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.”
ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith made headlines on Monday after a segment from his ‘First Take’ show went viral for all the wrong reasons.
During a discussion about Shotei Ohtani’s historical impact on the game, Smith raised eyebrows when he said that Ohtani has ‘harmed’ Major League Baseball by becoming the league’s biggest draw, and at the same time being a player from Japan 'who needs an interpreter' to speak English.
Smith said it’s not good that Ohtani is currently MLB’s most identifiable player because he doesn’t appeal to a younger demographic of fans for reasons that Smith says has to do with his usage of an interpreter when making media appearances.
Stephen A. added that Major League Baseball would be better off with Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and 'those guys', as the face of the league.
Smith uploaded a response video hours after the Twitter firestorm, doubling down on his original take but clarifying his intentions.
“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… Ohtani is the second coming of Babe Ruth, 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 last month when they talked about 28% of the players in Major League Baseball are foreign players and a lot of them need translators. 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... 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."
Ohtani is 27 years old and currently leads the Major Leagues in home runs and slugging percentage, and also ranks sixth as a starting pitcher with 11.69 strikeouts per nine innings.
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