Perdido en la traduccion (Lost in translation)

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, June 10, 2017

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On Tuesday morning, Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt was asked in a radio interview whether or not the Philadelphia Phillies could build a franchise around All-Star outfielder Odubel Herrera. He said no.

His main reason seems to have been because Herrera can’t speak English well enough to be a leader.

Joy Carrico

“I think he can’t be a guy that would sort of sit in a circle with four, five American players and talk about the game; or try and learn about the game or discuss the inner workings of the game; or come over to a guy and say, ‘Man, you gotta run that ball out.’ Just can’t be – because of the language barrier – that kind of a player,” he said.

And the world exploded with criticism, calling his remarks racist, distasteful and disrespectful to Herrera and other Latino players.

After the backlash, he apologized personally to Herrera (I’m assuming in English) and to the world by saying that he regrets that his words were misinterpreted.

That same night, another commentator, Jerry Remy, got in trouble for disapproving the use of a translator for a Japanese-speaking pitcher for the Yankees. He said he didn’t think that should be allowed, that non-English speaking players should “learn the language of baseball.”

And the world exploded with criticism. The Red Sox (who he announces for) and his network both started pushing their chairs away from him as quickly as possible. He, like Schmidt, “regrets his comments.”

As far as whether or not interpreters should be allowed in pitching mound meetings, I don’t see what the problem is. Everyone else is invited to the mound party. In the photo I saw, the interpreter is wearing a uniform (a requirement for being on the field) so what’s the big deal?

Also, Remy is the color commentator of his commentary duo. That means he fills in the dead air between plays with analysis and any added information that might be interesting.

These commentators have to come up with something to say continuously for hours on end. I would guess he was trying to do his job of commenting colorfully. If I had been listening at the time, I most likely would have disagreed with his “I don’t think that should be allowed” opinion, but I wouldn’t have regarded it as particularly racist or disrespectful, just dumb or – if I were in a more generous mood – uninformed.

It’s not like the commentators are working from a script. They’re reacting to the game, and they sometimes stink at it. Give the guy a break. He made an spur of the moment comment that missed colorful and went straight to off-color. It was a dumb mistake. Let’s move on.

Schmidt’s comments about the language barrier are more interesting.

In the storm of criticism of Schmidt, people have been listing all the great baseball players for whom English is a second language. They are proclaiming the virtues of these players and their leadership skills.

OK. No one will argue that Roberto Clemente, Pedro Martinez or many others were great players and franchise-builders. But what has that got to do with what he was saying?

My first question when reading about Schmidt’s comment was, “How bad is Herrera’s English?” No one seems to be asking this question. Instead, they take Schmidt’s comments and interpret them as “Latino players cannot lead because they aren’t native English speakers.”

He didn’t say that at all, as far as I can tell. Before I would pass judgment on Schmidt’s words, I would want to listen to Herrera speak some English. Maybe his English is really rudimentary or non-existent.

When did it become racist to say, “If that guy can’t speak English, he can’t dialogue with English-speaking teammates, which will interfere with his ability to lead them”?

It feels like people are overreacting to this guy’s opinion. Maybe Schmidt does have a prejudice against Latino players, but I don’t think these comments are evidence of it.

I do think Schmidt’s comments are wrong – as in inaccurate, not as in immoral – for a different reason.

Schmidt and his critics seem to be working under the assumption that baseball is dominated by native English speakers. This is a shaky assumption in today’s baseball world and one that is becoming more and more dated.

According to the 2017 Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball, the starting lineups of all MLB teams on opening day was 31.9 percent Latino. On the Ranger’s most current 25-man roster, there are eight players from places where Spanish is the native language: Dominican Republic (LeClerc, Beltre, Mazara), Puerto Rico (Claudio) and Venezuela (Perez, Chirinos, Andrus, Odor). That’s 32 percent of the active roster. Fifty-six percent of the roster is from the U.S. Four percent is from Curacao (Profar), 4 percent is from Japan (Darvish) and 4 percent is from Korea (Go Choo!). That doesn’t include Gomez (from the Dominican Republic), who’s on the disabled list right now. He would push us up to 36 percent.

More relevant to Schmidt’s comments in particular, Latino players comprise 36 percent of the Phillies’ 25-man roster. There are six players from Venezuela alone, which is Herrera’s native land. How much of a factor is poor English when over a third of your teammates speak fluent Spanish? I doubt language barrier is quite the obstacle Schmidt is making it out to be. Maybe it would be if Herrera’s native language was Swahili, but not when it’s Spanish.

It fact, it won’t be long before Schmidt’s comments about language barrier problems will apply to the American players who can’t speak Spanish.

My advise for American boys who dream of a career in the MLB: start learning to speak Spanish so you can one day be a franchise builder.

Joy Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist. She received an A+ on the 2017 Racial and Gender Report Card: Joy Carrico.

One Response to “Perdido en la traduccion (Lost in translation)”

  1. El Pulpo says:

    I agree with your assessment. These days, people can’t make an reasonable observation without it being twisted out of context and labeled as racist, misogynistic, or intolerant. Great article!


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