Los Angeles Angels‘ do-it-all baseball player Shohei Ohtani took MLB by storm during the 2021 season when he showed his prowess at the plate and on the pitchers’ mound, culminating in his first American League MVP award.
While the next step for Ohtani would be to help the Angels win their second World Series, the outfielder/pitcher has a bigger goal in mind.
Major League Baseball All-Star Shohei Ohtani of Japan, who plays for the Los Angeles Angels, attends a press conference in Tokyo on Nov. 15, 2021. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images)
“Baseball was born here, and I personally want baseball to be the most popular sport in the United States,” Ohtani told GQ. “So if I can contribute in any way to help that, I’m more than open to it. 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.”
The 27-year-old pushed himself to the top of baseball during the 2021 season. He was the first player to be named the starting pitcher and to bat leadoff in the MLB All-Star Game.
Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels before the game against the Mariners at T-Mobile Park on Oct. 3, 2021, in Seattle, Washington. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
He was the center of controversy when ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith asserted that Ohtani could never be the face of baseball because he couldn’t speak English. Smith ultimately backtracked and apologized, but the superstar opened up about the remarks to GQ.
“I mean, if I could speak English, I would speak English,” he told the magazine 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.”
Ohtani said the only exposure to English he had was in middle school and high school.
Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani reacts after striking out Oakland Athletics’ Matt Chapman Sept. 19, 2021, in Anaheim, California. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Regardless of the language he speaks, most of the talking comes from what he does on the field.
He had a career-high 46 home runs along with 100 RBI in 2021. He hit .257 with a .965 OPS. He also had 156 strikeouts and a 3.18 ERA in 130 1/3 innings.