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Column: Can you believe it? Shohei Ohtani, baseball’s new Babe Ruth, is a Dodger

Evening sunlight illuminates Shohei Ohtani as he pitches during a game.
Shohei Ohtani delivers a pitch during a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in July. Ohtani announced Saturday he is signing with the Dodgers.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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Shohei Ohtani is a Dodger.

Saying it brings chills. Hearing it brings cheers. Seeing it brings a disbelieving desire to see it again and again and again.

Shohei Ohtani is a Dodger. Shohei Ohtani is a Dodger. Shohei Ohtani is … yeah, he’s really coming up the 5 to the 101 to Stadium Way to perhaps live out the rest of his wondrous career.

Babe Ruth is a Dodger.

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Writing it feels right. Reading it makes sense. Just imagining it makes the wait for next spring insanely intolerable.

Batting third for the Dodgers, behind Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, in front of Max Muncy and Will Smith … number 17 … Shohei Ohtani!

Shohei Ohtani, who earned two-time MVP honors with the Angels, is staying in Southern California and will join the star-studded Dodgers lineup.

Dec. 9, 2023

The baseball unicorn is a Dodger.

It’s real, it’s happening, the Dodgers stealing the game’s first unanimous two-time MVP from the Angels and the rest of baseball Saturday when Ohtani agreed to a 10-year contract worth $700 million.

You can repeat that last sentence 700 million times and it still seems unimaginable.

It is the richest contract in American professional sports and makes Ohtani, with a $70 million annual average salary, the highest paid baseball player in baseball history.

It is also the most celebrated free-agent deal in Dodger history, and the biggest free-agent deal in Los Angeles sports history since the Lakers acquired Shaquille O’Neal in 1996, and you know how that turned out.

That is to say, Ohtani should earn every penny.

He will be worth it for the Dodgers’ bottom line based on increased advertising and sponsorships alone, with some estimating the Dodgers broke even the moment the agreement was announced. He should also be worth it for the Dodgers in the standings because, during the past three seasons, he’s not only been among baseball’s best hitters, but also one of its best pitchers, constantly replicating a feat not even approached in this sport since Ruth roamed the earth more than 100 years ago.

Ohtani is the greatest two-way player in the history of baseball, which could easily make him the greatest player in the history of baseball, two observations that will now be gloriously cloaked in blue.

He hits. He pitches. He inspires. He sells. He rocks.

And, goodness gracious, he’s so humble about it all, just check out Saturday’s Instagram post in which he made the long-awaited — and expected? — announcement himself.

“I pledge to always do what’s best for the team and always continue to give it my all to be the best version of myself,” he wrote. “Until the last day of my playing career, I want to continue to strive forward not only for the Dodgers but for the baseball world.”

Angel fans have long known all this, and excuse them if today they are as hopelessly frustrated as the Dodger fans are wildly jubilant. Angel fans passionately supported Ohtani for six years only to see him walk because, well, he wants to win, and the Angels haven’t made the playoffs since 2014. Their front office stubbornly made things worse by refusing to trade Ohtani and rebuild the failing franchise during the previous two summers when it was clear he was going to leave the team, and now they’ve lost him for virtually nothing.

Ohtani, who will be 30 in July, thrilled those fans for several summers, yet one need only to look at last season to be awestruck with amazement.

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His 44 home runs last year would have led the Dodgers … even though he missed 27 games.

His 167 strikeouts in 132 innings would have led the Dodgers in both categories … even though he didn’t pitch in the final month because of an elbow injury that later required his second Tommy John surgery.

So, yeah, the Dodgers just signed a player who immediately becomes their best hitter and their best pitcher, all in one uniform. Even though his recovery from the elbow procedure will prevent him from pitching next season, the Dodgers are legendarily good with rehabbing ailing arms, and here’s guessing a year from now he’ll be again ready for double duty, and that is where this huge investment really kicks in.

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His bat alone won’t bring the Dodgers a championship. But his presence should ensure that the top of the order collects more than two hits in a three-game playoff series, which is what happened this fall in a first-round sweep by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

His right arm alone won’t bring the Dodgers a championship. But once he joins the rotation in 2025, the Dodgers will no longer go into a playoff series with shredded starting pitching, which is what happened each of the last two Octobers.

Adding such a hitter-pitcher is a win-win, with a third victory here going to the Dodgers themselves.

Finally, after several years of relative penny-pinching and luxury tax monitoring, they are acting like the Dodgers again.

The richest team. The boldest team. The swaggering team that has become an ideal destination for any player who wants to maximize his ability and his brand.

The best player in the sport now has a much better chance to reach his goal of winning a World Series.

Dec. 9, 2023

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Granted, the Dodgers have a horrendous habit of collapsing in the playoffs, but at least they get to the playoffs, a place where Ohtani can finally shine on a national stage.

Granted, the Dodgers exist in a spotlight that the private Ohtani was able to happily avoid in Anaheim, but he actually seems to relish the public pressure, witness his stirring pregame speech and ensuing performance in last year’s WBC championship game.

The Dodgers are the perfect spot for Ohtani, and he is the perfect player for them, a match perfectly made on a Southern California freeway where his arrival is a SigAlert of the senses.

Shohei Ohtani is a Dodger?

Shohei Ohtani is a Dodger!

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