Tigers’ TV analyst Jack Morris apologizes for perceived racist accent during Shohei Ohtani at-bat

Detroit News

Detroit — Tigers television analyst Jack Morris gave a lengthy apology during Tuesday night’s game after comments in the sixth inning were perceived by some viewers as him using a Japanese accent as Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani was coming to the plate.

Ohtani, the Angels’ two-way player who was hitting Tuesday and is scheduled to pitch Wednesday, came to the plate with a runner on second and two out in a 2-2 game. Tigers play-by-play announcer Matt Shepard asked Morris how he’d pitch to Ohtani, with first base open.

Morris responded, using an accent: “Very, very careful.” He apologized three innings later. But the remark quickly made the rounds on social media, some who felt Morris was being derogatory toward the Japanese. Others, still, heard it differently, like an Elmer Fudd-type diction, or a take off Benton Harbor-born actor Arte Johnson’s famous quote, “Very interesting …”

Morris apologized in the ninth inning.

“It’s been brought to my attention and I sincerely apologize if I offended anybody, especially anybody in the Asian community for what I said about pitching and being careful to Shohei Ohtani,” Morris said during his 30-second apology. “I did not intend for any offensive thing, and I apologize if I did (offend anyone). I certainly respect and have the utmost respect for this guy …”

Bally Sports Detroit declined to comment when contacted by The News late in Tuesday’s game.

Morris did not respond to a text message from The News seeking comment and clarification.

The Tigers didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night after the game. The Angels declined to comment, through a team spokesman, and manager Joe Maddon said he hadn’t heard Morris’ comments when asked by beat reporters following the game.

Early Wednesday, the Asian American Journalists Association’s Sports Task Force issued a statement, calling Morris’ apology “insensitive and ignorant, referencing only the words he chose but not the stereotypical, racist accent he used.”

“The Asian American Journalists Association Sports Task Force is disappointed and disturbed by Morris’ attempt to provide analysis on a live broadcast in this manner, especially at a time when Asians in the United States are experiencing a sharp increase in anti-Asian hate, which is resulting in harassment and attacks,” the association’s statement continued. “In his analysis, would Morris have used an accent for an African-American player? A Hispanic or Latin player? An Irish or Italian player? Morris, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, should be held to a higher standard while serving a regional and national audience.

“We emphasize the importance of listening, empathy and cultural awareness.”

Morris, 65, has been a Tigers television analyst since 2019, and before that from 2015-17. He also has done broadcast work for the Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays. For Bally Sports Detroit, he rotates with 1984 teammates Kirk Gibson and Dan Petry, as well as Craig Monroe, in the analyst’s chair. Morris was the ace of Detroit’s pitching staff in the 1980s, helping win the 1984 World Series title, and he also won championships with Minnesota and Toronto during an 18-year career that landed him in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018.

This isn’t the first media flap revolving around Ohtani. Last month, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith caught significant heat, including from his own colleagues at ESPN, and later apologized on air after he said, “I don’t think it helps (Major League Baseball) that the No. 1 face is a dude that needs an interpreter so you can understand what the hell he’s saying, in this country.”

Ohtani, 27, leads the major leagues with 39 home runs, and also carries a 2.93 ERA as a starting pitcher — the game’s first legitimate two-way player since Babe Ruth. In his fourth year in the major leagues, he is considered the front runner for American League Most Valuable Player honors.

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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