Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ozzie Guillen: Right, Wrong or Just Misunderstood

ESPN Chicago reported on Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen's comments about how he perceives that Latino players are at an disadvantage when compared to the Asian players who come to play in the United States. Here are some of his comments:

"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.

"It's just not the White Sox, it's baseball," he added. "We have a pitching coach that is Latino, but the pitching coach can't talk about hitting with a Latino guy and that's the way it is and we have to overcome all those [obstacles]. You know why? Because we're hungry, we grow up the right way, we come here to compete."

Author of Playing America's Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the Color Line (University of California Press, 2007) Adrian Burgos Jr., had commented on his book's page on Facebook asked whether or not Guillen's comments were a case of Ozzie being Ozzie or is he hitting on a systemic flaw in MLB practices? Here is how I responded:

I found similarities in what Ozzie said to how foreign players are treated in Japan compared to the Japanese players. The gaijin get interpreters and most times the players are paid more than the Japanese players in the league. You Gotta Have Wa (Vintage Departures 2nd Edition, 2009) by Robert Whiting highlights many examples of this occurrance.

I'm really not sure which way to take his argument. If there were as many Asian players as there were Latino players I'd be more open to agreeing with him. I guess teams save money by utilizing those bilingual Latino players as interpreters rather than hiring personel that will only translate. If the Latino players were offered that luxury when they first entered the league as the Asian players have then I would see no point of Ozzie's complaints. But we know how hard those first Latinos, especially the dark skinned ones had it trying to acclimate to a society that treated them badly on numerous fronts. The question is this: If there is a problem, what can be done to solve it without alienating a group of players.

The other dimension to this that many of the Asian players are professionals that played in established leagues before coming over to the majors and are paid more money than the Latino prospects. A worldwide draft would help to level the playing and paying field. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen.

On ESPN's Outside the Lines, the subject that Guillen brings up and the comments I made was covered in detail by group discussion. Among those involved were Sankei Sports MLB writer Masa Niwa, former MLB and NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball League) manager Bobby Valentine, former MLB and NPB player Eduardo Perez and Senior ESPN writer Jorge Arangure Jr. Click here to see the footage of the discussion. ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian also gives his perspective on Guillen's comments. Click here to see Kurjian's comments.

Guillen has now tried to backtrack somewhat on what he said by saying that his comments were taken out of context. I think the situation with his comments is similar to Torii Hunter's comments earlier this year about Latino Players compared to African American players. Without re-hashing what was said by Hunter, I believe that his comments weren't too far off the mark but it was how he said them. Same thing with Guillen.

Ozzie Guillen also went into the subject of performance enhancing drugs (PED's) in Baseball and how it related directly to Latino players. Here I believe he was more on the mark with his comments as how it described why players took these drugs in their home countries:

"It's somebody behind the scene making money out of those kids and telling them to take something they're not supposed to," Guillen said. "If you tell me, you take this ... you're going to be Vladimir Guerrero, you're going to be Miguel Cabrera, you're going to be this guy ... I'll do it. Because I have seven brothers that sleep in the same room. I have to take care of my mother, my dad. ... Out of this I'm going to make money to make them better."

I think he hits the nail directly on the head here. There is no excuse for the taking of the drugs but the reason is a valid one. Where Guillen screws up is by saying that he is the only one who is trying to educate the Latino players on the dangers of using PED's. For that he got firmly rebuked by MLB. Guillen is someone who will always be outspoken and shooting from the hip with his comments. Most times he is on the mark with his sentiment just not with the choice of words. Should he change? I don't think so. Simply put he is who he is.

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