It’s a shame that Major League Baseball needed another ridiculous rant from Stephen A. Smith to bring about the proper spotlight that should have been glowing down on Los Angeles Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani during All-Star week.
Ohtani has often been called this generation’s Babe Ruth after the first half he pieced together out west, slugging a league-leading 33 home runs to go with a 4-1 pitching record and 3.49 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 67 innings pitched.
The thing is, not even Ruth did what Ohtani is currently doing. Baseball’s most mythic name last made multiple starts in a season in 1919 — his last year with the Boston Red Sox — when he led the league with 29 home runs.
Upon his move to the Yankees, Ruth continued his development into the game’s first — and one of its greatest — sluggers, mashing 40 or more home runs in 11 of the following 13 seasons from 1920-1932. But that was exclusively as an outfielder.
Ohtani, now in his third year in the United States after coming over from Japan, is currently on pace to slug as many home runs as Ruth did in his famed 1927 campaign, 60, and is doing it while on the mound.
On Tuesday night, he even became the first person ever to lead off an All-Star Game as the game’s starting pitcher.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-MLB-history kind of talent that we’ve never seen before.
So Smith’s rant on ESPN’s “First Take” — which is just a show for swelled egomaniacs to spew questionable opinions normally just for football or basketball — earlier this week was one that was met with frustration and offense.
To the credit of most of his co-workers, most notably MLB insider Jeff Passan, they chastised Smith’s opinion — which was headlined by the sentiment that “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” — which prompted an apology from the veteran analyst.
A step in the right direction, certainly, but an ignorant opinion nonetheless. Ultimately, however, this once again falls on the ineptitude of Major League Baseball in its never-ending failure to market its biggest stars.
Viewing west-coast games here in the east is hard enough just because of the time difference. But MLB’s inability to make Ohtani more available to a majority of the baseball viewing public is outrageous; especially when he is teammates with the greatest player of this generation in Mike Trout, who is currently on the cusp of returning from a calf injury.
The Angels are in no way a great team — they’re in fourth place in the AL West and nine games back of first — but Ohtani and Trout would at least help MLB further market its best players. These two should be everywhere.
Instead, east-coast and middle-American fans who want to watch the Angels have to pay expensive subscription fees to MLB TV. And their national broadcasting schedule doesn’t do much to rectify the situation, either.
Over the first half of the 2021 season, the Angels were featured on ESPN or FOX’s family of networks just five times out of 103 nationally televised games.
In the second half of the season, which begins later this week after the All-Star break, they’ll be featured on Fox Sports 1 twice and ESPN just once.
Meanwhile, the Yankees — who are currently in fourth place in the AL East — will have their matchups against the Boston Red Sox on national television four times in the next 11 days. They’re going to be featured nationally 20 times when all is said and done this season.
Yet the San Diego Padres and Fernando Tatis Jr. only get the nod four times for national TV in the second half of the season while the Toronto Blue Jays, who are tied for the Yankees in the AL East standings and have a young core of exciting players like All-Star Game MVP Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, were only featured on ESPN once this year. And that was Opening Day against the Yankees.
The Yankees and the Mets don’t need more of a following. Neither do the Red Sox or Dodgers or Cardinals.
These fan bases in major markets are grandfathered in.
Instead, show these young and exciting teams that fans don’t get a chance to watch normally. Give us more Ohtani and Trout. Give us more Tatis and Machado. Give us more Guerrero and Bichette.
Heck, give us more of the brash Nick Castellanos, who is among MLB’s leaders in hits, batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, and extra-base hits with the Cincinnati Reds.
That’s how Major League Baseball is going to grow the game and expand its popularity — not trotting out the same cast of usual suspects every night.
But at least Stephen A. Smith got more people to pay attention to Shohei Ohtani, even if it was for a stupid reason.