As the Los Angeles Angels’ pitcher-slugger Shohei Ohtani moves toward a Major League Baseball feat that has not been accomplished since Babe Ruth, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith went on First Take Monday morning to say Ohtani’s discomfort with speaking English in interviews hurts the marketability of the sport.
Asked directly by First Take host Molly Qerim if it was good for MLB “that Ohtani’s the top attraction,” Smith replied, “Not to me.” He then went on to explain: “If you are a star and you need an interpreter…that might have something to do with your inability to ingratiate yourself with that young demographic to attract them to the sport.
“Baseball is in trouble,” said Smith. “The audience for Major League Baseball repeatedly gets older. It’s not getting younger. That younger demographic, which is the target for all the advertisers and sponsors…that’s the NBA and the NFL.
“I’m talking about the marketability the promotion of the sport…28 percent of the players in Major League Baseball are foreign players. 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 that if you spoke the English language.”
“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 number one face is a dude that needs an interpreter so you can understand what the hell he’s saying.”
Reaction online was swift and cutting, with users citing examples of popular Japanese players who used interpreters — such as the Padres’ Yu Darvish, Ichiro Suzuki — and talented Latin players — such as Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuna Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — who don’t speak English as their first language. (Obviously Smith was not in Los Angeles in the early ’80s when Fernandomania enveloped the city.)
Smith posted a video midday claiming, “People are misinterpreting what I’m saying. I’m not talking about the state of the game. Baseball’s a great game.” Smith then went on to repeat his original claims about marketability and audience.
Three hours later, Smith tweeted a statement that was more contrite, beginning with the words, “I’m sincerely sorry.”
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