By ADAM KOVEL (@ADAMKOVEL)
Beginning in the 2016 season, the MLB sent $65,000 to every team in order to hire a full-time translator for its Spanish-speaking players. But teams are not using the money efficiently.
With roughly 24 percent of MLB Opening Day rosters filled with players from primarily Spanish countries, the move proved necessary. Current New York Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran headed the movement after an incident where his teammate, Michael Pineda, could not explain himself in front of the media following his ejection for having pine tar on his neck during a game.
At the time of the decision for mandatory interpreters, the MLBPA released a statement to Fox News Latino: “We view this policy as a positive and necessary step in helping improve the work environment for Players, Clubs, and media.”
Unfortunately, several teams hired untrained translators, not professional interpreters. The Yankees, Beltran’s own team, simply hired a Spanish-speaking IT employee, significantly less helpful than a skilled professional, and they are one of a number of teams ignoring the gap in assistance.
Along with the Yankees, the Reds hired a former minor leaguer as a translator, the Cubs, Diamondbacks and Blue Jays hired ex-MLB players, and the Giants and Rangers brought on Spanish broadcasters. These seven teams account for over 23 percent of the entire league, all with less-than-adequate interpretation coverage.
Aroldis Chapman, the new Cubs flamethrowing closer, faced domestic violence charges for allegedly choking his girlfriend and firing eight gunshots into their garage door. When traded to Chicago earlier this week, Chapman refused to speak to the media because the only translator on the team, Henry Blanco, did not translate Chapman’s statements word-for-word and even confused Chapman with incorrectly translating the media’s questions.
A day later, he asked the Cubs organization to provide him with a professional interpreter, which it has not done to this moment. Interpreters’ work extends far beyond the media, however.
These people assist players with coaching instructions, staff meetings and even just conversations with teammates that help build bonds and team chemistry. Translation can be performed by sitting down and researching (just ask any high school student in a Spanish 2 class).
A student uses Google Translate. Photo credit goes to miamistudent.net.
Interpretation requires on-the-spot, back and forth interaction -- something these teams are severely lacking. Most Japanese players come to the MLB with personal interpreters they trust, and the difference it makes is significant. Take Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, for example.
Darvish arrived in the United States as one of the most highly anticipated Japanese players, ever without knowing English. His interpreter, Joe Furukawa, stood by him every moment of each press conference and plane ride, and they built a relationship that benefits the both of them.
Furukawa, a former minor-league shortstop in Japan, also grew up watching the MLB from where he was raised in California. This allows them to discuss baseball together from both ends of the world, analyzing the game with similar perspectives.
"It was very helpful that there was somebody in the states that can not only help me with baseball but with everything else," Darvish said in his introductory press conference, as Furukawa translated.
The Rangers’ general manager, Jon Daniels, understood the importance of an interpreter who can be trusted by the player.
"We wanted someone Yu [Darvish] could be comfortable with and someone who understood the game," Daniels said. "We're thankful for Joe."
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia also understands the complications of a player who does not speak English primarily; he played winter ball in the Dominican Republic and can speak only simple concepts of Spanish.
“I think it makes sense because of how much the media has grown in the last 15 years,’’ Scioscia said. “It’s always been in New York, Los Angeles, maybe Chicago, but in a lot of cities now with social media, the players are under such a microscope. I know if I were playing or managing in Latin America today and had to speak Spanish, I would want a translator, just because the nuances of everything you say can be misunderstood or taken out of context.’’
With the MLB growing increasingly diverse, professional interpreters stand as a necessary aspect for not only player success, but for growth and morale.