Now that Shohei Ohtani has his money — a record US$700 million, 10-year contact with the Los Angeles Dodgers — some fans in Japan are waiting for one more thing to complete the deal.
“I want Ohtani to play in the World Series,” said Isshin Watanabe, a baseball fan speaking yesterday near Tokyo’s famous Ginza shopping area.
“That’s my hope,” he added.
Baseball fans across Tokyo yesterday lined to buy special editions of the Yomiuri Shimbun, announcing Ohtani’s move across town from the Los Angeles Angels to the Dodgers.
This is perhaps the largest contract in sports history, topping highs believed to be set by soccer stars Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe.
Ohtani is likely to only play this coming season as a designated hitter as he recovers from surgery that is expected to keep him from pitching.
“I think Ohtani will return to the two-way role the year after next,” Watanabe said. “I want him to be the home run king next year.”
Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, issued a midafternoon news release on Saturday announcing the contract, ending months of speculation that began even before he became a free agent on Nov. 2.
In the past few days, media and fans had tracked private plane movements and alleged sightings like detectives in attempts to discern the intentions of the two-time American League Most Valuable Player with the Angels.
“This is a unique, historic contract for a unique, historic player,” Balelo said. “He is excited to begin this partnership, and he structured his contract to reflect a true commitment from both sides to long-term success.”
Ohtani’s total was 64 percent higher than baseball’s previous record, a US$426.5 million, 12-year deal for Angels outfielder Mike Trout that began in 2019.
Ohtani is a bigger-than-life hero in Japan, the country’s most famous athlete who has stoked national pride by reaching the pinnacle of a game beloved by many Americans and Latin Americans.
One fan said that Ohtani’s salary is more than the entire player payroll for at least one Japanese professional team. He used the SoftBank Hawks of Fukuoka as the example,
“That’s sounds like a dream,” Yuto Manabe said, also speaking in Ginza.
Ohtani’s US$70 million average salary is 62 percent above the previous high of US$43.33 million, shared by pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander with deals they struck with the New York Mets. Ohtani’s average salary nearly doubles the about US$42.3 million he earned with the Angels. It also exceeds the entire payrolls of the Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland Athletics this year.
Japanese fans have already been following Ohtani intently through television and other media, but this move is sure to raise his profile even higher with advertisers and sponsors who focus on the Japan market.
Ohtani is one of the most marketable athletes in the world, driving ticket sales, television revenue, and sponsorship deals.
“I’m so happy. I had been waiting for this announcement since yesterday,” said Sho Sato, who works as a nurse.
So has all of the baseball world.
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