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Shohei Ohtani jersey attracts six-figure bid after 'marketability' comments

The Angels' star topped all bids for All-Star jerseys, after it was said that he shouldn't be the face of baseball because he uses an interpreter.
Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels reacts in the first inning during the 91st MLB All-Star Game at Coors Field on July 13, 2021 in Denver.
Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels reacts in the first inning of the All-Star Game at Coors Field in Denver on Tuesday.Dustin Bradford / Getty Images

Bids for the jersey that the Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani wore in the All-Star Game this week is far surpassing those of other All-Stars in an online auction to benefit MLB Charities.

The top offer for Ohtani’s signed jersey stood at $111,050 on Friday afternoon. The bid is roughly 30 times higher than that of the next closest player, the San Diego Padres' Fernando Tatis Jr., whose jersey was at $3,630 as of Friday afternoon. The auction closes July 21.

The bidding comes just days after ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith claimed that Ohtani, who’s from Japan, shouldn't be the face of Major League Baseball because he uses an interpreter. Smith doubled down on his comments hours later, chalking them up to concerns over “marketability.” He has since apologized for his remarks.

Ohtani, the first player to be named an All-Star as a pitcher and a designated hitter, had 93 bids on his jersey, which is almost three times more than Tatis, who had 36. Other popular jerseys include that of the Toronto Blue Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the All-Star MVP, which is going for $3,020 with 40 bids, and the New York Yankees' Aaron Judge, which stood at $3,010 with 47 bids.

Ohtani, who has been compared to Babe Ruth for his dual talents, made history in the All-Star Game by pitching a perfect half of an inning and then batting in the other half (he ground out). In the home-run derby, which took place the day before, Ohtani averaged 465 feet, setting the record for the longest single-round average since Statcast began tracking the derby in 2016.

While Ohtani’s skill speaks for itself, Smith’s comments, experts said, reflect some age-old racist beliefs about who gets to represent America's pastime. The commentator’s fixation on the player’s language skills reflects a belief that the "boundaries of belonging and citizenship" in the U.S. are negotiated through English proficiency, Stanley Thangaraj, the author of "Desi Hoop Dreams" and an associate professor of anthropology, gender studies and international studies at City College of New York, previously told NBC Asian America.

Experts also noted that factoring a language requirement into Japanese players' perceived marketability sends a message that mainstream white audiences are the only ones who "count" as real baseball consumers. In reality, having a player like Ohtani, with such international appeal, is nothing but an asset to the game of baseball, which has experienced waning popularity in recent decades. His presence can help draw a larger Asian and Asian American audience to the MLB, experts said.

Jeremy Lin, the first American-born player of Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA, extended some encouraging words to Ohtani.

“Keep shining bright Shohei Ohtani!” Lin wrote on Twitter. “Looking forward to the day when we better know how to talk about Asian athletes in the U.S.”