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Baseball Can Get Complicated

  • Ted Landphair

Never shy about expressing his opinion, Ozzie Guillén got the whole world of sports talking when he complained about a double standard involving interpreters for some foreign-born players.

Never shy about expressing his opinion, Ozzie Guillén got the whole world of sports talking when he complained about a double standard involving interpreters for some foreign-born players.

And it can be downright incomprehensible if you don't understand English

The Chicago White Sox baseball team is managed by a jovial but outspoken Venezuela native, Ozzie Guillén.

A 15-year major-league player and seven-year manager, he sometimes erupts into animated and profane tirades against umpires, reporters - even his own team. There is often a sly twinkle in his eye as he does so, and Guillén is well-liked throughout the sport.

But recently he got serious and angry and touched a nerve that sent teams around baseball scrambling to explain themselves. Nine of the Chicago White Sox' 25 players, shown here at attention during the playing of the U.S. national anthem, are Latinos. None is of Asian heritage.

Nine of the Chicago White Sox' 25 players, shown here at attention during the playing of the U.S. national anthem, are Latinos. None is of Asian heritage.

Guillén complained that Major League ballplayers from Asian countries get preferential treatment over those who come from Latin America.

He noted that most, if not all, Asian players who speak little or no English are assigned personal interpreters, who follow them around and help them communicate with managers, coaches, teammates, the media, and people outside the game, such as waiters in restaurants.

Guillén said Latin players, by contrast, must fend for themselves, picking up English from other Latino ballplayers and coaches. In game situations, the White Sox manager said, this can leave a player who has poor English skills standing silent and not understanding key instructions. Seattle Mariners superstar Ichiro Suzuki has played baseball in America for 10 years. He speaks passable English with friends and teammates but still uses an interpreter in interview settings.

Seattle Mariners superstar Ichiro Suzuki has played baseball in America for 10 years. He speaks passable English with friends and teammates but still uses an interpreter in interview settings.

Asian players, meantime, have an interpreter to help them, right on the bench.

Baseball officials explained this apparent double standard by noting that players from Japan, Taiwan, and Korea are often mature stars who come directly to play at the highest level with no chance to learn English.

But Latins, who make up 20 percent of Major League players, often start at low levels and work their way up over many years, during which they are presumably picking up English. Baseball's hierarchy pointed out that most teams offer English classes to anyone who wants them.

The tempest over Guillén's remarks has subsided to a simmer, but they opened the door to provocative discussions about the treatment of all minority baseball players and coaches.

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