Friday, January 28, 2022

Shohei Ohtani embraces being the ‘face of baseball’ and pushes back on idea that the sport is dying

Major League Baseball is more than a month into an owner-imposed lockout, but that won’t prevent Los Angeles Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani from gracing the February cover of GQ Magazine. 

Indeed, GQ published Daniel Riley’s cover story, a profile of Ohtani, on Wednesday morning. Within, Riley shares Ohtani’s explanation as to why he signed with the Angels in the first place (the vibes, essentially); how he would fare batting against himself; and what MLB has to do in order to regain its popularity. 

On that final subject, the 2021 AL MVP offers the following:

“Baseball was born here, and I personally want baseball to be the most popular sport in the United States. So if I can contribute in any way to help that, I’m more than open to it,” he says. “But if you look at the whole baseball population in the world, it’s a lot less than, like, soccer and basketball, because only select countries are really big on baseball. But in those countries where it’s huge, it’s unbelievably huge.”

Ohtani’s point is that baseball isn’t dying when its popularity is viewed from a global lens, as opposed to an American-centric one.

Ohtani also addressed an aspect of the controversial comments made by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith last season. Smith, for those who choose to ignore him, questioned whether Ohtani could be the “face of baseball” given he doesn’t speak English. Ohtani’s most revealing answer contends with his desire to be graced with that moniker.

“It’s what I came here for, to be the best player I can,” he said. “And hearing ‘the face of baseball,’ that’s very welcoming to me, and it gives me more motivation to—because I’ve only had, this was my first really good year. And it’s only one year. So it gives me more motivation to keep it up, and have more great years.”

Of course, Ohtani is being too hard on himself when he claims he’s had only one good year — he entered last season with a career 125 OPS+ and 97 ERA+ (albeit only in 12 starts) — but perhaps his refusal to accept anything less than an MVP-caliber season explains why he’s where he is: on top of the baseball world and on a magazine cover.

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