DENVER — ESPN talk show commentator Stephen A. Smith is apologizing after remarks he made on 'First Take' criticizing Shohei Ohtani's use of an interpreter.
On Monday night, Angels star Shohei Ohtani became the first Japanese-born player in the Home Run Derby. On Tuesday night, he'll bat first for the American League and also take the mound first. He leads the league in home runs at the All-Star break with 33. Ohtani is taking over baseball.
Stephen A. Smith was on 'First Take' Monday debating whether it's good for baseball that Ohtani is the league's top star, arguing that it's bad for the game that the face of baseball is using an interpreter to speak with reporters and media members.
“I understand that baseball is an international sport itself in terms of participation, 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 in this country," Stephen A. Smith said on 'First Take' Monday.
On the Locked On Today podcast, Brent Maguire of Locked On Angels joined the show to talk about Ohtani's meteoric rise this year, what his impact will be on baseball historically and Stephen A. Smith's comments.
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Smith apologized on Twitter later that day, saying he should have embraced the positive difference that Ohtani is making in baseball and all sports and admitted that his comments were unintentionally insensitive.
He also opened the show on Tuesday apologizing for the remarks.
Ohtani is piling up records and "first-time" achievements this year as both a Japanese-born player and a two-way player. In addition to leading baseball with 33 home runs at the break, he's been more than solid on the mound, where he's 4-1 with 87 strikeouts and a 3.49 ERA through 13 starts this season.
Ohtani has become the first player in 100 years to start a game as a pitcher while leading the league in home runs, he’s struck out more batters than any other player to ever hit 25 home runs in a season and he’s hit more home runs than any other player to start more than 10 games at pitcher in a season.
On Locked On Today, Bukowski and Maguire discussed Stephen A. Smith's comments.
"Baseball fans understand Ohtani as a player, the importance that he represents in the modern game, the different elements that he's bringing, and if we celebrate those things and don't lean into the, oh, these are the barriers," Peter Bukowski said on Locked On Today.
"Look at Giannis Antetokounmpo in the NBA Playoffs. English, not his first language. He is not the sort of, you know, swaggering charismatic NBA figure and yet he is a super duper star in the NBA, a huge seller of jerseys," Bukowski said. "He's a highly marketable player. We don't have to lean into the stereotypes of oh, they're not American, or oh, they're not us. We can just say they are great at what they do."
It's certainly not the first time that the most enticing player in baseball has used an interpreter and it won't be the last. Baseball is massive internationally and a majority of stars in the game, both historically and today, were not born in the U.S.
"And I think the one thing that really frustrated me the most with the whole Stephen A. Smith thing is baseball is such an international sport," Maguire said on Locked On Today. "It's not America's right to own. We've got players when you look at the faces of baseball right now whether that's Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuna Jr., Shohei Ohtani. I mean we've got guys from all over the world, so the idea that they couldn't be the face of baseball, we couldn't market them, because English isn't their first language to me is just an asinine statement."
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