Dodgers and Shohei Ohtani are a match made in heaven – NBC Los Angeles

on Jun26
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The Los Angeles Dodgers and Shohei Ohtani are like two people constantly eyeing each other from across the bar.

They watch enviously as both partners dance with other people, but the furtive glances sent from across the floor reveal both parties true intent.

This delicate dance of courtship has gone on for over a decade, ever since the Dodgers heavily recruited the Japanese sensation as an 18-year-old high school senior at Hanamaki Higashi High School.

The Dodgers are no strangers to Japanese players. They were the first professional organization in the modern era to bring a Japanese player to major league baseball when they signed Hideo Nomo in 1995. Shortly thereafter, Nomomania was born, and with it, the eyes of young baseball players in Japan turned toward Tinseltown.

Nomo and the Dodgers helped pave the way for the likes of Ichiro Suzuki, Yu Darvish, Hideki Matsui, and others. Since Nomo, the Dodgers have signed eight Japanese players, more than any other team over that span. Ohtani would mark the tenth.

Had Ohtani not wanted an opportunity to be a two-way player, he likely would have signed with the Dodgers as an 18-year-old. Instead, he was given the chance to do be a hitter and a pitcher with the Nippon-Ham Fighters, and the world of baseball is better for it.

In his six years in major league baseball, Ohtani has become the best player in the league, and is quickly approaching greatest of all-time status. That might be blasphemous for baseball purists to read, but not since Babe Ruth have we seen a player like Ohtani, and the Japanese superstar is smashing many of the Babe’s records. Recently, Ohtani became the first player in history to hit 20 home runs and have 100 strikeouts as a pitcher in three consecutive seasons.

A look at the records set by Babe Ruth and the ones Shohei Ohtani has already broken and could break before his career is over. (Image courtesy of Oddspedia.)

As similar as they are on the diamond, Ohtani and the Babe are polar opposites off the field. Ohtani is shy and soft-spoken. He stays out of the news and never tips his hand. When asked recently about the possibility of signing with the Dodgers as a free agent this offseason, Ohtani was a pro’s pro.

“I want to concentrate on the season,” he told the media through a translator without moving a muscle, blinking an eye, or even cracking a smile. “I’m leaving it up to my agent, and me personally, I want to concentrate on the season.”

Thanks to Ohtani, the Angels season is going surprisingly well. The two-way player leads MLB in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, and OPS. On the mound, his opponent batting average is the best in the league, and he’s top five in all of baseball in strikeouts. After finishing 73-89 last season, the Halos are currently five games above .500 and just a game back of a playoff spot. With the Angels still in contention as the MLB trade-deadline approaches, the likelihood the team keeps Ohtani and tries to convince him to stay in Anaheim increases.

But Ohtani wants to win. If he’s ever going to be considered as good as the Babe, or one of the greatest of all time, he will need to win the World Series, or at the very least play in one. Ruth won seven World Series titles. Both Willie Mays and Hank Aaron also each won a championship.

In his five seasons with the Angels, Ohtani hasn’t even reached the playoffs once. Meanwhile, the Dodgers, just a few miles down the road on the I-5, have gone to the playoffs in each of the last 10 seasons, including three World Series appearances.

Additionally, Ohtani is rumored to not want to play in a cold weather city, something the Dodgers definitely can offer. When he was made available in 2018, the Dodgers were among the final few finalists to sign Ohtani, but there was no designated hitter in the national league at that time, something that has changed with the new rule additions in 2022.

“Not just the Dodgers, but I’m grateful to the teams that intensely tried to recruit me when I came here,” Ohtani said when asked about the Dodgers recruitment of him in 2018. “But when it comes to throwing and hitting, the opponent doesn’t change what I do. Regardless of the opponent, I have to do what I have to do.”

If that wasn’t enough, popularity could also play a role. Ohtani has become the most popular player in MLB on social media. Following the World Baseball Classic this spring, Ohtani’s Instagram followers increased to over 5.6 million. That’s nearly three-times the amount of followers as his teammate Mike Trout, and over four-times the amount of the Angels team overall.

Ohtani is by far the most followed MLB player on Instagram, and will soon elevate himself in follower count to the likes of LeBron James, Steph Curry, and others in sports.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers have over 3.2 million followers on Instagram and are neck-and-neck with the New York Yankees for the team with the most followers in MLB. When all social media platforms are included (Facebook, TIkTok, Twitter, etc.) only the Yankees have more than the Dodgers. So if the most popular player in the game wants to play for one of the most popular teams, it’s either the Dodgers or the Yankees for Ohtani.

Last Wednesday night at Angel Stadium, the courtship between Ohtani and the Dodgers finally met face-to-face. For the first time in his career, Ohtani took the mound to face the 2020 World Series Champions, and boy did he impress. Ohtani allowed just one run—a solo home run to Freddie Freeman—with 12 strikeouts and two walks.

But, the Dodgers won the game 2-0, and swept the two-game series in Anaheim. If that wasn’t impressive enough, they have now won eight consecutive games over Ohtani’s Angels, and in doing so have made a bold statement to the Japanese sensation: our team is simply better than your team.

The Dodgers have more offense, more All-Stars, more superstars, more pitching, a better bullpen, and more depth. More importantly, they also have more money to pay him in the offseason. Ohtani’s services are expected to ignite a bidding war this winter with a potential $500 to $600 million contract likely.

Angels vs Dodgers in Anaheim, CA

Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) strikes out against the Dodgers in the eighth inning at Angel Stadium on June 20, 2023 in Anaheim, California. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

If coaching matters, the Dodgers have the better manager as well.

“I don’t think there’s a manager that wouldn’t love Shohei Ohtani,” said Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts, who has the highest winning percentage among active managers in MLB. “But right now he’s an Angel…and I can’t afford tampering charges.”

Players across the league also think Ohtani and the Dodgers are a match made in heaven. Recently, The Athletic surveyed 100 active players, asking them which team they think Ohtani will play for in 2024. The overwhelming answer was the Dodgers.

57.2 percent of the players surveyed thought Ohtani would sign with the Dodgers in the offseason, with 11.4 percent choosing the Angels, 7.2 percent said the San Diego Padres and New York Mets, and 6.3 percent selected the Yankees.

It’s no secret the Dodgers have long admired Ohtani. They called about him at the trade deadline last season, and will certainly do so again in the coming weeks. If they can’t trade for him, they will once again try and recruit him in the offseason.

On paper, it’s a match made in blue heaven, but whether Ohtani feels the same way is still unknown.



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