Monday, February 21, 2011

Why Does Hideki Matsui Still Have an Interpretor?

We are a funny people, we Americans. For example, despite the fact that we fought two wars with England and badly wanted our independence from that country, whenever we are faced with an Englishman or woman, we are overly charmed by the accent. Once, while on a training trip, the trainer was Irish and spoke with that area's lilt. We were charmed and mesmerized. We tend to credit people of foreign countries with a nobility that might not be there. We do this to foreign baseball players to a degree as well, particularly those from Japan. We imagine that guys like Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki play and act with more class than the average ball player. Certainly, they are treated differently by the media. The Fan was contemplating this when reading the terrific Susan Slusser's account of Matsui's arrival at the Oakland A's camp. But one thing about the piece struck this Fan and it led to the question: Why does Matsui still need an interpretor or "translator" as she calls it?

Again, the Fan acknowledges that we as a nation are funny about foreigners. And perhaps this is not the most open minded and gracious thought the Fan has ever had. But it is still the thought and it needs to be expressed so the feelings can at least be dealt with. But the thought is, with Matsui entering the ninth season in his productive career, shouldn't he have mastered English by now? The same can be said for Ichiro, who still uses an interpretor. Ichiro is entering his eleventh season. Don't interpretors insert a layer of insulation for the players, not only from the press but from their teammates? If they go out to dinner, does a Mariner player have to ask Ichiro's interpretor to ask Ichiro to pass the salt? It's just weird to this observer, that's all.

When many players are signed from Latin America, one of the first thing teams do is to attempt to teach these players English. There is more effort to give these players assimilation skills to cope with playing in this country. Part of the reasoning behind the assimilation sessions is to benefit the player as it will be much easier for that player to function in this country if they have a working knowledge of our language. But the other part of it is for the fans who will be interested in interviews given by Latin ball players. Lord knows, Pedro Martinez and Luis Tiant gave some of the best interviews the fans ever were allowed to hear. That would not have been the same if those players were using interpretors. And yet, there are many interviews to this day where Hispanic players use interpretors and those interviews are more annoying than pleasurable.

While the Fan attempts to be enlightened and not pig-headed, the acknowledgement here is that the Fan has this old-fashioned notion that if you are making a living in this country, you should speak the language. To be fair, the Fan has no knowledge of whether U. S. players that go play in Japan attempt to do that. Bobby Valentine appears to speak Japanese from his stints as manager over there. But the Fan doesn't know if other players learn the Japanese language when they play over there. But if you asked the Fan's opinion, they should. They are the visitors there and they should know the language if they are earning their daily yen in that country.

There are many times when the Fan has watched a ball game and the pitching coach goes out to the mound to talk to the pitcher. The pitcher is Japanese and the catcher might be Hispanic. And yet the pitching coach does a bunch of talking and both the pitcher and the catcher nod a lot as if they understand. Do they? You have to wonder, don't you? And of course, in the past, there have been stories of Ichiro not meshing well with his teammates. Is that from Ichiro's personality or his lack of English language skills? Don't know.

The Fan has to do some soul searching on this one. The only thing for sure that the Fan knows is that when Hideki Matsui talked to the press after his glorious World Series heroics, this Fan wanted him to answer in English. The Fan wanted Matsui to talk to us in our language and not his own to his interpretor. Call that wrong if you will and you may be right. This Fan may be displaying some closet Neanderthal type of thought. But that's how the Fan feels. And how do we know that the interpretor is saying exactly what the player actually says. For all we know, Matsui could have been telling the interpretor that the guy with the microphone sure has a big nose. We don't know. The Fan doesn't want to think those kinds of things. The Fan only wants the honest to goodness truth about what Matsui was thinking and feeling at that big moment.

Slusser's article went to great lengths (she really is a good writer) to point out that Matsui's teammates did a lot to make their new DH feel welcome in that clubhouse. The Godzilla doll in his locker was very touching and very funny. But the question remains on how close knit the locker room can be if the baseball Godzilla can't talk to his teammates in their own language.

So what do you think? Is the Fan all wet on this? Probably. But that's the way this Fan was feeling here on Presidents Day when we celebrate our country with yet another patriotic holiday.


Anonymous said...

According to Jeter Matsui speaks English just fine. According to Bob Costas and Ken Burns, Ichiro's English skills are conversational at least. They both use translators when addressing the media so their words retain their original eloquence.

Also the gap between Japanese and English is far greater than that between Spanish and English so players from Latin America have an easier time adjusting to the language.

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

I appreciate the educated and articulate response. But I think I like that answer even less. Basically what you are saying then that in their minds, their language is more eloquent than ours? Isn't that a bit insulting?