Shohei Ohtani is the whole show — and he welcomes the idea.
After an utterly historic season by any measure of the word, the Angels’ two-way superstar almost instantly surpassed teammate Mike Trout to become the preeminent (and somewhat mythical) “face of baseball” in 2021.
Ohtani, winner of the 2021 Sporting News Player of the Year award, the 2021 Athlete of the Year award, also added a unanimous AL MVP selection for his efforts on the field. Those awards join his 2018 Rookie of the Year award on the mantle.
It might be intangible, but it sounds like “face of baseball” means the most to the star.
Speaking for a lengthy feature in GQ, Ohtani weighed in on his standing on becoming the face of baseball, adding that he welcomes the burden that comes with being the sport’s greatest ambassador:
More than pressure. 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.
Among other things, Ohtani addressed the nonsensical criticism of ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who in July said that Ohtani’s lack of grasp on English somehow damaged the sport more than his play on-field helped it.
I mean, if I could speak English, I would speak English. 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.
Ohtani’s 2021 season was among the greatest in the history of the sport — or any sport. At the dish, Ohtani mashed 46 home runs with a .965 OPS. On the rubber, he started 23 games, pitching to a 3.18 ERA over 130 innings.
The phenom’s 2021 performance puts him staunchly in a one-of-very-few category. Now, he’s 1-of-1 as the face of the sport.