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MLB Teams Will Have Spanish-Language Interpreters In 2016

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The large number of Spanish-speaking MLB players will have extra help starting this year.

Aroldis Chapman at his introductory news conference in 2010, with coach Tony Fossas interpreting
Aroldis Chapman at his introductory news conference in 2010, with coach Tony Fossas interpreting
Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Over the last several decades, the number of Spanish-speaking players in Major League Baseball has increased exponentially, with more and more players from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela and particularly the Dominican Republic. According to this article, of the 868 players either on active rosters or on the DL on Opening Day 2015, 194 (22 percent) came from countries whose first language is Spanish.

With a larger influx of players from Japan and Korea, many teams have hired full-time interpreters for such players, and some have them specifically mentioned in their contracts.

Until now, though, that hasn't been the case for Spanish speakers, but this week, it was announced that a joint effort between MLB and the MLB Players Association will have every team hire two full-time interpreters for Spanish-speaking players.

How teams have dealt with such issues in the past has varied from club to club, and has been dependent on which language needed interpreting. This move is designed, in part, to bring uniformity and peace of mind, and to ensure that native Spanish speakers have a chance to express themselves more completely in the media.

What MLB hadn't ever addressed, until now: Why have the two groups of players -- Asians and Latinos -- been given different expectations? It has been a common accommodation for teams to give Asian players an English interpreter to those who request one. With the Latino players, it's been more of an afterthought, begrudgingly and sometimes half-heartedly afforded. What MLB appears to be doing by requiring Spanish interpreters is erasing the distinction.

The league does encourage players to learn English, and has programs that teach it at the various organizational levels. For most adults it takes a long time to become conversant in a foreign language. MLB also has to be concerned with ensuring that the 25-year-old player from the Dominican Republic or Cuba, who is uncomfortable conversing in English now, can communicate with his team's fans using the help of an interpreter. It is a long-overdue move by MLB.

I'll agree completely with this article's conclusion. You've certainly heard Spanish-speaking players rely on teammates or coaches to translate during postgame news conferences, or heard the Spanish-speaking player speak in heavily-accented English, which obviously isn't the best thing for the player (who might not be able to express his thoughts well in a non-native language) or the listener or viewer, who doesn't get the full story.

Having people who are well-trained in interpreting, which is a skill of nuance, will make it much easier for Spanish-speaking players to be understood, and also to have them understand questions they're being asked. As the article also notes, MLB is being proactive in helping Spanish-speaking players learn English. It's one of the things the Cubs do at their academy in the Dominican Republic, for example, with players as young as 17 who are being exposed to MLB for the first time.

The article says "It is a long-overdue move by MLB." Absolutely, and good work by the owners and players on agreeing to this. Baseball owners and players have, over the last 20 years or so, done quite well in agreeing on labor issues, and having this one done so easily perhaps portends well for the current labor agreement, which expires at the end of 2016.