Shohei Ohtani is now on track to become the highest-paid athlete in the world, having agreed to a $700-million 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, in part because 11 years earlier he turned down the same team out of high school.
On Saturday, Ohtani's agent announced a deal that would bring baseball's most unique player to Dodger Stadium. Instead of the hard-throwing pitcher MLB scouts envisioned him becoming, the Dodgers are getting that elite pitcher, but also one of the world's best hitters -- something he would not be now had he signed with them in 2012.
Ohtani's development as a two-way superstar is a story not just of supreme physical skill and dedication, but also of a rare confluence of circumstances that allowed him to defy professional baseball's belief that success as both a pitcher and hitter was impossible.
"No MLB team is going to pay millions of dollars to a pitcher who can throw 100 miles an hour and then risk that arm by letting him bat," said a scout for one MLB team in 2016, echoing the consensus of teams on both sides of the Pacific about Ohtani's chances of being a two-way player at the MLB level.
Prior to Nippon Professional Baseball's 2012 new-player entry draft, Ohtani, who because of his arm was on no one's radar as anything but a pitcher, stunned Japan's pro baseball community by announcing he would turn pro with an MLB team.
The announcement deterred 11 of Japan's 12 teams from taking a chance on Ohtani in the draft. The Pacific League's Nippon Ham Fighters, however, took him in the first round and then executed an extensive campaign to keep him in Japan.
The Fighters presented case studies of the high failure rate of Japanese teenagers attempting to play pro sports abroad, while manager Hideki Kuriyama offered Ohtani something no one else would -- a unique opportunity to both hit and pitch in pro baseball.
It was a move made out of desperation, and was widely and continually criticized by former players even after Ohtani proved in 2016 that he could excel at both.
That year, Ohtani led the Fighters to a Japan Series championship and was voted the Pacific League's best pitcher, best designated hitter and most valuable player.
Having established both his hitting and pitching credentials in Japan, Ohtani took a huge pay cut to move to MLB as a 23-year-old rather than waiting to make the jump at 25 when he could have raked in many times his Japan salary.
And because he was in high demand, Ohtani had earned the leverage he needed to only sign with a team that would let him pitch and hit. In 2017, a Dodgers official told Kyodo News the club had mapped out a plan to get Ohtani over 200 at-bats as a position player between starts in a league without a designated hitter.
Instead, Ohtani chose the Los Angeles Angels, a young welcoming team that, because of the DH rule, offered a fertile ground for his development as a hitter. This was particularly true from 2021, when then manager Joe Madden let Ohtani bat every day, and he went on to become the American League MVP in a unanimous vote.
But while Ohtani thrived, amassing enough plate appearances and innings to qualify for both the batting average and ERA titles in 2022, while leading the AL in home runs this year en route to his second unanimous MVP award, the Angels did not.
In Ohtani's six seasons as an Angel, the team never posted a winning record or reached the postseason. At this year's MLB All-Star Game, Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara, "it sucks to lose."
An hour or so to the northwest, however, the Dodgers, have for a decade combined a solid player development program with liberal spending to churn out 10 National League west titles over the past 11 years without any help from Ohtani.
Having failed to land him as a high school pitcher in 2012 and a two-way experiment in 2017, the Dodgers are now poised to add baseball's crown jewel to their horde of talent, and give Ohtani his first taste of team success in MLB.