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Talking Translation: MLB Players Group Eyes Giving Teams Spanish Interpreters

By / Apr 2, 2015 New York Yankees star Carlos Beltran, who has advocated for interpreter access for players. (Tom Hagerty/Flickr)

With the growing influence of Spanish-speaking Major League Baseball players, the MLB Players Association is working with the league to put Spanish-language interpreters on team staffs. It highlights the role that media access has in building reputations in the league.

One of Major League Baseball’s biggest stars may soon get his wish.

Last year, eight-time MLB All-Star Carlos Beltran spoke up about an issue that had plagued the early part of his career. Beltran, who is from Puerto Rico, did not have a full grasp of the English language at first. It’s a common challenge in the Major Leagues, where many stars hail from Spanish-speaking countries.

After his New York Yankees teammate Michael Pineda was suspended and had to face media questions with a limited command of English, Beltran suggested that it was time that the league and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) do something to help its Latino players.

“In the big leagues, we aren’t given an interpreter,” Beltran told The Star-Ledger last year. “Personally, I understand that it’s also on the player to find help if he doesn’t feel he can express himself in the way he wishes to. But, like I said in spring training, there should be something available for these situations because at the end of the day I know it’s a difficult moment for him as a person.”

To that end, the two organizations are working on an initiative to help ensure Latino players have access to interpreters.

“We are looking for this support to be in all 30 clubhouses,” MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark told The New York Times.

It’s not clear whether MLB clubs will be required to provide interpreters or if they’d get started this year. But the initiative could eventually benefit a wide chunk of the league. More than one in five players on MLB rosters last season were from Spanish-speaking countries.

Media Interactions Matter

The Times report notes that the benefits of such translators could be significant for players, who often rely on their interactions with the press as much as their skills on the field to push their careers forward.

Pineda’s case offers a good example: The Yankee starting pitcher was widely praised for talking to the press and taking the blame for his use of pine tar last season—despite the challenges he faced speaking to reporters in English. It helped Pineda save face, despite the embarrassing suspension. (His defense for using the banned substance? He didn’t want to hit any of the players.)

“I like to talk to the media, but talk to me slow,” Pineda told the Times. “I’m not speaking good English, but I’m always trying to talk to American guys. I need English not only for playing baseball, but for living here in America. So this is my head: I need English.”

While Pineda prefers talking to the media himself, an on-staff translator could provide critical support when clear communication is essential, MLBPA says.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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