Ozzie Guillén shames MLB on Latino relations, but is this just another rant?

Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen argues with umpire crew chief Gary Cederstrom after being ejected from the game following a bench clearing brawl in the fifth inning against the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, August 3, 2008, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT)

Outspoken White Sox manager Ozzie Guillén kicked over the cultural ant hill last week with his public commentary on how Latino baseball players aren’t getting the same treatment as Japanese players.

Does his argument have merit, or is it more of his usual verbal artillery?

“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? 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 of 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.

“I’m the only one to teach the Latinos about not to use [performance-enhancing drugs in the MLB]. I’m the only one and Major League Baseball doesn’t [care]. All they care about [is] how many times I argue with the umpires, what I can say to the media. But I’m the only one in baseball to come up to the Latino kids and say not to use this and I don’t get any credit for that. They look at you and say, ‘Good for you, Ozzie.’” I did it for the Latino kids . . . I want to help those kids.”

He stated that his rhetoric was “filtered” by the media, saying they isolated his specific comments on the plight of the Latino baseball player. However, his words come at a time when the Federal Government is challenging the state of Arizona in court over immigration and profiling issues; when congressmen and women are trying to change the 14th Amendment of the Constitution in order to eliminate “dump and run” babies born in the United States by immigrant parents; and when there is an overall sense of tension between many Latino and non-Hispanic citizens of this country.

“Sport is an important barometer of assumptions about ‘race,’ ethnicity, and Aboriginality,” wrote Daryl Adair in his introduction to the book Sport, “Race,” Ethnicity, and Aboriginality: Narratives of Difference and Diversity. His comments are given particular meaning in this instance, where Guillén, the first Latino manager to win a World Series, is one man in a league where 30% of the players and managers call themselves Latino—a rarity in the professional sporting world.

What about Guillén’s comments? Do they have merit? Horacio Ruiz, the leading editor and a contributor to Richard Lapchick’s book, 100 Campeones: Latino Groundbreakers Who Paved the Way in Sport, said, “I don’t completely agree with what he is saying, but I think he does bring up many valid points and has gotten the baseball community to talk about an issue that needs more attention.”

Ruiz cited ESPN writer Jorge Arangure, who quoted an alarming statistic: of all minor leaguers who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, 80 percent of them were Latin American. “There is an obvious disconnect between baseball officials who say they are doing everything they can to educate Latino ballplayers and what the facts are,” said Ruiz.

If this statistic is even remotely correct, the public, and ballplayers in Guillén’s club, should be thankful for Ozzie’s actions and message. The real problem for most people might be simply trying to get past Guillén’s antics. As written in 100 Campeones in a biopic on Guillén by Jared Bovinet,

Throughout his career, Guillén has become legendary for his colorful personality both on and off the field. In his 2008 ESPN.com article titled “Rating Ozzie’s most memorable blowups,” Jerry Crasnick described Guillén as a “beat writer’s best friend and social provocateur” and that “sorting through Guillén’s run-ins is like picking your favorite Bruce Springsteen CD.”

But regardless of his pompadour, Guillén is bringing to light the disparity between different players, as well as the apparent lack of education for Latino ballplayers and performance-enhancing drugs. And regarding the comment on translator-disparity between Asian and Latino ballplayers, the critical field is mixed. Chicago Now’s “Rock Report” by Rock Mamola is heavy-handed against Guillén. “Why would you need a Spanish speaking interpreter when you have a manager (the head of the team) that speaks fluent Spanish?” Mamola also said, “Most major league teams only have one or two (if any) Asian ball players on their roster and the need for help with communication is greater because there is no familiarity with the [players’] teammates speaking the same language.”

Additionally, The White Sox issued a statement, saying Guillén’s views are incorrect. MLB spokesman Rich Levin refuted Guillén, saying, “We spend more time and effort educating our Latin players about PED use than we do our domestic players in the United States.”

But Guillén had already mentioned that players from Latin America are considered too old to sign if they’re past 16 or 17, and college prospects from the U.S. are usually signed at 22 or 23—which, if this statement has merit, might explain both the immaturity and abuse of PEDs, as well as the need for some sort of guidance from a professional translator or assistant.

“Guillén’s message has a lot of truths to it, but it is not fair to compare Latino and Asian ballplayers,” said Ruiz. “There are many issues that need to be fixed in Latin-American baseball including language barriers, unscrupulous agents, and PEDs.

“At the very least, he should be commended for being what seems like a lone voice for Latino athletes everywhere.”

You can read more about Ozzie Guillén and Latino athletes in 100 Campeones, due out this fall from Fitness Information Technology. Horacio Ruiz is a contributing writer and editor to the book.

For further reading on race and sport, look for Sport, “Race,” Ethnicity, and Aboriginality, edited by Daryl Adair, coming out this winter from FiT.

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