Latinos and the Truth About Baseball's Double Standard

Latinos and the Truth About Baseball's Double Standard

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Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen called out Major League Baseball (MLB) on Aug. 1 for providing translators for players arriving from Asia but not for Spanish-speaking Latinos. Asking, "Why do we have a Japanese interpreter but not a Spanish one?" Guillen criticized the racial double standard whereby Major League Baseball provides special services to the handful of Asian-born players but does nothing to ease the transition for the many Spanish-speakers from the Dominican Republic and elsewhere.

Predictably, the media responded to Guillen's comments as it has for over a century when charges of racism are lodged: the manager was charged with offering a "rant" and no independent assessment of his charges followed. Baseball writers spent decades adhering to a code of silence that denied African-Americans were excluded from the major leagues, and also remained silent when San Francisco Giants manager Alvin Dark prohibited players from speaking Spanish (on a team with Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, and Jose Pagan).

Regrettably, this pattern holds true today.

Ozzie Guillen has made controversial and sometimes outright foolish comments over the years, so some would argue he was not the best person to address baseball's racial double standard on interpreters for non-English speaking players. But given the code of silence on this issue among the baseball establishment and media, it takes someone like Guillen to have the courage to tell it like it is.

Anti-Latino Bias is Hardly "News"

Let me start by refuting a common argument: that the large number of high-paid Latino players undermines allegations of anti-Latino racism in baseball. This argument echoes those who claimed the success of Sidney Poitier, Willie Mays, and Bill Russell in the 1950s and '60s meant there was no racism against blacks in the United States.

Such claims were foolish then and, using the success of Latino baseball elites to deny a systemic racial double standard, is foolish now.

Nobody viewing the 2008 movie Sugarwould even question Guillen's point about how the lack of translators hinders young Latino players. That powerful film shows a young Dominican star brought to an Iowa farm team, totally incapable of communicating with his host family or anyone outside his other Latino teammates.

And it shows how these players can have their careers hurt, if not derailed, due to the isolation caused by the lack of ability to communicate with others around them, or to even understand what is going on. This is the key point Guillen makes, which is that baseball is affording benefits designed to help the careers of Asian-born players that it denies to Latinos.

Guillen also made it clear that would be a different story if MLB provided no interpreters. But MLB assigns translators to players from Japan or Korea, while offering nothing to the Spanish-speaking players who comprise an increasing percentage of MLB players.

And, contrary to what many fans think (or want to believe), these young players are not wealthy. Dominican baseball players are like African-Americans trying to make the NBA: a huge number dedicate their lives to trying to be among the .001% who make it to the top.

MLB Fears White Backlash

Guillen noted that when visiting his son's Class A team there was an interpreter for the lone Korean player "who made more money than the players." In contrast, no interpreters were provided for the team's 17 Latinos, leaving the job to Guillen's son. Or to a Spanish-speaking coach.

It's clear that MLB fears that formally recognizing its proliferation of Spanish-speaking players by providing interpreters could cause a backlash from a predominately white male fan base that likely supports Arizona's anti-Latino law (after all, white males are the most loyal Republican constituency). In contrast, no backlash is risked from providing Asian translators, and helping these players reach the majors could boost interest in MLB among Asian countries (consider Japan's intense interest in future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki).

The baseball establishment and its media allies denied blacks were excluded from MLB virtually until the day Jackie Robinson put on a Dodgers uniform. The same forces allowed future Latino Hall of Famers like Roberto Clemente (who MLB originally called "Bob") to suffer degrading racist treatment during the 1950s and 1960s, a secret history not written about until most of these players careers had ended.

Now some Latinos make big bucks in MLB, and are among the league's leading players. But the silence about a racial double standard continues, making Guillen's comments particularly noteworthy.

Randy Shaw is an attorney, author and activist who lives in Berkeley, Calif. He is the executive director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, a non-profit organization in San Francisco that he co-founded in 1980. He is the author of "Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century" and "The Activist's Handbook," and editor of the online progressive daily, BeyondChron.org. He can be contacted at Randy@thclinic.org.
 

Comments

 
Anonymous

Posted Aug 4 2010

The problem with this is that typically, Asian players earn their way to the major leagues immediately with a history in an Asian professional league. Sixteen-year-old Latin born players get scooped up and sent to the farm system where they have to rely upon MLB to establish themselves.

I believe that if a Latin born player came in with the kind of star-cred that an Ichiro or a Daisuke Matsuzaka (or even a Kosuke Fukudome), accommodations would be made for them as well. Until they establish themselves, no players should receive special treatment.

The real problem here is that nobody in their right mind listens to Ozzie Guillen anymore. If an established, Spanish speaking star would help lead the charge, things might happen.

Anonymous

Posted Aug 6 2010

You have to look at the Owners, and they're opinion on the way teams handle minorities. It's all based on the Owners...Plain and Simple.

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