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‘I’m Actually Happy To Hear That’: Shohei Ohtani On Being The Face Of Baseball, Responds To Stephen A. Smith’s Criticism

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SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 03: Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels watches his home run against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning at T-Mobile Park on October 03, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Los Angeles Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani took baseball by storm as the modern-day Babe Ruth in 2021, becoming the first player in Major League history to be selected to the All-Star Game as both a hitter and a pitcher. 

In November, Ohtani was selected as the unanimous American League Most Valuable Player. With the award, he became just the second Japanese player to win the MVP, after Ichiro Suzuki, who won in 2001.

His stats jump off the page, hitting .257 at the plate with 46 home runs, 100 RBI, and 103 runs scored. He also had eight triples (tied for the major league-high) and stole 26 bases. And while his stats at the plate alone would warrant MVP conversation, Ohtani’s added brilliance on the mound made his season unprecedented. In 23 starts, Ohtani posted a 3.18 ERA in 130 innings. 

But even with his brilliance, there are those who feel that Ohtani quickly becoming the face of the league “contributes to harming the game.” 

Stephen A. Smith of ESPN found himself in hot water following his July comments on Ohtani in which he said that the Japanese star’s need for an interpreter was bad for the game of baseball. 

“The fact that you got a foreign player that doesn’t speak English, that needs an interpreter — believe it or not — I think contributes to harming the game to some degree, when that’s your box office appeal,” Smith said. “It needs to be somebody like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys. And unfortunately at this moment in time, that’s not the case.” 

Ohtani is from Japan, and while he is not fluent, he can speak English. He also speaks Spanish. 

“When you talk about an audience gravitating to the tube, or to the ballpark, to actually watch you, I don’t think it helps that the No. 1 face is a dude that needs an interpreter so you can understand what the hell he’s saying, in this country,” Smith said. “And that’s what I’m trying to say.” 

After being destroyed in the media for his comments, Smith apologized, but it certainly fired up the conversation around baseball’s inability to find a marketable superstar to build around over the years. 

“I mean, if I could speak English, I would speak English,” Ohtani told GQ in Japanese. “Of course I would want to. Obviously it wouldn’t hurt to be able to speak English. There would only be positive things to come from that. But I came here to play baseball, at the end of the day, and I’ve felt like my play on the field could be my way of communicating with the people, with the fans. That’s all I really took from that in the end.”

“It’s mandatory in school, for, like, six years in Japan,” he adds. “Middle school, high school, which everyone takes. That was the only exposure to English I had before I came over. My high school English teacher was actually my baseball coach…,” he says, laughing. “Now that I think about it, he probably can’t speak the language that well. But they teach it to us to, like, pass tests…Not that I want to be dissing the whole English educational system of Japan…”

Ohtani responded to the pressure of being the face of baseball, saying it’s “what he came here for.” 

“More than pressure,” Ohtani said. “I’m actually happy to hear that. It’s what I came here for, to be the best player I can. And hearing ‘the face of baseball,’ that’s very welcoming to me, and it gives me more motivation to—because I’ve only had, this was my first really good year. And it’s only one year. So it gives me more motivation to keep it up, and have more great years.”

Major League Baseball is currently experiencing its first work stoppage since the 1994-1995 season, with the owners locking out the players following the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.

Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to sports@dailywire.com.

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