Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 2, 2010
BASEBALL: Ozzie Guillen Has Half A Point
Guillen said it's unfair that Japanese players are assigned translators when they come to the U.S. to play pro ball, but Latinos are not. "Very bad. I say, why do we have Japanese interpreters and we don't have a Spanish one. I always say that. Why do they have that privilege and we don't?" Guillen said Sunday before Chicago played the Oakland Athletics. "Don't take this wrong, but they take advantage of us. We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all these privileges to them. We bring a Dominican kid ... go to the minor leagues, good luck. Good luck. And it's always going to be like that. It's never going to change. But that's the way it is." Guillen, who is from Venezuela, said when he went to see his son, Oney, in class-A, the team had a translator for a Korean prospect who "made more money than the players." "And we had 17 Latinos and you know who the interpreter was? Oney. Why is that? Because we have Latino coaches? Because here he is? Why? I don't have the answer," Guillen said. "We're in the United States, we don't have to bring any coaches that speak Spanish to help anybody. You choose to come to this country and you better speak English."
We can all sympathize with Ozzie's concern over matters of language. Language is a sensitive issue, because people who can't talk to each other can't do much else. It's not somehow irrational or racist to be concerned about that. But this is a classic case of noticing a difference but misunderstanding why it exists. As is often the case, when you see such things, the law is at work behind it.
There are three different systems for developing you players:
(1) American players are, from an early stage, the property of American Major League teams. An exemption from antitrust law allows the teams to collude to assign players to the organization that drafts them, at cost to the players' liberty but benefitting the competitive balance of the league. Players drafted as teens have two choices: sign with one team, or go to college. (The ability to go to college is a more realistic prospect for some players than others, depending on their educational abilities and financial needs, among others.) This system makes American players cheaper to develop than they would be otherwise, plus of course American players have no additional layer of problems adjusting to living in the US, so while it restricts the liberty of the individual, it also benefits American players as a group.
(2) Latin American players are not subject to these rules - Latin players can sign with whatever team they want. They have greater freedom than American players to negotiate their own deals, and the best ones can have multiple teams competing for their services. The flip side is that, coming as many of them do from poor backgrounds, they tend to sign young and few go to college. Signing young keeps them competitive, cost-wise with American players who may be more well-established (less risky) but lack the same ability to negotiate their services on the open market.
(3) Japanese players are subject to a similar system to the U.S. system within Japan - for the first several years of their careers they are owned by a Japanese league team. To come to the U.S., such players must be purchased from their Japanese team, and they arrive in mid-career, as established players. (I believe a similar system is involved in purchasing Korean players, although they generally arrive younger).
What does this all mean? It means that teams invest a lot of money in the top Japanese players, but as you may have noticed, there are a lot less of them than there are Latin players. (Notice Ozzie's example: a team with 17 Latin players and one Korean). Latin players, being cheaper to acquire at an earlier stage of their development, are more numerous but less valued than the cream of the Japanese crop - but if you're a less talented Japanese player, you may simply never get the chance to play in the U.S. The Japanese player who never appears on our shores is invisible in this debate.
I'm not saying there's nothing else to Ozzie's point but the economics - there's also undoubtedly a cultural sense that it's easier to either learn English or get by without it if you come here from a nearby Latin country than from Asia, especially given the critical mass of Latinos already on the roster of almost any team in organized baseball. It's easy to see why Latin players may find it frustrating to not get the same special treatment as the rarer Japanese prospect, but I'd suggest that most of them would far rather play in the U.S., closer to home and with the company of many other Latino players who share some of their cultural background and outlook, than play in Japan, where there may be nobody else in the organization who speaks their language and where the cultural norms may be far more different from, say, Venezuela than playing on a team in Arizona or Florida.
But in any language, money talks.