In first news conference with Dodgers, Shohei Ohtani dodges questions about Tommy John surgery

Sports

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shohei Ohtani opened his first news conference with the Los Angeles Dodgers by dodging questions about whether he had a second Tommy John surgery.

“At the time of the announcement, we didn’t know which way we were going to go. That’s why I never said what type of procedure was going to be done,” Ohtani said through a translator Thursday during his introduction after receiving a record $700 million, 10-year contract.

It was Ohtani’s first time speaking with the media since Aug. 9, two weeks before a pitching injury that required surgery with Dodgers head team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Sept. 19 and will keep him off the mound until 2025. Ohtani had Tommy John surgery performed by ElAttrache on Oct. 1, 2018.

“I’m not obviously an expert in the medical field, but it was a procedure,” Ohtani said. “I’m not sure what it’s called. I know it was completely different from my first time, so I don’t know what you want to call it. You could probably talk to my doctor about that.”

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Ohtani refused to say what other teams he negotiated with before the agreement with the Dodgers last weekend.

“Free agency is still going on and I don’t really want to mess with their plans and I don’t want to say anything wrong, so I don’t want to really talk about what talks I had with other organizations,” he said through translator Ippei Mizuhara.

Ohtani did, however, reveal the name of his dog, seen on his lap when he appeared on MLB Network for the announcement of his second MVP award on Nov. 16.

The dog has the American name “Decoy” and a Japanese name, “Dekopin” or “Decopin” depending on the transliteration.

Ohtani wore a navy business suit with a white shirt and blue tie, took off the jacket and put on a Dodgers home jersey with No. 17 and then the blue cap with the interlocking L&A while receiving polite applause. He took off the cap before speaking.

“One thing that really stands out in my head,” he said, “when I had the meeting with the Dodgers, the ownership group, they said when they looked back at the last 10 years, even though they made the playoffs every single year, won one World Series ring, they considered that a failure. And when I heard that, I knew they were all about winning, and that’s exactly how I feel.”

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Ohtani never reached the playoffs in six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels.

An electronic sign flashed “Welcome to the Dodgers, Shohei Ohtani” in English and Japanese above the stage at Dodger Stadium. Fifteen rows of seats were filled with media, Dodgers employees and sponsors on the Centerfield Plaza under sunny skies. Numerous Japanese television crews and photographers ringed the seating area.

Ohtani thanked controlling owner Mark Walter, team president Stan Kasten, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, general manager Brandon Gomes and manager Dave Roberts.

The Dodgers had attempted to sign Ohtani out of high school before he joined the Nippon Ham Fighters.

“Shohei is arguably the most talented player who has ever played this game,” Friedman said, flanked by Ohtani and Walter. “One of our goals is to have baseball fans in Japan convert to Dodger blue.”

A unique two-way star as both a hitter and pitcher, the 29-year-old Japanese sensation left the Angels as a free agent. He’s moving 30 miles up Interstate 5 after the Dodgers won out over the competition in a deal announced Monday. He said he made his decision Friday night, on the eve of his announcement.

Ohtani also thanked the Angels during the news conference that was shown in Japan, where it began at 8 a.m. Friday.

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“It was a fun ride, a great ride for the last six years. … I’ll never forget all the memories I have,” he said. “There’s always sadness leaving teams. Last time it was the Fighters and in this case it was the Angels.”

The two-time AL MVP has a .274 batting average with 171 homers, 437 RBIs and 86 stolen bases along with a 39-19 record with a 3.01 ERA and 608 strikeouts in 481 2/3 innings. Ohtani has 34.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), per Baseball Reference.

Ohtani’s unusual contract calls for annual salaries of $70 million and of each year’s salary, $68 million is deferred with no interest, payable in equal installments each July 1 from 2034-43. Kasten said Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, proposed the deferred money last Friday, when there were false reports of a possible deal with Toronto.

“I wouldn’t have had the guts to propose it,” Friedman said.

Deferred money lowered the annual charge to the Dodgers’ luxury tax payroll to about $46 million, lowering their competitive balance tax.

“I figured if I can defer as much money as I can, if that’s going to help the CBT and that’s going to help the Dodgers be able to sign better players and make a better team, I felt like that was worth it,” Ohtani said.

Ohtani can opt out of the deal if either Walter or Friedman no longer is with the team, a person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the terms were not announced.

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“Everybody has to be on the same page in order to have a winning organization,” Ohtani said. “I feel like those two are at the top of it and they’re in control of everything. And I feel almost like I’m having a contract with those two guys. And I feel like if one of them are gone … things might get a little out of control so I just wanted a safety net.”

Said Friedman: “Obviously, it’s really flattering but also it’s a non-factor for me.”

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