Umpire-manager arguments lost in translation

Originally Published: March 17, 2006
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

Aside from that nagging little detail of the United States failing to reach the semifinals, the initial World Baseball Classic has been a great success. But next time around, we simply must have more umpires from around the world.

Sadaharu Oh
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJapan manager Sadaharu Oh, left, and umpire Bob Davidson weren't speaking the same language, literally and figuratively.
I'm not saying this because there is an impression of impropriety when most of the umpires are from one country. Nor am I talking about the lack of competence when major-league umpires aren't used. No, what I'm talking about is how mostly English-speaking crews prevent managers from arguing with the umpires effectively.

Arguing with the umpire is one of the great traditions of managing. But how can you do it when you don't know how to say "Are you blind or just incompetent?" in a language he understands? Japan manager Sadaharu Oh, in particular, was at a comical disadvantage in the U.S.-Japan game when complaining after Bob Davidson ruled that Tsuyoshi Nishioka left third base too early.

Oh was having a Lou Piniella-caliber nut-out (justifiably so), and the poor interpreter was trying to translate his case into English as best he could. I can't say for sure, but I imagine some subtle points of Oh's points were lost in translation ...

[OH SHOUTS INSULTING DESCRIPTIONS OF DAVIDSON'S ANCESTRY INTO HIS FACE]

TRANSLATOR: "Oh-san respectfully inquires how your family is doing, particularly your mother."

[DAVIDSON SHOUTS BACK INTO OH'S FACE]

TRANSLATOR: "Davidson-san says his family is fine but worries that Oh-san seems overly agitated and may be suffering from jet lag after such a long flight. He suggests that perhaps a seat in the dugout could prove most refreshing to body and spirit."

[OH HANDS DAVIDSON A PAIR OF EYEGLASSES]

TRANSLATOR: "Oh-san says he is reminded by the recent passing of Kirby Puckett that glaucoma is the silent thief of vision, and he respectfully wonders when was the last time Davidson-san had a glaucoma test."

[DAVIDSON SHOUTS BACK IN OH'S FACE]

TRANSLATOR: "Davidson-san thanks Oh-san for his concern and assures him that he has recently received full optometric care. Davidson-san also does not think it is a good thing for Oh-san to strain his voice."

[OH KICKS DIRT ON DAVIDSON'S SHOES]

Higinio Velez
Al Bello/Getty ImagesCuba manager Higinio Velez wasn't around long enough to see his team beat Puerto Rico and advance to the semifinals.
TRANSLATOR: "Oh-san would like to know where Davidson-san purchases his fine leather shoes and wonders how they are able to maintain a shine in such dirty conditions."

[DAVIDSON SHOUTS BACK IN OH'S FACE]

TRANSLATOR: "Davidson-san says they are Bruno Magli but respectfully worries about Oh-san's blood pressure."

[OH SPITS IN DAVIDSON'S FACE]

TRANSLATOR: "Oh-san says it has been quite a warm day for so early in the spring and wonders whether Davidson-san is thirsty."

[DAVIDSON SHOUTS BACK IN OH'S FACE]

TRANSLATOR: "Davidson-san agrees it is warm and respectfully advises Oh-san to ration his liquids."

[OH YANKS THIRD BASE OUT OF THE GROUND AND FLINGS IT INTO LEFT FIELD]

TRANSLATOR: "Oh-san is very appreciative of the warmth and generosity America has bestowed and says the World Baseball Classic is a truly fine event that should be continued and thanks all the participants and officials who made this opportunity for so many nations to meet in what former commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti referred to as the green cathedrals of the mind. However, Oh-san respectfully suggests that perhaps the ground crew could have been more attentive to their work."

[DAVIDSON GIVES OH THE THUMB]

TRANSLATOR: "Davidson-san says 'Sayonara' and wishes Oh-san a safe flight home after the WBC."

Linguistically handicapped, Oh lost the argument and Japan lost the game. But Cuba manager Higinio Velez had it even worse. A woman in a T-shirt tried desperately to translate for him during the Cuba-Puerto Rico game, and Velez wound up getting ejected. The question is whether his ejection was due to faulty translation or superb translation.

This arrangement must be changed. The next WBC not only needs the world's best umpires; there also must be at least one umpire at each game who speaks the same language of any non-English speaking manager.

Although, admittedly, most words used in such arguments are universally understood if unprintable.

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," was published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com