ESPN hot-button talking head Stephen A. Smith fired off a controversial statement on burgeoning baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani, a statement critics are rebuking as anti-Asian, if not racist.
Smith, a Black sports commentator who often opines on racial issues, asserted that Major League Baseball is hurt by having its "face" of the All-Star Game being unable to speak English without an interpreter.
"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," Smith said on ESPN, which is 80% owned by Walt Disney Co., the parent company of the ABC network.
Smith did acknowledge that baseball is an international game "in terms of participation," but his statement might have also suggested the baseball "audience gravitating to the tube or to the ballpark" is racist or anti-Asian.
After initially doubling down in a tweeted video, Smith issued a lengthy apologetic statement, lamenting his "stereotyping": "I'm sincerely sorry."
But the damage was done, and Twitter posters noted the racially charged comment was planned because the chyron read: "Good for MLB That Ohtani Is No. 1 Attraction?"
Sports commentator Arash Markazi tweeted:
"This wasn't an off the cuff comment. The prepared chyron is cringeworthy too. Why the hell would it be bad for Shohei Ohtani to be the No. 1 attraction? He's a generational talent doing things we haven't seen since Babe Ruth. Why, because he's Japanese and learning English? GTFOH"
Ohtani is slated to be the starting pitcher and the leadoff man for the American League All-Star Team in Tuesday night's All-Star Game. He was also a featured performer in Monday night's Home Run Derby, the first pitcher ever invited to participate.
A pitcher doubling as hitter in an All-Star Game is a first in itself, but Ohtani is both an outfielder/designated hitter and starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels — a throwback to American baseball icon Babe Ruth. Ruth initially doubled as a pitcher and a slugger, going on to become baseball's all-time home run king in the 1920s before he was topped by Henry Aaron in the 1970s and later Barry Bonds in the early 2000s.
Ohtani is batting .279 with a major league-leading 33 home runs. That 60-homer pace puts Ohtani just shy of Bonds' single-season record of 70.
The home runs are already a single-season record for a Japanese-born player and an Angels record before the All-Star break. He is also 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts on the mound this season, numbers that make him an All-Star as a pitcher alone.
He will be the second Japanese-born player to serve as a starting pitcher in an All-Star Game. Hideo Nomo, who has the only no-hitter in Coors Field history, started for the NL as a Los Angeles Dodger in 1995.
Ohtani, the superstar from Japan, is going to do something even Ruth did not: start an All-Star Game as a pitcher and then switch to hitting when his mound moment is done.
"I wasn't expecting to be chosen as a pitcher at all, but to be named the starter is a huge honor," the right-handed-throwing, left-handed-hitting Ohtani said through translator Ippei Mizuhara at All-Star Game media day Monday.
The interpreter at the news conference sparked Smith's comments above.
Markazi also tweeted a rejection of the racially charged media criticism:
"You know what a generational talent Shohei Ohtani is. He also just turned 27 and is working on his English everyday. Like many athletes from other countries learning a new language, he uses an interpreter to help the media; not to get knocked by the media."
That the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby was being held at Coors Field in Denver was already politically charged.
The game was moved to the predominantly white Denver area (64.6% white and just 5.2% Black) from Atlanta (34% Black), because of protests of state election integrity laws passed after the 2020 presidential and Jan. 5 Senate runoff elections. Democratic operatives alleged that the election law was a Republican-led effort to suppress the Black vote, which the GOP vehemently denies.
Information from Reuters was used to compile this report.
Eric Mack ✉
Eric Mack has been a writer and editor at Newsmax since 2016. He is a 1998 Syracuse University journalism graduate and a New York Press Association award-winning writer.
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