Skip to main content

The Search for Ohtani: The Ben Verlander Story?

Surely there is a better way to celebrate Shohei Ohtani.

USA Today (Bob Nightengale) released an article today that is titled, "Japan's affinity for Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani examined in 'Searching for Ohtani." The title is fine. Actually, the title sounds like a great article. I do not often like just copying and pasting sentences from other articles, but this first sentence is...something.

"OK, so now Ben Verlander knows what it feels like to have been the Beatles, Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin rolled into one walking along the streets of Japan. He traveled to Japan to grasp the reverence, respect and admiration for one of the most beloved athletes to ever come from Japan."

Lack of oxford commas notwithstanding, is this article about Ohtani or nepotism's favorite brother? The article then follows Verlander's time in Japan. The piece is a preface to a Fox Sports show dubbed "Searching for Shohei: An Interview Special." It's a 60-minute show produced by sports media company Religion of Sports, which will be aired on Oct. 18 on FS1 after Game 1 of the ALCS.

Who Is This Piece About?

The very next stanza features this.

"Without sounding too mushy and sentimental, everybody wants to have a purpose. I thought my purpose was to play baseball, and play it as long as I can. But I learned that even though my baseball career is over, I still matter. I learned that is what I was meant to do, talking about my love for the game, helping grow the game. It was pretty powerful and very emotional."

That quote is from Ben Verlander, not Ohtani. The piece is less about Ohtani and more about Verlander's experience in Japan. In that experience, Verlander says he feels like a "conduit between the United States and Japan." A good conduit could possibly speak the languages those two countries most commonly speak, but whatever. It then describes Verlander's experience as an "Ohtani fan." I use that expression because that is what he is. An Ohtani fan who got to follow Ohtani in Japan because of his connection to baseball through his...famous brother. Unfortunately, there is something more nefarious than crystal-clear nepotism.

White Savior

By framing this idea that Verlander is what will showcase Ohtani to the masses in both Japan and the United States (two places where he is very popular without the help of an under-qualified conduit) this USA Today piece gives off the biggest "white savior" vibes. Ben Verlander is not some missionary traveling to Japan to bring baseball to the masses. It sure seems like he believes that, though. No good white savior sandwich is finished without some casual bigotry.

"I was told by so many people in Japan that people there aren’t the most outspoken," Verlander said. "They don’t speak up, don’t speak boldly, so I am their voice on the other side of the world. How can you not be affected by that?

Japanese Ohtani/baseball fans do not need a white savior like Ben Verlander to give them agency. We have seen this throughout history and it is pretty gross.

Why Verlander?

Beyond bewilderingly oblivious quotes, I have to ask the question. Is Verlander a journalist? Did he attend journalism school? A white man succeeding off the merits of his more talented family members is not an original story, but Ohtani does not need this. None of Nightengale's, I mean Verlander's Ohtani article made any sense. The article ends with this quote from Verlander.

"I don’t speak their language, they don’t speak mine," Verlander said, "but what we understood was the language of Shohei Ohtani. It’s the power of Shohei, and what he’s done, with all of their hopes and dreams coming true. I’m privileged to talk about what he means to people all over the globe. It’s an honor to do this and celebrate one of the best players we’ve ever seen. What can I say? This is the highlight of my life."

I used to think the ugliest part of baseball was when umpires took over games to make it "all about them." I never foresaw the idea of a grifter making the popularity of MLB's best player all about him.