When I was a kid growing up in Indiana, our Little League team took an outing every year to see a game at Old Comiskey Park in Chicago. While I wasn’t much of a White Sox fan, I did always enjoy going to see a game, and I particularly enjoyed watching the Sox’ shortstop Ozzie Guillén play. Guillén had a quick hand in the field and a light stroke at bat—something I appreciated since I wasn’t much of a power hitter myself. Guillén was from Venezuela and part of a sustained wave of players that came to Major League Baseball from that country in the 80s.
But Guillén is better known these days for being the manager of the White Sox. Through that role he became the first Latin-born manager to lead a team to a World Series victory when he took the White Sox to their first championship since 1917 in 2005. Guillén is also known for being outspoken on…well, just about everything. He even tweets—both in English and Spanish. And he’s never had much love for umpires.
Recently, Guillén’s been making headlines for a comment he made in an interview about the treatment of Latino players versus other foreign-born, non-native-English-speaking players, particularly ones from Japan and Korea.
“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 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.”
You can hear that quote in context in the following video.
Usually when Guillén opens up like this he gets eaten alive by sports media. But he’s actually gotten a little support on this one from some in the sports journalism crowd, though he’s also been blasted by most. Guillén often touches a nerve when he rants about society or the state of baseball or just about anything else. But in this case, he irritated that racial sore that still won’t heal in this country. However, I think he’s also talking about one of the major economic truths of sport: players are products.
In the case of MLB, Asian players are seen by many in baseball management as a precious investment to be protected. Japanese and Korean players also come from industrialized nations, so playing the game in North America is often a career choice for them, not a means to escape poverty—a major bargaining chip when in contract negotiations. Latino talent, on the other hand, is plentiful. Latin American players are an inexpensive investment for teams because many are coming from nations in development or poverty, and they can easily be replaced because there’s always a large group of young players coming up behind them. It’s all about the marketplace. To put it in context, when the Oakland A’s signed Dominican star Miguel Tejada, they paid $2,000 for him. When the Boston Red Sox won the bidding war for Daisuke Matsuzaka, it cost them $102 million. That’s a big gap!
There was an interesting film about the subject of how Dominican players are recruited for the league a few years ago called Sugar. I recommend it. It paints a vivid picture of how baseball can eat up the hearts, minds, and talent of young boys from the island and then dump them on the street corner when their skills have been used up. It can be a brutal world.