Major League Baseball — and commissioner Rob Manfred — is still struggling with the effects of the 2020 season. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, players and the league were unable to agree on a return-to-play plan that made sense for both sides.
Instead, the league imposed a shortened 60-game season. So, in 2021, with the league returning back to a full-length season in the normal schedule, they needed something big to happen. That may have been the emergence of Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani.
Ohtani has been one of the world’s most popular baseball players since he stepped on the scene in 2018. However, injuries derailed his early success. In 2021, he became a true, every day two-way player, and the results were nothing short of spectacular.
Manfred was not shy in saying that Ohtani’s dominant season came at the perfect time for a league that desperately needed a greater audience. “I think it was a huge timing benefit for us,” Manfred said of Ohtani. “Obviously, we had a very extensive effort directed at the internationalization of the game, things like London, that was truncated by the pandemic.”
“And to have an international star like Shohei emerge this year was kind of perfect timing for us because it helped us continue to grow the game internationally, which is one of our foremost goals. So the timing of it was perfect for us.
Ohtani doubled down on his popularity by speaking directly to little league players when asked about how he feels his game could impact the next generation. “I just think I want to tell the kids to love the sport and have passion for it. I played at the Little League game this year, and I met some of the Little League kids, and I really felt their passion and love for the sport.”
“As long as they can keep that love and passion for the game, it will take them a long ways.”
Ohtani was the face of every major MLB event this season, and that’s likely going to continue so long as he remains among the top players. Not only is he incredibly talented with an international fanbase, he is also a likable person.
The Angels star is easy to root for and supremely talented, and his emergence absolutely helped lift Major League Baseball out of a difficult year.
Ohtani confident he can repeat historic season
Going into the 2021 season, Ohtani’s biggest concern was just staying healthy the whole year. Now that he’s done that, he firmly believes that the elite production at the plate and on the mound is repeatable.
“At this point, I’m not really worried about anything going forward,” Ohtani said of his sustainability. “I feel pretty confident that I could repeat what I did this year. I just need to get out there and play every day and leave the numbers, put up good numbers, and I think I’ll be able to at least have a similar season as this year.”