Guillen Clarifies Comments on Spanish-Speaking Players

On the eve of an important series with the Tigers, Ozzie Guillen waved reporters into his office Tuesday morning. This would be a clarification session for Guillen, the always colorful, never dull White Sox manager.

After Chicago’s 4-1 victory over Oakland on Sunday, Guillen made inflammatory comments that Asian players were given preferential treatment because they routinely had interpreters. He wondered why Spanish-speaking players, many of whom struggle with English, were not provided with interpreters.

The White Sox, who lead the American League Central, were off Monday, so this was Guillen’s first opportunity to respond to angry criticism — the commissioner’s office was bombarded with calls from teams pointing out their programs designed to accommodate Latin players — including a statement from the White Sox saying that he was incorrect.

A number of players, including the Mets’ Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez, recalled their experiences early in their careers and agreed with Guillen.

Guillen explained himself in a 30-minute conversation that, in typical Guillen fashion, was a whirlwind of good points and contradictions.

He said the tempest began innocently enough when he was asked about Dayán Viciedo, the White Sox’ Cuban-born infielder.

Viciedo and his family defected from Cuba in 2008 by boat to Mexico. Once there he crossed into the United States and went to Miami. Baseball approved him as a free agent on Nov. 10, 2008, and a month later, Viciedo and the White Sox agreed to a four-year, $10 million contract.

Guillen’s point was how hard it was for Viciedo to come to the United States from Cuba and assimilate into a new culture.

“When a Japanese player is done playing major league baseball, they go back to their country and enjoy their life,” Guillen said. “When the Cuban player comes to this country, I don’t think they can go back to their country and see their families.”

Then Guillen expanded his comments, explaining how difficult it is for Spanish-speaking players without interpreters to communicate effectively.

Guillen made a similar complaint in 2004 about the Hispanic presence in baseball, the language divide and what he said was the apparent favoritism toward Asian players. He wondered whether greater accommodations could be made given the assistance that Asian players received.

He said: “I always make a joke that we bring a Japanese guy (as an interpreter) because (the Japanese players) don’t speak the language,” Guillen told USA Today. “Why don’t we bring a Latin guy to help? … I told Tony Bernazard (of the players’ union), we bring guys here who can’t speak the language and we don’t care. Then they tell us to learn the language.”

In the intervening years, baseball, largely in response to criticism and pressure from people like Guillen, has established programs to accommodate baseball’s phenomenal Spanish-speaking influx. Almost 30 percent of major league players are Latin American. Every major league team has multiple Latin players, and Hispanic players also make up a significant portion of minor league teams.

According to the commissioner’s office:

The basic agreement requires notices provided to major league players be translated and printed in Spanish and made available to all Spanish-speaking players.

All drug-testing program documents and presentations are in English and Spanish.

During the season, each club makes available an English as second language course — provided that at least one player on that club requests such a course.

At the minor league level, all documents provided to minor league players are translated into Spanish.

All club academies in the Dominican Republic provide educational programs in English to players under contract.

If a player wants to have an interpreter during pre- and postgame interviews, he can make arrangements with the team. In fact, there should be dedicated interpreters for every language. But on Tuesday, Guillen, in response to a direct question, said he did not want the league or the teams to supply interpreters. He wants the players to buckle down and learn English.

Freddy Garcia, a White Sox pitcher, said he didn’t have strong feelings one way or the other about Guillen’s comments.

“I’m one of the guys who doesn’t talk that much,” he said. “I don’t need a translator to say I feel bad and that I got my butt kicked. It’s no big deal for me.”

While he plays down the role, Guillen is the voice, the backbone and the conscience of Latin players. He is an advocate.

“I just want my people, these kids, to have a better life on the field, off the field,” he said. “That’s all we want. That’s what I was saying. I was saying I want to help Latino kids.”

The solution is that more reporters should learn Spanish and more Latin players, for their own sake, should take advantage of Major League Baseball’s bilingual programs.

The two sides will meet somewhere in the middle. Outside Ozzie Guillen’s office, of course.


A version of this article appeared in print on August 4, 2010, on page B14 of the New York edition.