Column: To reach legendary status, Shohei Ohtani made the only choice he could by joining Dodgers
For the first time, Shohei Ohtani made a major decision and did what was expected.
This is the same player who insisted on pitching and hitting for the Nippon-Ham Fighters when the consensus was that he couldn’t have success doing both.
This is the same player who cost himself more than $200 million by moving to the major leagues as a 23-year-old “amateur” instead of waiting two more years and coming as an unrestricted free agent.
This is the same player who was determined to remain a two-way player in the United States when many teams questioned whether he could hit major league pitching.
Shohei Ohtani, who earned two-time MVP honors with the Angels, is staying in Southern California and will join the star-studded Dodgers lineup.
One of baseball’s greatest trailblazing spirits selected a more traditional route Saturday when he agreed to a 10-year, $700-million contract with the Dodgers.
In order to realize his ambition of winning a World Series, the obvious choice was the right choice, and maybe even the only choice.
Ohtani did everything in his power to lift up the Angels, just as he once did the rebuilding Fighters. As he figured out how to be a two-way player over his first few seasons with the Fighters, the team developed with him. By the time Ohtani was the best player in Japan, the Fighters had built a team around him that was capable of winning a championship, which they did.
Individually, Ohtani followed a similar path in the major leagues, as he required three years of ups and downs before establishing himself as the No. 1 player. But the Angels couldn’t keep up with him.
The Angels’ failures weren’t because of a lack of trying on Ohtani’s part. He played every day, and he played hard.
The team was still on the periphery of the playoff race in early August when it hosted the Seattle Mariners. A finger cramp forced Ohtani to be replaced on the mound, but he stayed in the game as a designated hitter. Walked intentionally with two outs in the sixth inning, Ohtani stole a base and went on to score the go-ahead run. His eighth-inning home run provided the Angels with an insurance run, only for closer Carlos Estévez to blow the game. Television cameras captured Ohtani in the dugout holding back tears.
Less than three weeks later, Ohtani sustained an injury that would require him to undergo his second Tommy John surgery.
Ohtani had played well enough to win his second American League most valuable player award even though he’d be shut down for the season after three games in September. He’d driven himself to the point of injury. If not even that could make the Angels a playoff team, what would?
Outside of the World Series champion Texas Rangers and shamefully thrifty Atlanta Braves, no team other than the Dodgers could guarantee he wouldn’t have to experience such frustration again.
The Toronto Blue Jays? They play in baseball’s most competitive division.
The New York Yankees? They were basically a .500 team last year.
The Chicago Cubs? They might be trending in the right direction, but they weren’t much better.
The Boston Red Sox? They were a last-place team.
As for the Rangers, they’d already won a championship without him. Would winning with them satisfy the legacy-obsessed Ohtani?
The Braves? They weren’t about to spend that kind of money. They’d let go of franchise icon Freddie Freeman for a lot less.
Obviously, the money offered by the Dodgers was a factor. But it’s hard to believe it was the only factor. From how he came to the major leagues when he was still classified as an international amateur — he said he did this because he thought it would improve his chances to one day be a Hall of Famer — to how he settled for a $30-million salary last year instead of trying to win a record salary in the arbitration process, nothing points to money being his greatest priority.
Before leaving his home country for the major leagues, Ohtani said he wanted to become the world’s No. 1 player. He also said that earning that title would require him to win a World Series.
Wth a Dodgers organization that has reached the playoffs in 11 consecutive seasons, and won 10 division titles in that span, Ohtani will have a chance to play in October year after year after year after year.
His championship-winning performances in the World Baseball Classic and Japanese league postseason suggest he’s built for the big stage. He will now have a chance to prove it.
The best player in baseball will spend the next decade playing important games for one of the sport’s signature franchises. Ohtani wins. The Dodgers win. Baseball wins. About the only losers here are the Angels, but what’s new about that?
Ohtani has been defined by resisting convention. His sudden openness to embracing a more common line of thinking will elevate him further, perhaps even offer him the chance to be the face of baseball not only of this time but of any time.
Shohei Ohtani signing with the Dodgers gives them the perfect player at the perfect time in the team’s pursuit of another World Series title.
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