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[ODDS and EVENS] For Shohei Ohtani, Winning is the Only Priority

A $700 million contract would give anyone some peace of mind, but Shohei Ohtani says he joined the Los Angeles Dodgers because of their passion for winning.

Shohei Ohtani woke up on Thursday, December 14 with the following task on his to-do list:

Sharing his thoughts with the world on a life-changing decision involving a $700 million USD (about ¥100 billion JPY), 10-year deal, the biggest player contract in sports history. 

Imagine starting your day knowing that's something you'll need to do. I can't imagine what that would be like.

Ohtani made it quite clear that it wasn't all about the money. He spoke at Dodger Stadium before an assembled throng of more than 300 media members along with curious onlookers from around the world. (Watch the press conference on the Dodgers' YouTube channel.) 

"I'm not sure how long I'm going to be able to play the game," said the two-time unanimous American League MVP, who turns 30 in July 2024. "So I did prioritize winning."

The press conference, which got underway at 3 PM (8 AM JST on Friday), underscored Ohtani's commitment to winning. 

Joining the Los Angeles Dodgers after six winless seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani spoke about his overall impressions of his new team's high standards.

"One thing that really stands out in my head," he said, according to The Associated Press, "when I had the meeting with the Dodgers, the ownership group, they said when they looked back at the last 10 years, even though they made the playoffs every single year, won one World Series ring [in 2020], they considered that a failure. And when I heard that, I knew they were all about winning, and that’s exactly how I feel."

Shohei Ohtani (KYODO)

Years with the Angels: Ohtani Established Himself as an MLB Superstar

There was plenty of individual glory for Ohtani during his six seasons with the Angels, including an AL-leading 44 home runs in 2023 and an array of titanic blasts while he donned his former club's jersey.

And despite his injury setbacks as a pitcher, Ohtani has demonstrated that it's possible to thrive as a two-way player in the modern era. He's an exceptional pitcher who was 34-16 as a starter over the past three seasons.

Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani led the American League in home runs (44) in 2023. (KYODO)

As he embarks on the next chapter of his professional career, Ohtani exuded class in looking back on his six-year run with the Angels. He didn't bash the club for its shortcomings or perennial failure to reach the playoffs. 

Instead, Ohtani was filled with gratitude.

"I would like to thank the Los Angeles Angels organization. It was great, it was a fun ride, a great ride, for the last six years," Ohtani told reporters at Dodger Stadium. 

"I'll never forget all the memories I had," he added.

Two MVP-winning seasons (2021, '23). Three consecutive All-Star Games appearances (2021-23). The adoration of baseball fans on both sides of the Pacific Ocean and a sea of admirers wherever the Angels played. 

Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani (KYODO)

Fired Up to Begin the Next Chapter of His Career

Moving from the Angels to the Dodgers, Ohtani brings superstar clout to a tradition-rich franchise.

The Dodgers have won 100 or more games in three consecutive seasons. Entering the 2024 season and beyond, with Ohtani's immense talent as a key part of the team's makeup, expectations to maintain their dominance of the National League West will follow.

The fact that the majority of the salary from his blockbuster contract will be deferred (annual payments of $68 million, or more than ¥9.6 billion JPY, each July 1 from 2034-43) only adds intrigue to Ohtani's move. Ohtani will receive $2 million USD (¥283 million JPY) of the $70 million (¥9.9 billion JPY) during each of the 10 years of the contract.

When you watch him speak about baseball, infectious enthusiasm fills the room.

Even observing the scene half a world away, it's clear that Ohtani is counting down the minutes until the start of the 2024 MLB season.

He didn't hide his genuine feelings during the press conference. 

"I can't wait to join the Dodgers," the 2023 World Baseball Classic MVP declared. "They share the same passion as me, they have a vision and history all about winning, and I share the same values."

Ohtani insisted the Dodgers have the proper foundation to maintain their success.

"I think the most important thing is everybody, from ownership all the way to the staff, we all are going to be on the same page," Ohtani was quoted as saying by MLB.com. "We're all going to be wanting to win, and I think that's the most important thing, and I think this team has that."

Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani addresses the media during his introductory news conference. (KYODO)

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The Star Attraction

During their title-winning years in the 1990s, the Chicago Bulls were the must-see team in the NBA. When they played road games the Bulls, led by Michael Jordan, were the star attraction.

Similarly, the talent-rich Dodgers have entered a new stratosphere with Ohtani on the roster. The Dodgers will attract a new level of attention in 2024 and beyond.

Former San Francisco Examiner sports columnist Art Spander opined on his blog: "Shohei is the showman, the guy every ball club wishes it had on the roster and now the Dodgers do."

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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