Yesterday a little story was circulating about how Adrian Gonzalez‘ name on the back of his jersey finally, after many years, has accent mark over the “a”. On social media he challenged teammate Enrique Hernandez to do the same, and Hernandez followed suit.
Some Latin players around the league have had accents and tildes on their uniforms before, some haven’t. There’s certainly no uniformity to it and, in keeping with most clerical and media practices, you see accent-free last names in the U.S. more often than you see the accents. Places like this website included (more on that below).
But Major League Baseball is urging teams to change this practice. Or, at the very least, to accommodate players who request a change. Paul Lukas of ESPN has the relevant text of a memo that was sent out to teams before the season regarding all of this:
It’s a nice initiative in response to a situation which, while not exactly the most serious of problems facing the Hispanic community in the U.S., is a fairly obvious one. And an occasionally ambiguous one. It’s a matter of spelling — accent marks and tildes are just as much a part of a properly-spelled Spanish word or name as an “a” or an “r” is — but it’s also a matter of preference. Some people who have accents in their names prefer the accent to carry over when their name is written in English language media or on signs or shirts or whatever. Some don’t or don’t care.
As far as the media goes, it’s also a matter of historical practice and house style. The Associated Press Stylebook, for example, tells writers not use accent marks on Hispanic names in English-language stories, though it does use them in Spanish-language stories. Historically there were technological reasons for this — English typewriters, printing presses and earlier generation word processing programs didn’t uniformly support accents and tildes — but that’s largely not the case anymore, suggesting it’s a matter of inertia.
It’s also simply a matter of work. Official sources of names — company rosters, mastheads, organizational charts, etc. — may not have the accents themselves, and reporters often rely on those sources for a spelling of a person’s name. Is it reasonable for them to track down a person to see if that’s correct or if their preference is different? Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on the story, I suppose. As far as this site goes, we have the option of looking at a handful of primary or quasi-primary sources for player names if we ever feel like looking them up. They’re not uniform either. MLB.com’s 25-man roster listing for the Dodgers shows Gonzalez with no accent. Baseball-Reference.com includes the accents on Gonzalez’s name, but it didn’t back when most of us starting using it (that site also has phonetic spellings of most player names). ESPN’s Player Card page for Gonzalez does not nor, amusingly, does this ESPN story talking about Gonzalez getting the accent on his jersey). Fangraphs: no accent. Rotoworld: no accent.
Even if you have the sourcing down, there’s also the issue of simple typing speed. To make “Adrian Gonzalez” into Adrián González, I just had to type “Option-E” and then the letter A, which sort of stops the flow. I think the only player I ever make a habit of doing this for is Enrique Hernandez, when using the short version of his first name, which is Kiké. And that’s just so it doesn’t type out like an anti-semitic slur (other baseball writers and I have admitted to one another that we use “Enrique” more often simply to avoid the hassle of the accent). Either way, it doesn’t come up enough to where I can readily remember the keys I need to type to make the accent (I always have to look it up) let alone make it part of my normal typing routine. I’m guessing a lot of writers are in this same situation, even before factoring in the sourcing issue.
All of which is a lot of words about accent marks in names, but it’s a pretty interesting topic so that’s OK. I’m not sure media practice will change very quickly in this regard nor do I think it can change quickly even if everyone wanted it to. But the jerseys can change quickly. And it’s a good thing that the league is encouraging clubs to change them if the player so desires.