able to win those awards again next year and I want to make the mental switch to look ahead now," Ohtani said.

"I appreciate that what I achieved this year is being recognised in this way, but I want to look forward to next year now."

Ohtani hit 46 home runs -- just two short of the MLB lead -- and won nine games as a pitcher.

He also became the first player to appear in the MLB All-Star game as both a hitter and a starting pitcher, and was named among Time magazine's 100 most influential people of 2021.

In Japan, Ohtani is a national hero, and he fielded questions on everything from Japan's tax system to when he plans to get married during Monday's one-hour press conference.

"Of course I do feel down sometimes," said Ohtani, who is famous for his sunny disposition.

"Towards the end of the season, the team wasn't winning and we didn't have much chance to reach the playoffs.

"Of course I feel down when I'm not hitting or when someone hits my pitches, but we have games every day and that's something to be thankful for," he added.

Ohtani said he has encountered "less scepticism" about his two-way play in the United States than he did in Japan, and welcomed the news that other players are thinking of pitching and batting.

"It's great because it means it's being accepted," he said.

amk/sah/pst

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