UPDATE: Stephen A. Smith released an apology regarding his controversial segment on Shohei Ohtani -- 6:19 PM ET, 3:19 PM PT.
Stephen A. Smith: “My segment on Ohtani this morning on First Take, people are misinterpreting what I’m saying, I’m not talking about the state of the game of baseball. Baseball is a great game and a great sport and some of the greatest players in the world are foreign players. Tatis comes to my mind, I love this brother and what he brings to the table, and Ohtani is the second coming of Babe Ruth, okay? That’s not what I was trying to say. I’m talking about the marketability and promotion of the sport, and it’s exactly what Sports Illustrated essentially alluded to in their article last month when they talked about ‘28% of the players in Major League Baseball are foreign players’, a lot of them need translator, you know, Spanish, it could be Mandarin, Japanese, the list goes on and on and on. If you are a sport trying to ingratiate yourself with the American public the way Major League Baseball is, because of the problems that you’ve been having to deal with in terms of improving the attractiveness of the sport, it helps if you spoke the English language. It doesn’t mean anything more than that. Baseball is a great game, but baseball’s audience is significantly older the NBA, NFL audience, etc. etc. That’s what I was talking about, nothing more. We’re only talking about Ohtani because he’s phenomenal, he’s going to be in the Home Run Derby, he’s got 33 home runs with a .279 batting average, plus he can pitch and he’s the second-coming of Bath Ruth, practically. We know it’s an international sport, we know that’s great, and baseball having the global appeal that it is, fine, but in the United States all I was saying was that when you're a superstar, if you can speak the English language, then guess what, that's going to make it that much easier and less challenging to promote the sport. That’s all I was saying about anybody.”
Smith said on ESPN’s ‘First Take’ show that it was ‘harmful’ to Major League Baseball that Ohtani needs a translator during media appearances, and added that it would be better for the game if Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and ‘those guys’ were the faces of baseball.
Smith doubled-down in his Twitter video following the backlash the segment created, saying that it would help grow the game of baseball in the United States if the best players ‘spoke the English language.’
Here was the full transcript from the original segment.
Molly Qerim: “Is this good for Major League Baseball that Ohtani is the top attraction?”
Stephen A. Smith: “Not to me, and I say not to me because I completely understand where other people are coming from… Even though baseball is an international sport and I totally get that, it’s played in the United States and Canada, and that’s where Major League Baseball is being played. So when I’m looking at it I'm looking at it from this perspective: in the United States of America, when you talk about the sport of Major League Baseball you talk about its lack of diversity in terms of African-American players, you talk about the influx of foreign players, whether they be from Venezuela, or the Dominican Republic, or Japan, or anywhere else. If you are a star and you need an interpreter that might have something to do, not everything because there’s a lot of things that go into it, but that might have something to do with your inability to ingratiate yourself with that young demographic to attract them to the sport. I would remind others that baseball is in trouble. The audience for Major League Baseball, the demographic repeatedly gets older. It’s not getting younger. That younger demographic, which is the targets for all of the advertisers, and sponsors, and everybody else out there, that’s the NBA and the NFL. Major League Baseball is struggling miserably and that’s why you got a lot of people who have turned against the commissioner Rob Manfred because of all of the changes that he’s tried to incorporate and implement in an effort to save the sport by elevating its level of interest. It’s even alienated some of the players who are traditionalists and want things to remain the same as they always were. We all know that the sport of baseball, led by its players, are always the last to the party. They’re so reluctant to change. When I look at Ohtani he is bigtime. This brother is special, make no mistake about it, but 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. It needs to be somebody like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys, and unfortunately at this moment in time that’s not the case.”