The meteoric rise of Los Angeles Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani was one of the major headlines from the 2021 season. After two years of injuries and inconsistent performance, Ohtani was given the freedom to play as much as he wanted.
The results were incredible, as Ohtani hit 46 home runs and 100 RBIs with a .965 OPS as a batter. He stole 26 bases and hit eight triples to show off his blazing speed. And he topped it all off with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts over 130.1 innings pitched.
Combined, Ohtani had one of the all-time great individual seasons, making him the center of the baseball world and all debate surrounding the sport. So when he was asked if being the nominal “face of baseball” added pressure to perform, he responded with the calm manner that fans have become accustomed to with the Angels star, according to Daniel Riley of GQ:
“More than pressure,” he says, “I’m actually happy to hear that. It’s what I came here for, to be the best player I can. 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.”
This sentiment from Ohtani came from the back end of a conversation about the controversial comments by ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith. Smith proclaimed — and later recanted — that Ohtani could not serve as the face of baseball because he could not speak English, and therefore needed a translator to speak to the media.
Ohtani offered a measured response to that, as well, despite the offensive nature of the comments.
“I mean, if I could speak English, I would speak English,” he says in Japanese. “Of course I would want to. Obviously it wouldn’t hurt to be able to speak English. There would only be positive things to come from that. But I came here to play baseball, at the end of the day, and I’ve felt like my play on the field could be my way of communicating with the people, with the fans. That’s all I really took from that in the end.”
To this point, there has been zero complaints from Angels fans and teammates regarding Ohtani’s use of a tranlastor. In fact, his translator Ippei Mizuhara has become somewhat of a celebrity himself within Halos fandom. Outside of when Ohtani is on the field delivering another highlight play, the two are rarely seen separated from one another.
If Ohtani can repeat his 2021 production the way he believes he can, there is almost no doubt that he will cement himself as the face of baseball, if he hasn’t already. However, no one appears built for that international stage better than the Angels’ two-way superstar.
Ohtani wins 2021 AP Male Athlete of the Year
The Associated Press gave Ohtani what figures to be the last of many awards for his historic 2021 season. As the calendar flipped to 2022, Ohtani was named AP Male Athlete of the Year for 2021, showing the impact his season had on the sports world, despite the lack of a playoff berth.