Illustration by staff illustrator Sakura Siegel.
Disclaimer: The writer is Asian-American.
This MLB season one player has emerged and left fans starstruck, and his name is Shohei Ohtani.
Ohtani is a 27-year-old Japanese baseball superstar for the Los Angeles Angels. He is a two-way player, meaning he is a starting pitcher and position player as DH, or designated hitter. He’s been so dominant that fans have dubbed his performances as “Shotime.”
In 14 starts this season, Ohtani is 4-1 with a 3.21 ERA in 73 innings. As for batting, Ohtani is leading the league with 34 home runs.
He has become the biggest storyline in the MLB and one of the new faces of the league, but that has not come without some controversy.
The Angels MVP candidate has had to endure racist comments made about him, something that Asian Americans — athletes or not — are all too familiar with.
Stephen A. Smith, of ESPN’s “First Take,” is known for hot takes, done most likely to generate more views.
However, he was criticized for what he said on the show when he said that Ohtani is bad for the game of baseball since he does not speak English, and has to rely on a translator.
With the backlash, Smith did apologize publicly, on “First Take,” and took responsibility for what he said. It also should be noted that Ohtani does speak English, his translator, Ippei Mizuhara, is just there to make sure Ohtani’s words are coherent and clear to the fans to better connect with him.
Smith’s comments may have not been intended to be racial, but given how well-known he is, not apologizing could have done more harm towards the Asian American community.
Asian Americans have always been subjected towards stereotypes and are not nearly reported enough as other ethnic groups.
Asians have the stereotype of having perfect grades, strict parents, traditional views, and embarking on a career in the medical field.
While, on its face, it does not seem bad to have these stereotypes out on Asian Americans, a person choosing to create a different path could be considered to be a disappointment to the family, or not being “Asian” enough.
Ohtani began his career as a member of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Pacific League.
He was a Japan Series champion, MVP, and 5 time All-Star during his career in Japan. His career stats in Japan are a 42-15 record with a 2.52 ERA, while hitting 48 home runs. Ohtani would sign with the Los Angeles Angels of the MLB in December 2017.
Japanese players joining the MLB is nothing new, as players such as Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Yu Darvish have made the jump with tremendous success.
What makes Ohtani so special and unique is his play style, which has been compared to New York Yankees legend Babe Ruth, regarded by some to be baseball’s greatest of all-time.
Ohtani would go on to win the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year award. In 10 starts, he compiled a 4-2 record with a 3.31 ERA, while batting .285 and hitting 22 home runs.
The hype around Ohtani currently is at an all-time high.
Since July 1, Ohtani has been the top-selling athlete, in memorabilia and merchandise, across all sports.
The Angels slugger competed in the 2021 Home Run Derby, where he belted 28 homers in a losing effort. The very next night, he was the leadoff batter, and pitched a perfect inning for the American League, picking up the win for the AL.
Ohtani’s game and charisma has brought a lot of attention to the MLB this year, a sport that is typically considered “boring.”
An MVP front-runner, casual fans may still not watch full games, but they are tuning into highlights on what Ohtani does on a night to night basis.
Fans at opposing stadiums often cheer aw they marvel at the towering shots Ohtani hits against their home team.
Ohtani is just what baseball needs—a player doing something that has not been done since Babe Ruth in the 1920s.
His game speaks for itself. No translator required.