Baseball loses something in the translation • Latino Sports


Baseball loses something in the translation


Bill Menzell/Latino Sports

Bill Menzell/Latino Sports

For too many years, it was okay for Asian players to import translators who hung by their side like Robin clings to Batman.

Players from Taiwan, Korea, and especially Japan were expected to bring such sidekicks, who were as important to them as bats, balls, and gloves.

Latinos, for the most part, were left to fend for themselves. Official baseball figured there were enough players, coaches, and managers who could speak both English and Spanish. But people like the now-retired Tommy Lasorda and Cuban-born Fredi Gonzalez were scarce.

And even if the language were the same, dialects were different in different countries. What passes for Spanish in Mexico City might be hard to understand for Dominicans or especially Cuban refugees.

Now, for the first time, Major League Baseball will allow interpreters to join discussions on the mound whenever lingual needs dictate.

At least one Asian import applauds the move. “If I can bring my interpreter,” says Baltimore starter and Taiwan native Wei-Yin Chen, “Spanish-speaking players should be able to bring theirs too.”

Chen, a 12-game winner as a rookie last year, is expected to win more as his comfort level increases. Ditto Texas starter Yu Darvish, who last year became the first big-leaguer with Japanese-Iranian roots, and the Yankees’ Hiroki Kuroda, also born in Japan. The latter has been in the majors five years but still needs language help.

Even Mariano Rivera, articulate and expressive in two languages, struggled with English when he first arrived from Panama. He too favors translators for players who need them.

The problem, from the Major League Baseball perspective, is trying to whittle down the number of non-uniformed personnel in the clubhouse. The still-explosive steroids issue, coupled with the proliferation of broadcast and online media outlets, has made overcrowding a problem.

Another issue is foreign outlets focused on a single player rather than a team or a game. There are nine daily baseball newspapers in Japan, where the country is so crazy about baseball that it follows not only Japanese clubs but Japanese players in the American major leagues.

When Ichiro went to the Yankees last year, a horde of Japanese media came too.

Rivera remembers his struggles well. “A manager or coach would tell me something that I didn’t understand,” he told an Associated Press writer. “You nod your head yes but have no idea what they are saying.”

Looking at the numbers, it seems Mariano mastered his craft — both on the diamond and in the interview room.

Other Latinos aren’t so lucky. Often away from home for the first time when they begin their careers in the minors, they are left to learn the language by watching television, listening to teammates, and relying on fellow imports willing and able to help. Couple that with an inevitable bout of being homesick and the picture isn’t pretty.

Now that wiser heads have prevailed, it’s getting better — at least on the big-league level.




About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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  • Julio

    Very good article Dan. Many people do not know the struggles that many of these Spanish dominant players had to go through with very little language skills. It’s like if MLB has taken the Spanish speaking players for granted. However, the real issue is an economic one and you hit the nail on the head on this issue. Asian players also bring an economic power with them and they also do one thing, they negotiate the use of an interpreter, or special assistant into their contract just as they do their salary. Agents for Latino players should have learned from that experience and demanded the same.