Shohei Ohtani Makes History with Record-Breaking Contract, Sparks Enthusiasm in Japan

The Japanese Shohei Ohtani is moving to the Los Angeles Dodgers for the richest contract in baseball history. This sparks euphoria in his home country.

Shohei Ohtani, who was still with the Los Angeles Angels in June, is now moving to the Dodgers Photo: Ashley Landis/ap

Baseball fans in Japan were full of enthusiasm on Sunday when they read about the special pages of the major daily newspapers that announced the move of Shohei Ohtani from the Los Angeles Angels to the Los Angeles Dodgers. “10-year contract for $700 million,” was the headline Yomiuri Shimbun. No athlete has ever received such a high-paying contract, not even Lionel Messi at Inter Miami in the US Soccer League.

Ohtani is only half fit for the time being: After an operation on the elbow of his throwing arm in September, he can only bat in 2024 and only throw again from 2025. However, he “only” receives $2 million a year, with the rest flowing in installments of $68 million on July 1st from 2034 to 2043. This gives his new club more flexibility in its salary payments. However, the 29-year-old Japanese also earns several million dollars through several advertising contracts.

Fans and commentators believe the record sum is justified. Since his arrival in the USA in 2018 – he previously played for the Hokkaido Nippon Hamsters for five years – the Japanese redefined modern baseball and became an icon of his sport. Nobody comes close to his achievements as a starting pitcher and power batter. Because he can score home runs while throwing as well as hitting, he is often compared in the USA with the legendary player Babe Ruth (1895-1948), but also with megastar Joe DiMaggio (1914-1999).

Along the way, Ohtani has become one of the most marketable athletes, driving ticket sales, TV ratings and sponsorship revenue worldwide. This earned him the nickname “Shotime,” an English play on his first name. “I can say 100 percent that you, the Dodgers and I share the same goal – bringing the World Series to the streets of Los Angeles,” Ohtani said in a statement released by the club.

Desire for “national game”

Japanese companies are now likely to scramble to book advertising space at Dodger Stadium, as the games featuring Ohtani will be broadcast live in Japan. Baseball has been the national sport there for over a century. From the beginning, the game served as a way for the Japanese to compete with the United States. As early as 1896, a team from Tokyo’s Ichiko High School defeated a US team from Yokohama for the first time.

This ambition goes back to the 1854 Treaty of Kanagawa with the USA, which was perceived as “unfair” in Japan. In this period of awakening nationalism, the collective desire for a “national game” arose. Baseball symbolized the values ​​that Japan’s state celebrated at the time – order, harmony, perseverance and self-control.

Nevertheless, many Americans at the time thought that the Japanese were too small and weak for the US national game, which embodied national qualities such as courage, trust, combativeness and virility, as the entrepreneur Albert G. Spalding wrote in 1911. The disdain at the time stood the test of time. When star player Ichiro Suzuki became the first Japanese outfield player to enter the US top league in 2000, the US media mocked his “small” stature, as if he was literally not playing on an equal level with the USA.

It was Ohtani who silenced such chauvinistic critics with his athletic achievements. “He can hit a 500-foot home run and throw a ball at 100 miles per hour,” said Robert Whiting, a U.S. baseball expert in Japan. Even with his stature of 1.93 meters and 95 kilograms, Ohtani meets US standards. The only criticism is his habit of not speaking English in public, but instead having an interpreter. “My game on the field is my way of communicating with the fans,” he explains.

2023-12-12 16:30:38
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