Inside Dodgers' failed, frustrating bid for two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani

Andy McCullough, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Baseball

TEMPE, Ariz. -- One day in early December, as the years-long pursuit of a baseball enigma approached its conclusion, a trio of Dodgers converged on the offices of the Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles.

Clayton Kershaw took a flight in from Dallas on the day of his wedding anniversary. Justin Turner escaped the frenzy of planning his own wedding to join. Chris Taylor hopped an early-morning jet from Virginia Beach. The players huddled with members of their front office for a singular purpose: to persuade Shohei Ohtani to become a Dodger.

The Dodgers had scouted Ohtani since his first year in high school in a rugged prefecture in northern Japan. Ohtani came to Los Angeles this winter as a 23-year-old phenom. He aimed to replicate a feat unseen since the days of Babe Ruth: He planned to hit and to pitch at baseball's highest level. And he sought in-person interviews with the seven clubs he deemed worthy of his services.

For about three hours, according to people who attended the meeting, Dodgers representatives tried to persuade Ohtani. They hyped the organization's past and future. They vouched for the comfort of Los Angeles. They searched for hints about his intentions, but the players found his answers inscrutable. It seemed like Ohtani had already made up his mind.

"I felt like it was a waste of my time," Turner said.

A few days later, Ohtani made his decision. He was coming to Southern California.

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To be an Angel.

"Just a gigantic waste of time," Kershaw said.

The announcement did not surprise Kershaw. Ohtani had not played the field regularly since 2014. The Angels provided Ohtani a chance to be a designated hitter, a perk no National League team like the Dodgers could offer. Ohtani manned that position during a spring training game Wednesday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, when he crossed paths with Kershaw for the first time since December.

Kershaw harbored no malice toward Ohtani, whom he called "a very respectful guy." He directed his antipathy toward Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo, for the secretive process. Balelo insisted the suggestion Ohtani had made a decision before meeting with the Dodgers was "unfounded."


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