Shohei Ohtani is in the midst of perhaps the greatest single-season performances a baseball player has had in the sport’s history.
This, apparently, isn’t enough for ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith — not that anyone should really care. But the ESPN hot-take artist believes it’s bad for Ohtani to use an interpreter and believes that his use of one is actually “harming” the game, which in and of itself makes no sense.
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“But 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 … needs an interpreter to understand what the hell he’s saying,” Smith says.
Smith’s reasoning, in a nutshell, is that Ohtani’s lack of ability to speak English hurts the game because he cannot connect with a younger generation of baseball fan, which Smith says is a problem because the sport is “in trouble” and needs those stars.
There are many reasons why these comments are idiotic and misguided and we probably shouldn’t waste time on them. But let’s break them down, anyway:
— Baseball is a sport where there’s a massive influx of Latino and Asian players, many of whom are the stars and faces of baseball today. Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuna Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., to name a few. While Tatis speaks fluent English, Acuña and Guerrero Jr. still use interpreters to get their point across in interviews and news conferences.
If a professional athlete in the United States feels he or she can most comfortably answer a question and convey their thoughts in their native language, then why not? That’s their right — and commentators should really have no say in the matter. Japan’s own Ichiro Suzuki was one of baseball’s biggest stars in his career, and he only spoke English with teammates, choosing to use a translator for news conferences. Why? Out of respect for language and to not cause confusion when speaking.
— Some of the best and most well-known athletes in the world don’t speak English. Ever hear of Messi? He’s kind of a big deal.
— Using the ability to speak English a barometer for a star’s popularity in baseball is a dumb, fleeting and failing exercise. Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Aaron Judge and Mookie Betts are four of MLB’s preeminent stars who all speak English. But they’re not the well-known, universal sports stars that they should be. That’s not an English problem. That’s an MLB problem, which the league is trying to rectify. If American, English-speaking players aren’t getting the rub they should as superstars, then how does Ohtani’s choice to use an interpreter factor in here?
— Shohei Ohtani will be the starting pitcher in the 2021 MLB All-Star Game. He will hit in the 2021 MLB All-Star Game. He will participate in the 2021 MLB Home Run Derby. His ability to speak English has no bearing on how big of a star he is in baseball, especially overseas in Japan — and if you need that as an excuse to denigrate or critique him, then you may need new material.
So, it doesn’t really matter whether Ohtani speaks English. It’s shameful that anyone considers this a problem.
Ohtani’s game translates. That’s all that matters.