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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Ohtani’s Dodger Debut Also Advances MLB’s Global Ambitions

  • Two high-profile games in Seoul begin a new professional chapter for the superstar.
  • The MLBPA deals with rising internal dissension.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The official beginning for Shohei Ohtani in Dodger blue begins Wednesday, and it happens to coincide directly with a key business initiative for MLB. 

Ohtani, who signed a record $700 million contract in December, and the Dodgers will begin the league’s 2024 regular season with a two-game series in Seoul against the Padres. The South Korea games, announced last summer as this year’s schedule was completed, are MLB’s first there and represent a key element of the league’s fast-rising international ambitions. 

The Seoul Series is part of a so-called MLB World Tour, which also includes stops this year in the Dominican Republic, England, and Mexico. Similar to other major U.S. leagues such as the NFL, NBA, and NHL, international play is a critical ambition for MLB as it seeks to expand its non-American audience. The Seoul games Wednesday and Thursday will begin at 6:05 a.m. ET. 

South Korea is much closer to Ohtani’s home country of Japan than the U.S., and the ticket resale market is already exploding for the pair of games, reaching a listing price in some cases more than $3,000 per ticket to see the phenom. It’s not exactly the second coming of Beatlemania but not exactly different, either, further burnished by the return of countryman and Padres shortstop Ha-Seong Kim, who played his first seven pro seasons in South Korea before signing with San Diego in early 2021. 

“I appreciate all the attention,” Ohtani said last weekend after arriving in Seoul. “I still need to be part of the team. I want to prove to everyone that I’m actually a Dodger now.”

Ohtani’s already-massive profile was further burnished this week by New Balance’s release of a logo dedicated to the superstar. The mark, showing Ohtani rounding first base, further elevates him far beyond the realm of ordinary athlete endorser.

“This is just the beginning,” said Chris Davis, New Balance CMO and senior vice president of merchandising dining. “We will continue to innovate, inspire, and give back in a way that can only be expressed through Shohei.”

Union Unrest

The MLB Players Association, meanwhile, is fighting rising internal issues as both The Athletic and ESPN reported that a tense video conference Monday involved a majority of involved players calling on union executive director Tony Clark to dismiss deputy director Bruce Meyer in favor of Harry Marino, a lawyer who helped a historic unionization effort of minor league players. 

No decision has been made on Meyer’s fate. But the situation appears to run on multiple schisms. Many younger players with recent minor league experience have a close relationship with Marino. Meyer is also accused of being too tied ideologically to super agent Scott Boras.

Spending on players this offseason, meanwhile, is down by roughly $1 billion from last year’s record outlay of $3.9 billion. But that hardly tells the whole story, as nearly a third of the latest haul was dominated by just two players: Ohtani and new Dodgers teammate Yoshinobu Yamamoto. What’s more, many teams have cut back their spending as uncertainty regarding the bankrupt Diamond Sports Group and the overall state of local television ratings have roiled the industry. 

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