Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has created another tempest in a teapot by stating that Asian players get “privileges” that Latino players don’t receive—particularly with respect to teams providing translators for Asian players, but not providing translators for Spanish-speaking players.

Once again, Ozzie has stated a basic truth, but done so in a way that is profoundly off-putting.  Ozzie’s point is that since Asian players are routinely provided with translators, Spanish-speaking players should receive translators or language assistance in some form, as a matter of basic fairness.

However, by referring to Asian players getting “privileges,” Ozzie makes it sound as if Asian players are unfairly getting special treatment they don’t deserve.

Ozzie’s statement also fails to address the fundamental realities of baseball.  Asian players who come to the U.S. are much more likely to be established professional stars in the Asia, who command higher salaries and bonuses than Latin players, who generally sign at age 16 or 17.

As such, the cost of providing translators is a relatively small item relative to what Asian players cost in terms of salary, negotiation rights and bonuses.  Also, when American players go to play professionally in Asia (Japan, Korea or Taiwan), they are routinely provided with interpreters, so there is an expectation that the same courtesy will be extended to Asian players playing the U.S.

Meanwhile, while a few of the top Latin amateurs sign for $1 million-plus bonuses, the vast majority likely sign for bonuses in the $3,000 to $15,000 range.  Rightly or wrongly, major league teams are unlikely to provide a translator for a player signed for $5,000 and $1,200 a month (if that) for a four month season in the Dominican Summer League.

In fact, even the bonus babies, if given the choice, will likely take a bigger cash bonus rather than signing for $50,000 or $100,000 less and getting a translator to assist them.  If a bonus baby wants a translator, better to hire one’s own out of a larger bonus.

That being said, Ozzie is right that MLB ought to provide at least one Spanish/English translator for each minor league team, and should provide English language classes for young Latino ballplayers to take in their spare time.  The cost of doing so would be de minimis, and it would certainly aid Latin players in their development, which is the entire point of the minor leagues.

I suspect that MLB’s failure to provide Latin American players with language assistance is more an act of omission than commission.  While it is obviously very difficult to learn English if your first language is Japanese, Chinese or Korean, there is a perception that it’s relatively easy to learn English if you speak another Western European language.

Also, there tend to be a certain number of Spanish-English bilingual players around, since many Hispanic Americans play professional baseball.

When you cut to the chase, though, MLB needs to make an effort to provide Spanish-speaking players with language services if it is going to provide those services to other non-English speaking ballplayers.  That’s basic fairness, no matter how poorly Ozzie Guillen might frame the issue.

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