Noah Brier | March 30, 2023

The Sustained Greatness Edition

On novelty, sports, and value.

Recommended Products

The 2-Hour Cocktail Party Book
The 2-Hour Cocktail Party Book

A guide on how to make new friends by hosting small parties, based on the experience of hosting hundreds of gatherings.

Noah here. Just like last year, the NBA MVP is almost certainly going to come down to two giants: 6’11” Nicola Jokic, who plays for the Denver Nuggets, and 7’0” Joel Embiid, who plays for the Philadelphia 76ers. Jokic has bested Embiid for the last two seasons, and this year the favorite has flipped multiple times throughout the season. At this moment, DraftKings has Jokic at +105 (meaning $100 wagered would win $105), and Embiid is +115. In other words, it’s neck-and-neck. 

One strike Jokic has against him is that he’s won for the last two years. Only three players in history have won three NBA MVPs in a row, and those names don’t include Jordan or Lebron. What’s more, of those three-peaters, all one a title during their run. Watch an NBA show on ESPN or listen to a basketball podcast, and you’ll hear talk of “voter fatigue,” which basically boils down to a desire to award a different winner. I’ve heard arguments in favor of the logic behind this idea—mainly that it should be harder to continually win and the bar should go up year-to-year—but I don’t have enough invested to really have an opinion on whether this argument is reasonable or not.

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All of this is top of mind because last week, at the World Baseball Classic, two of the best baseball players on planet earth—who consistently vie for MLB MVPs—squared up against each other. Japan’s superstar pitcher, Shohei Ohtani, faced off against USA’s superstar hitter Mike Trout in the 9th inning of a 3-2 championship-deciding game with just one out left to play. The two players, who are teammates with the Los Angeles Angels, produced an iconic baseball moment with Ohtani striking Trout out swinging to win the game and the tournament.

It’s worth a watch:

Why is this interesting?

Shohei Ohtani is easily one of the most unique baseball players in history. The reason is that for as dominant a pitcher as Ohtani is—again, he struck out one of the best hitters in the world with a series of pitches that started with 100+ MPH fireballs and ended with an unhittable and uncategorizable offspeed pitch —he’s an equally dominant hitter. If you’ve spent any time watching baseball, you’ll understand how improbable this is. Not only did he close the championship game out as a pitcher, but he got it done as a hitter as well, “hitting .435 and drawing a truly absurd (and tournament-leading) 10 walks,” according to

.Despite being able to quite literally do something no other baseball player has done since Babe Ruth, Ohtani failed to win the MVP last year. This explanation of why he wasn’t going to vote for Shohei from The Athletic’s Jayson Stark has rattled around in my head since I read it:

Is it too late to create a Shohei Ohtani Award, a trophy we could hand over to the amazing Ohtani every year? We’ve never seen anything like him. Not in this sport. Not in any sport, really.

I’m in awe of everything he does — when he hits, when he pitches, when he does his Usain Bolt imitation running to first base. In a world with Tony Awards, Grammy Awards and Emmy Awards, shouldn’t there be an (Oh!)Tani Award, for the most superhuman creature in sports? Let this man walk his own red carpet. I’d stop by to applaud.

But there’s a special reason we need that award this year. It’s that we can’t just give Shohei that MVP hardware every year simply because no one else exists on our planet who can do these things he does. We need to allow space in our brains, and in our trophy cases, for those years when we have another choice — and in this case, a better choice.

This is so insane to me. At the end of the day, it’s just an award, and I don’t care that much, and Aaron Judge did undoubtedly do something absolutely crazy (60 home runs) on a team that was vying for the playoffs. But Shohei is without question the only player in baseball who is both a great hitter and a great pitcher, meaning he should be somewhere near 50% more valuable than anyone he competes against.  Really, though, what interests me most is how the novelty of unrivaled greatness eventually wears off. Say what you will about these kinds of awards, but it feels more broadly instructive about how we work as humans and as a society that when encountering sustained greatness like Ohtani’s, we still feel such a need to look around for something new to pay attention to. (NRB)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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