Home » Shohei Ohtani’s world about to change on and off the field with Dodgers

Shohei Ohtani’s world about to change on and off the field with Dodgers

Welcome to Los Angeles, Shohei Ohtani. Your full Ohtanomy bubble just popped.

The only thing that will be familiar to the newest member of the Los Angeles Dodgers upon transferring between Southern California teams is the beaches (those are actually a bit different up the coast, too). All else will look and feel entirely different at Chavez Ravine, even if it’s just 50 miles north of his Orange County residence. Particularly at the onset of his mind-bending 10-year, $700 million deal, Los Angeles will be uncharted territory in all of the ways Ohtani has tried to avoid. 

Sure, Ohtani is deeply familiar with what it’s like to be a superstar in the greater L.A. area. But playing for the Angels of Anaheim wasn’t even the dress rehearsal for what he can expect as a Dodger. We knew privacy was of the utmost importance to Ohtani, both during the season and especially during his heightened free agency. But the fact that Ohtani picked the Dodgers means he is at least willing to forgo some of that solitude in favor of what seemingly matters most to the best player in baseball: winning.

In Anaheim, Ohtani got away with regularly hiding from the gaggle of reporters that showed up daily to cover him. The bigger the news — like when he tore his UCL near the end of the 2023 season — the more unavailable he would be. The Angels’ PR team, coaches, front office, and Ohtani’s representatives aided his goal of operating in isolation by either speaking for him, allowing him time and space to hide within a ballpark, or cross-checking reporters’ questions before his already infrequent availability. That’s not going to fly now that he’s legitimately in the nation’s second-biggest market.

So, if Ohtani didn’t care for all the hullabaloo in the first place, accepting a contract with the Dodgers might just force his hand. With the commotion he’ll cause in Hollywood, it will be more difficult than ever for the humble Japanese superstar to stay out of the spotlight. The media contingent that covers the Dodgers is markedly bigger, and will only grow with Ohtani on board. The Dodgers’ fan base is exponentially larger, more passionate and more critical. Dodger Stadium will need to build an auxiliary press box just to accommodate a portion of the media frenzy he’ll create.

But there were also distinguishing factors for the Dodgers — aside from the size of their offer — that appealed to Ohtani. The demand to succeed is higher with his new club, as is the competition level. Playing meaningful games all year round will be different for him — and certainly a joy. Fighting for a postseason berth in September will be new. So will competing in October. His most analogous experience was this year’s World Baseball Classic, which he closed out by striking out former teammate Mike Trout to give Team Japan the championship. Ohtani now joins MLB’s winningest organization of the past decade.

But the two-way icon must also know, in joining one of baseball’s most important franchises, that his obligations will increase. It will be markedly more difficult, if not impossible, for him to sidestep the many responsibilities that accompany wearing Dodger blue. 

Just this week, when manager Dave Roberts spoke candidly about pursuing Ohtani, the topic of his privacy came up multiple times. For one, reporters were shocked to hear Roberts reveal mundane details like the mere existence of a meeting, when and where it happened and how long they spoke, only because no other club had broken Ohtani’s reported request for privacy. ESPN reported that if details about his free agency were leaked, Ohtani would hold it against that team. 

Well, Roberts took a blowtorch to that edict and gave Ohtani a taste of what he can expect as a Dodger. The skipper divulged some details of their meeting and said he didn’t feel comfortable outright lying to the media that it happened. With his admission, he was also setting a precedent. Roberts showed that he was willing to address the truth, while keeping most of the specifics to himself. It’s a high-wire act, no doubt, to balance Ohtani’s desire for privacy while still being forthright about basic matters. Is it possible that Ohtani actually respected the way Roberts handled the interview?

Moving forward, the Dodgers will expect more public appearances and interactions from Ohtani. Roberts fielded questions at the winter meetings about Ohtani’s media policy while he played for the Angels. By the end of his tenure in Anaheim, Ohtani would speak to reporters only after he pitched. With Ohtani returning strictly as a (designated) hitter to begin his Dodgers career, Roberts was asked directly if Ohtani’s media policies were a topic of conversation during his visit to Dodger Stadium.

What does Shohei Ohtani’s signing mean for the Dodgers?

“We didn’t have that conversation,” Roberts said. “I think that’s something that, yeah, I think that it’s a conversation that should be had. Just kind of trying to figure out what’s best for himself but also baseball. So, I don’t know the right answer. My hope is that we get to have that conversation, but I really can’t speak to how it’s been prior.”

Such an approach is a departure from what he was used to with the Angels. For six years, Ohtani was spoiled by the Angels organization. He was picky about when he would talk, and to whom. He was secretive about his health regarding his UCL surgery, his injuries, bumps and bruises, or otherwise. Rather than the team/front office/manager deciding whether Ohtani would play in a game minutes after he learned about his UCL tear, the Angels gave Ohtani full authority to make that decision. Really, Ohtani was operating with unchecked power in Anaheim. Don’t expect that to fly with the Dodgers.

With that said, Ohtani’s team selection signals that his desire to be a Dodger, surely inspired by the organization’s penchant for winning, was greater than his need for privacy. Unlike in Anaheim, he will need to be an active face of the franchise while also not being able to call all the shots. And everyone, including a packed Dodger Stadium on a nightly basis, will be watching. The chaos surrounding him Friday, with random private planes being tracked and dinner reservations monitored, was just a sample of the attention he’ll attract. His stardom will only explode now that he’s in Tinseltown. 

The only peace and quiet he can count on will be inside the cozy confines of his secluded Southern California home. The moment he steps out in public, pandemonium will follow. His fans, now more than ever, will be watching and waiting and wanting. And his fame, for better and for worse, will only intensify the more he delivers.

Just like with his record-breaking contract, perhaps Ohtani can set a new precedent for a celebrity camouflaging in the Hollywood fishbowl. Remaining truly private in Los Angeles, after all, could be just as challenging as simultaneously prospering as a pitcher and hitter. Many have tried, but few have succeeded.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar. 

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