Earlier this week, Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda was ejected from a game for having pine tar on his neck. He was subsequently suspended 10 games. Following the ejection, Pineda spoke to reporters in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park. Here's the media scrum:
Pineda admits to using pine tar and says he apologized to his teammates, the whole nine. He spoke to the media in English, his second language after being born and raised in the Dominican Republic. Teammate Carlos Beltran was not happy about it.
“Wasn't Roman there?” said Beltran to Jorge Castillo of the Star-Ledger, referring to bullpen catcher Roman Rodriguez, who often translates for players. “It's a problem, of course, because he can't express himself the way he wants to. It's a problem. Of course it is.”
According to Castillo, a team spokesman confirmed Pineda refused Rodriguez's help for the interview. He insists on speaking to the media in English because he wants to continue learning the language, but one person around the club told Castillo that Pineda "doesn't understand a lot of the questions.”
Manager Joe Girardi praised Pineda for facing the music -- "I think Michael did a tremendous job last night, standing up in front of you and not necessarily maybe using an interpreter and hiding behind an interpreter or doing anything like that,” he said -- but the potential for something to be lost in translation is very real.
The Yankees employ three full-time translators: one each for Japanese players Ichiro Suzuki, Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka. There is no translator for Spanish-speaking players -- other than Rodriguez, who does it as a courtesy -- and that is not uncommon around the league. Beltran feels each club should be required to provide a full-time translator for players from Latin America.
“In the big leagues, we aren't given an interpreter,” Beltran said. “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.
"At the same time, he needs to make sure he understands the questions that are being asked 100 percent and that he also has the help so he could express himself the way wants to. It's something that MLB or the Players Association has to address.”
Beltran told Castillo it was not until several years into his career that he was comfortable speaking English and he grew up in Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States. Many players from countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela aren't exposed to English until they sign pro baseball contracts. Several teams have English classes at their Latin American complexes -- Beltran owns a high school baseball academy in Puerto Rico that includes English lessons -- and that's a good start, but the learning doesn't stop there.
According to SABR, more than one-quarter of MLB players (26.9 percent, to be exact) were Latino in 2012. That number isn't going down. This isn't one or two guys per team who need a translator, it's much more. Typical postgame chitchat might not require a translator, but a situation like Pineda's certainly does. Even if he refused Rodriguez's help, it's too sensitive a matter to risk not properly understanding the question (and answer).
MLB started allowing translators to go out to the mound during pitching conferences last year, which is great. You don't want something to be misunderstood out on the field. The same is true in the clubhouse and while speaking to the media. Pineda is a unique case but it helps show how ridiculous it is that, in 2014, teams are not employing translators for their Spanish-speaking players despite all the time and money they invest in their rosters.