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 number one face is a dude that needs an interpreter so you can understand what the hell he’s saying.
Shohei Ohtani is not just the biggest face in Major League Baseball. He is an international superstar that has reached levels even athletes like Mike Trout and Jacob deGrom couldn’t fathom. When Japanese broadcasts have cameras dedicated to watching one specific player, you know that player must be something special, and that’s exactly what Ohtani was in 2021...special.
The Los Angeles Angels’ starting pitcher and designated hitter became just the 19th player in MLB history to win an MVP award unanimously. He was the leadoff man for the American League All-Star team and was the team’s starting pitcher. He finished the season with an ERA+ of 141 and an OPS+ of 158. He pulled off feats that the baseball world hasn’t seen since Babe Ruth and Negro Leaguers like Martin Dihigo and Bullet Rogan. He quickly became one of the most beloved players in the sport, and although his skill set is not indicative of what we should expect from MLB players in the future, Ohtani’s ability to thrive as a pitcher and hitter was a marvel to watch this past season.
Yesterday, popular baseball video game franchise MLB: The Show announced their cover athlete for 2022. Coming as a surprise to absolutely no one other than Smith, it’s Ohtani.
(First off, there was a huge missed opportunity with the title this year. Definitely should’ve been renamed “MLB: The Sho” with Ohtani on the cover. Just want to throw that out there.)
By some miracle, MLB fans can actually resonate with someone who didn’t learn English as his first language. Who would’ve thunk? It’s almost like baseball fans just want to see good baseball and charismatic personalities. Remember when former Toronto Blue Jays’ infielder Munenori Kawasaki took over all of baseball social media for a few weeks because of his hilarious antics during interviews?
It wasn’t a problem that his English wasn’t worthy of a Shakespearean sonnet, now was it? I understand the argument that Kawasaki was never the “face of MLB” like Ohtani is. That’s true, but is that also the case for Yasiel Puig? Javy Báez? Vlad Guerrero? All of these guys were pretty stellar players at some point or another and had a case for being the face of MLB when they were placed on the cover of 989 Sports’ latest baseball video game (Guerrero was on the cover of MLB 2006 — one year before MLB: The Show became an annual franchise). Furthermore, each of these incredible athletes did not learn English as their first language. Sure, Puig and Báez could get through interviews without an interpreter, but Guerrero used an interpreter his entire career. His son, Vlad Guerrero Jr., who quickly rose to MLB superstardom in 2021, finished second to Ohtani in AL MVP voting, and won the All-Star Game MVP Award, also uses a translator.
Does that take away from his ability to play baseball? Hell no! Does it take away from his likability? Hell no, and the same goes for Ohtani. Ohtani has earned every right to be on the cover of “MLB: The Show 22.” And guess what? I can almost guarantee that this game will sell more copies than many of the versions that have come before. Why? Because Ohtani is the biggest superstar baseball has seen in a long, long time. His face transcends borders and is beloved by all. He’s not only the face of MLB. He’s the heart, soul, and legs (because he’s carrying the league on his back right now).
I’m glad Stephen A. Smith apologized for his xenophobic comments, and hopefully, his comments were ringing in the back of his mind as the cover announcement was made last night.