Outspoken Ozzie Guillen one-of-a-kind
Whether or not one agrees with the White Sox's manager, he's ready to start discussion
CHICAGO -- The question is not why Ozzie Guillen felt it necessary to make controversial comments regarding baseball's treatment of Latino players, but why his comments should be necessary at all.
Those in Major League Baseball and in team management should not be expected to be pleased with what the White Sox's manager said Sunday, when he told reporters that Latinos are not offered the same advantages as other foreign players when they get to the U.S.
Guillen, offered one baseball insider, is the only manager in the big leagues who would ever dare say anything like that. Those of us who do not work for Major League Baseball should be thankful he feels the responsibility and has the guts to do it.
"Don't take this wrong, but they take advantage of us," said Guillen, who cited a lack of interpreters for Latino players as well as inadequate information about performance-enhancing drugs. "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."
To get an opinion from a major leaguer who speaks only Spanish, reporters are usually left with finding a coach or -- in the Cubs' and Sox's case -- the manager, to interpret their question. Think a young Latino player wouldn't feel inhibited under those circumstances? Think there's potential for a translation occasionally getting tweaked just a little?
Chances are, this is not the worst form of discrimination a Latino in this country has ever experienced. And things are better than they used to be. Either way, Guillen received a minor wrist slap Monday, when the Sox issued a statement saying that while he is "entitled to his own opinions the Chicago White Sox believe his views are incorrect.
"The White Sox do not agree with the assumptions Ozzie made in his comments [Sunday]," the statement read. "Major League Baseball and the White Sox provide a number of programs to help our foreign players with acculturation, including English language classes and Spanish language presentations related to the risks of and testing for performance-enhancing drugs. The team also has Spanish-speaking staff assigned to serve as liaisons for our Latin American players."
Oneri Fleita, vice president of player personnel for the Cubs, has been running international scouting for 14 seasons, has overseen the team's minor leagues for 10 years and also pointed out that the Cubs provide interpreters at every level (first-base coach Ivan DeJesus and hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo in Chicago).
"I also have liaisons who make sure when players report to different cities that they know where to stay, places to eat," Fleita said. "If they come to Chicago for surgery, they are met at the airport [by an assistant in Fleita's office] who's there to assist them to and from O'Hare to Northwestern. I take care of them as if they were my child."
The Cubs, like many teams, have a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic where English-speaking classes are offered. And for the last four years, Fleita said, he has sent small groups of American-born prospects over there for monthlong stays.
"I send them there because they have the same limitations [Latinos] would have here," Fleita said, "and they have to rely on guys there being their buddies. Hopefully they remember that experience and return the favor when their compadres come here. They will be better teammates. A lot of teams are starting to do that."
That's encouraging because there hasn't always been that support and, as Guillen reminded us, it doesn't always translate. Assuming that Spanish-speaking players will all feel comfortable because they are around other Spanish-speaking players is missing the point if there is no conduit to the rest of the world.
One veteran baseball writer of Hispanic descent said that Latino players still flock to him in major league clubhouses because they know they will get to speak their language in an interview.
For years, Ozzie's sons Ozzie Jr. and Oney have been used as interpreters for Spanish-speaking Sox players. And during Oney's brief Class A career, Ozzie said Oney performed the task for more than a dozen of his Latino teammates while their one Korean teammate had a translator who "made more money than the players."
Nomar Garciaparra, now an ESPN analyst, also was a bridge to Latino players during his career.
"It's funny because I don't speak Spanish fluently but I understand it well and being Mexican, I understand the culture," he said. "When Ozzie talked about his son, [I remember] there were times when the coach would go talk to the pitcher and I'd have to go translate."
In general, the support system is: Go stand with the other Latino players and it doesn't matter if you're a 20-year-old Cuban and the other guy is a 34-year-old Venezuelan, he'll help you.
"So they're both lost together," Garciaparra said. "[Two] blind mice instead of one."
The obvious difference with Asian players is that they come directly to the big leagues as established stars with star contracts; the investment and marketing potential are big enough to warrant as seamless a transition as possible. They also frequently come in with a language that no one else in the clubhouse speaks.
But approximately 30 percent of all major league players are of Latin descent and there is no ignoring that either.
Former big league pitcher and now ESPN contributor Curt Schilling said on ESPN's "The Herd" that Guillen's comments are "100 percent, unequivocally spot-on" and said he was "embarrassed" that as a player rep, he had not done anything about it.
The Sox's statement allowed that their manager is a passionate man based on his own experiences as a player, coach and manager, but
"Ozzie may not have been fully aware of all of the industry-wide efforts made by Major League Baseball and its clubs to help our players succeed in the transition to professional baseball, no matter the level of play or their country of origin," the statement said.
It came across as only slightly patronizing, but then, that won't be the worst Guillen will hear from all of this. When he says something, it's a "rant," implying a wild outburst, spoken without thought.
It's too bad. And seldom is it true.
"It's easy to say 'It's Ozzie being Ozzie' and all that stuff," said Garciaparra, "but at the same time, the stuff he is talking about is something worth talking about."
It usually is.
Melissa Isaacson is an ESPNChicago.com columnist.
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