pineda getty

Baseball’s lack of interpreters for Spanish speakers is a problem

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There was some confusion on Wednesday night when Michael Pineda spoke to reporters — without an interpreter — regarding the pine tar business and there ended up being some mixed signals sent regarding what Joe Girardi and the Yankees told Pineda about pine tar and when. It seems Pineda did not understand some of the questions at first and initially gave the impression that Giradi had not talked to him when in fact he had. Pineda, after learning of his misunderstanding with the help of an interpreter, corrected the record.

In the wake of all of that, Jorge Castillo has a great article in the Star-Ledger about the lack of interpreters available for Spanish-speaking players in major league baseball. Castillo’s primary source for the story is Carlos Beltran who has a lot of insightful things to say about Spanish speakers in U.S. clubhouses and the difficulty many of them have learning English, responding to questions in press conferences and the like. His comments are definitely worth your time.

Interesting fact from the article: while the Yankees have three dedicated interpreters for their three Japanese players, they have no dedicated interpreters for their Spanish speakers. Instead, they relay on their bullpen catcher or whatever bilingual player happens to be available at the moment. Often no one is available. I find this interesting inasmuch as there are way more Spanish speakers in baseball, so you’d think teams would have someone around for that purpose.

Based on past articles along these lines, I fully expect some of you to say “hey, you’re in the U.S. now, you should learn the language.” I find these sorts of comments hilarious given how utterly lost said commenters would be if dropped down in another country for a little while. And that’s before appreciating the fact that ballplayers here aren’t simply looking for la biblioteca or el aeropuerto. They’re being asked often loaded questions from a press corps that is always looking for gaffes and controversies. It’s difficult enough for native English speakers to navigate that stuff.

I’m also reminded of the crap people flung at Sammy Sosa for using an interpreter during his Congressional testimony back in 2005 regarding PEDs. People mock and scoff at Sosa for doing so, as his English was generally good enough to navigate the ballpark, but such mockery is ridiculous. Talking to a radio guy about loving to hit home runs doesn’t require the same sort of precision answering questions under oath with the risk of a criminal prosecution hanging over your head. In the latter case you had DAMN WELL BETTER say what you mean to say, rending the use of an interpreter not just wise, but essential.  And, as I’ve argued before, doing so likely saved Sosa from a criminal beef. It was brilliant, actually.

Anyway, a very interesting topic. And a great article on it that you should definitely read.

Russell Martin is not a fan of the automatic intentional walk

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Russell Martin #55 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts after being struck out in the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game two of the American League Championship Series at Progressive Field on October 15, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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On Tuesday, it was announced that Major League Baseball instituted a new rule allowing for a dugout signal in order to issue an intentional walk rather than having the pitcher throw four pitches wide of the strike zone. It’s commissioner Rob Manfred’s attempt to help improve the game’s pace of play.

As Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reports, Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin is certainly not a fan of the change.

My thing is, if they really want to speed up the game, then when a guy hits a home run, to speed up the game should a guy, just like in softball, when he hits it, should he just walk to the dugout? It’d be quicker. I’m just wondering, at what point do we just keep the game, the game? Or, how about this calculation: take all the intentional walks that were made in the last couple years and calculate – or maybe just ask to see if they have that information, to see if they really did their homework. Is it really that important to speed up the game (with this rule)? Because how many games did we play last year where we didn’t have one intentional walk? That’s something I’d like to know.

Martin also expressed concern that eliminating the four-pitch intentional walk will hurt teams’ ability to buy time for their relievers to warm up.

It’s called getting your bullpen ready so the guy doesn’t blow out his arm on the mound. Speed up the game, speed up the game.’ How about we just give guys – the human being – time to warm up on the mound after maybe something’s happened in the game? I’m not a manager, but I’m just trying to put myself in the position of a manager. OK, we’re up by one run or two runs and our bullpen’s been taxed and we’re trying to save their arms, and then the other team walks, ball gets away, guy gets to second base. When the coach visits the mound to talk to his player, it’s not like the player necessarily needs somebody to talk to him.

It’s because the guy (in the bullpen) needs time to warm up, man. It’s the same thing when you throw over to first base, like, eight times in a row. It’s not like we’re trying to keep the guy close. The guy maybe has two stolen bases in 18 years. It’s because the guy needs time to warm up. At what point does that become a problem with guys warming up in the bullpen? Sometimes it’s just strategy to give guys a little bit of time to warm up.

The Jays’ backstop then said he’d prefer if Manfred were honest about the intent behind this rule change and others which have been proposed. Martin said, “Save it. I’m tired of hearing that same lame excuse all the time. Just be honest. If they’re honest about it, we’ll get over it. But don’t hide behind the fans.”

We should be hearing from a handful of players about the new intentional walk rule in the coming days. I can’t imagine the rule is very popular among the players.

Leonys Martin feared for his life from alleged human traffickers

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 30: Leonys Martin #12 of the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on September 30, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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Leonys Martin, outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, testified yesterday that he feared for his life after he was smuggled from Cuba by a group of men prosecutors say worked for a sports agent and a baseball trainer currently on trial for human trafficking in Miami.

Martin took the stand at the trial of Bartolo Hernandez and Julio Estrada, who face felony charges. He said that, after getting to Mexico from Cuba, men threatened to take him away. There was a kidnapping attempt against one of the men who had taken him from Cuba as well. Martin said that, eventually, he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas without any valid papers because his life was in danger and his safety was at risk.

Players like Martin who fled Cuba often hole up in Mexico while waiting to be declared free agents by Major League Baseball. There is pitched competition to sign agreements with the players in question, seeking to obtain promises of a cut of future baseball earnings for their services. Those promises can come under the threat of violence. Eventually, Martin promised to pay Hernandez and Estrada, but ceased paying them later, fomenting a lawsuit from them. In the wake of the suit, the allegations of threats and smuggling arose, leading to this trial.

Martin has been late to Mariners camp as a result of having to testify. He’ll likely report in the next day or so. The trial continues.