Ohtani, though, is beating the Americans on their own terms. “He can hit a home run 500 feet and throw a ball 100 miles per hours, and he’s bigger and stronger than most Americans,” said Robert Whiting, who has written several books on baseball in Japan, including “You Gotta Have Wa.”
Ohtani’s Ruthian contract might never have been signed if Nomo, Hideki Irabu and Alfonso Soriano hadn’t challenged Japanese restrictions on the movement of players in the 1990s. Nomo, for instance, retired from Japanese baseball so he could sign with the Dodgers, while Irabu pushed back when his old team, the Chiba Lotte Marines, cut a deal to send him to the San Diego Padres. Irabu was later sent to the Yankees, his preferred destination. A couple of years later, Soriano, who had been drafted as a teenager by the Hiroshima Carp, followed.
“The real credit for the growth of the Japanese market in the U.S. belongs to Nomo, Irabu and Soriano,” said Gene Orza, a longtime lawyer for the M.L.B. Players Association. “Those three broke the dam. Ohtani really owes it to them.”
And even if the Dodgers do not make back their money directly from Ohtani, they may be playing the long game. They have made the playoffs 11 consecutive years, but won only one World Series title. By teaming up Ohtani with Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts — two other former M.V.P.s — as well as an excellent pitching staff, the Dodgers become the dominant team of the decade.
That is a far cry from the Angels, who never made the playoffs or even had a winning record during Ohtani’s six seasons with the team.
“If the Dodgers win two or three World Series in the next six, seven years,” Gennaro said, “Ohtani will be the face of the franchise and a whole generation of fans will follow the team for years.”