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Shohei Ohtani has a new deal with the LA Dodgers

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Ten years, $700 million - that's the contract the Los Angeles Dodgers have awarded baseball phenomenon Shohei Ohtani. The home-run-hitting outfielder and laser-throwing pitcher has earned the largest contract in North American sports history, despite the fact that an injury has raised questions about when he'll next be able to take the mound. Ohtani has already carved out a space for himself in the conversation about baseball's all-time greats during his six years with the Los Angeles Angels, and now he's headed up the I-5 to play for one of baseball's prime franchises. What does it all mean? We are joined now by sports writer Joe Posnanski, who's penned several books about baseball history, including this year's "Why We Love Baseball." Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JOE POSNANSKI: Great to be here.

DETROW: Is this man worth $700 million to you?

POSNANSKI: Sure. It's not my money.

DETROW: (Laughter).

POSNANSKI: Yeah. Look, I mean, he - we knew he was going to break the bank. We knew he was going to have the biggest contract in baseball history. I was a little surprised that there was a seven in front of that number rather than maybe a six. But, I mean, he's worth it on so many different levels, right? I mean, he's worth it, as you mentioned - you know, he's one of the best hitters in baseball. He's a fantastic pitcher when he's healthy enough to do it. He's also the biggest icon in the sport by far, and nobody at this moment is even close. And that's international. That's national as well.

DETROW: Yeah.

POSNANSKI: And the Dodgers have a lot of big stars already, but they don't have anybody like Shohei Ohtani 'cause there isn't anybody like Shohei Ohtani. So you know that that money is, you know, of course, because of his great baseball playing but it's also, I think, to sort of widen the scope of baseball in Los Angeles and around the world, I would guess.

DETROW: I mean, you have spent the last two years writing about baseball's all-time greats. What is the best way to quantify just how special he is?

POSNANSKI: I think that the single best way you can do it is that there's never been anybody like him, ever. And, you know, it's funny. I did a book, as you mentioned, called "The Baseball 100," where I counted down the hundred greatest baseball players ever. And whenever you start talking about that, people will say, I mean, you can't compare anybody to Babe Ruth because not only was Babe Ruth, you know, this extraordinary home run hitter and this larger-than-life figure, but he started his career as a pitcher and was a great pitcher before he became the - you know, the iconic hitter that he became.

Nobody's done it like this, though. Nobody's done it at the same time, where you're one of the best hitters in baseball and one of the best pitchers in baseball, same year. You know, he's won the MVP two of the last three years. He finished second last year. He's received Cy Young votes and came fairly close last year. This is - it's unprecedented. There's never been anything like it in baseball.

DETROW: I guess that says it right there. When you start leaving Babe Ruth behind in the conversation, that's...

POSNANSKI: Right.

DETROW: ...That's a moment to take notice. I mean, Ohtani won the World Baseball Classic with Japan last year, but he's been stuck on this mediocre or terrible Angels team his whole career. The Dodgers make the playoffs just about every season, even though it often doesn't go well for them. But how important is it for baseball to see him in October, and how important is it for him to maybe climb up the ranks in your revised editions to be on the stage in October?

POSNANSKI: Well, we'll start with him because it's incredibly important. I spoke a couple of weeks ago - they were doing a documentary on him in Japan, and they were asking me that exact question. They were like, you know, how important is it for him? And the truth of the matter is that you can only reach so many heights without doing some things in the postseason, doing some things in the World Series. It's just a fact. Mike Trout, who has also suffered in, you know, Anaheim, suffered the same thing...

DETROW: As much as you can suffer in Southern California, I guess.

POSNANSKI: Yeah. Yeah. It's - that's true. It's - you know, when you're a baseball player at the top of the game, I mean, there are great players like Ernie Banks who never got to play in the World Series. But if you want to be the best ever, which is, I think, exactly what Shohei Ohtani is going for, you have to perform in the World Series. It just has to happen. And I'm sure that's a huge reason he signed with the Dodgers. As to the Dodgers go, you know, I mean, look, they were already a great team. I mean, they've won a hundred games - I think five of the last six seasons. They're an incredible baseball team. This takes them to a different level. Their top three in the lineup might be unprecedented at this point.

DETROW: You know, last question - yesterday on the show, we were talking about the NBA in-season tournament in the context of how much pro sports leagues, I guess, aside from the NFL, really seem to be jostling with each other right now for attention with smartphones and every other distraction of fans. How much of a difference does the superstar moving to the center stage of LA make for baseball's overall presence?

POSNANSKI: I think a pretty big difference. I don't think there's any question. I - you know, everybody sort of saw Shohei Ohtani as this incredible player. But he was, like, alone. It was like a solo act. You know, you had to tune in to the Angels just to watch him, and now you're going to be tuning in. They're going to certainly be in a pennant race. You've got great players there like Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman and Clayton Kershaw. I mean, that is - that's a great baseball team. Yeah. It changes the whole dynamic of how people are going to watch Shohei Ohtani.

DETROW: That is sportswriter Joe Posnanski. Thank you so much for talking to us.

POSNANSKI: Absolutely. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KHRUANGBIN'S "DERN KALA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
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