MLB tries to ease language barrier with new rule
TAMPA, Fla. — There were times in the low minors when Mariano Rivera felt totally lost on the mound. That was before he got a good grasp of his cut fastball — and English.
“The manager or coach would tell me something, and I didn't understand them,” the New York Yankees' closer said. “You nod your head yes, but you have no idea what they are saying.”
Major League Baseball is trying to ease the language barrier by adopting a new rule that permits interpreters to join mound conferences when pitchers aren't fluent in English.
Yet for Latino pitchers, something still might get lost in translation.
As it stands, only people employed full time as interpreters can accompany managers and pitching coaches onto the field. And right now most, if not all, are for Asian players. Yu Darvish and Hiroki Kuroda, for example, are routinely provided translators by their teams. But Spanish-speaking players rely mostly on bilingual teammates or coaches to help them, be it on the mound, in the field or in the clubhouse.
The reasoning is that Asian players go directly from overseas teams to the majors without time to pick up English in the minors. Also, most linguists consider the transition to be more difficult than it is for Latino players.
“It's kind of the same and it's kind of different,” Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters said. “For the most part, a lot of the Latin guys that are in the big leagues have been through the minor leagues, have had years of experience in the minor leagues to develop a relationship. Some of the Asian pitchers come over here, and it's their first year over here and they haven't had that sort of adjustment time. It's up for debate.”
Baltimore pitcher Wei-Yin Chen said through Orioles translator Tim Lin that, above all, the rule should be fair.
“If I can bring my interpreter, Spanish players should bring their interpreter, too,” he said.
Added Pirates general manager Neal Huntington: “There's validity in exploring that idea.”
The new rule already has been used by the Chicago Cubs in spring training and will extend into the regular season. It was approved in January at the owners' meeting and later OK'd by the players' union. Pro baseball in Japan already had such a provision. Translators will be dressed like trainers — in sportswear (shirt and long pants) rather than uniforms or street clothes and be available on the bench.
On Opening Day last year, more than 28 percent of players on big league rosters were born outside the United States.
Of course, any club is welcome to hire a Latino interpreter. A team without one could eventually get some leeway with the new rule.
“Well, I think there's going to be a designated interpreter for each club, and I don't think it's going to be a coach,” MLB executive Joe Torre said Thursday before managing the U.S. team in the World Baseball Classic.
“Hopefully, it's going to work well,” he said. “Obviously, until we see it happen, we're not going to know for sure. But I think in Major League Baseball we're making an effort to try to make the game better and move along better. With so many international players, to me it made sense.”