How Shohei Ohtani sold Yoshinobu Yamamoto on joining the Dodgers

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Shohei Ohtani didn’t attend Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s introductory news conference, but he didn’t have to.

Listen back to what Yamamoto said. Ohtani was everywhere

“Starting today,” Yamamoto said in Japanese, “in the truest sense, I have to stop admiring.”

The words, and the feelings behind them, were inspired by a speech Yamamoto heard earlier in the year when playing for Japan in the World Baseball Classic. The address in question was delivered by Ohtani before the championship game against the United States.

“From me, just one thing,” Ohtani said. “Let’s stop admiring them.”

Yoshinobu Yamamoto embraces Shohei Ohtani after Team Japan defeated Team USA to win the 2023 World Baseball Classic

Yoshinobu Yamamoto embraces Shohei Ohtani after Team Japan defeated Team USA to win the World Baseball Classic on March 21 in Miami.

(Rob Tringali / MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Ohtani pointed to the famous players in the Team USA lineup: Paul Goldschmidt at first base, Mike Trout in center field and Mookie Betts in right.

“There are players known by anyone who plays baseball,” Ohtani said. “If you admire them, you can’t surpass them. We came here to surpass them, to reach the top. For one day, let’s throw away our admiration for them and just think about winning.”

Japan defeated the U.S. 3-2, with Ohtani finishing the game by striking out Trout.

As much as Yamamoto tried to maintain a respectful distance from Ohtani on Wednesday — Yamamoto said he probably would have ended up with the Dodgers even if Ohtani had signed with another team — he couldn’t.

The Dodgers have dominated the offseason, with player acquisitions totaling more than $1 billion. In reality, it’s Ohtani who has controlled the winter, as the revenue he promises to generate has liberated the previously risk-averse Dodgers and galvanized them into taking the kinds of gambles required to win a World Series.

If not for the $50 million the Dodgers could make in Ohtani-related sponsorship deals, they might not have traded for Tyler Glasnow and signed him to a five-year, $136.5-million contract.

If not for the hundreds of millions they could make by investing the $680 million in Ohtani’s salary deferrals, they probably wouldn’t have built up the resolve to sign the undersized Yamamoto to a 12-year, $325-million contract.

This has become Ohtani’s offseason, and the Dodgers have become Ohtani’s team.

Ohtani embraced his newfound influence right away, joining Betts, Freddie Freeman and Will Smith at Dodger Stadium a couple of weeks ago to make a recruiting pitch to the 25-year-old Yamamoto.

“I think it made a big difference,” said Yamamoto’s agent, Joel Wolfe. “Ohtani was so warm and welcoming to him, as was [his interpreter] Ippei [Mizuhara], that I think it just added to his level of comfort that he knew he could walk into this clubhouse and have a teammate, a friend, Japanese-speaking people, to help him with his adjustment.”

Yamamoto was a three-time Pacific League most valuable player in Japan. In his home country, he is a star in his own right. Yamamoto’s openness to becoming Ohtani’s sidekick is a testament not only to Yamamoto’s character, but also how Ohtani approached a player four years his junior.

“Make a decision you won’t regret,” Yamamoto recalled Ohtani telling him. “If there’s anything you don’t understand, ask me anything.”

Ohtani’s effect on Yamamoto was obvious on Wednesday.

“Ohtani-san picking the Dodgers was really one of the reasons for my decision,” Yamamoto said.

Yamamoto went on to repeat Ohtani’s talking points.

As Ohtani did at his own introductory news conference, Yamamoto said he signed with the Dodgers because he wanted to win.

“I prioritized the feelings I have inside of me of really wanting to win, and wanting to continue to win,” he said. “I felt the Dodgers might be the closest to making that happen.”

And as Ohtani did two weeks earlier, Yamamoto made a pledge to the fans of his new team.

“I promise the fans of Los Angeles that I will spend every day to become a world champion as a member of the Dodgers and to become better at baseball,” he said.

President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said he wants the Dodgers to be Japan’s team. The Dodgers became that once they signed Ohtani.

Yamamoto marks an important milestone in making that designation more permanent, as he will be the first Japanese player to share a major league clubhouse with Ohtani. Hearing Yamamoto speak on Wednesday, it felt unlikely he would be the last.



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