Venture into any Major League Baseball clubhouse and you will find sectors of players.
They come together based on friendships, interests, playing positions and, of course, ethnicity or race. And in a league that was almost a Spanish-speaking quarterback at the start of the 2020 season, there’s still a pod where Latino players congregate.
And somewhere in this clubhouse it’s not uncommon to find a player from a non-Spanish speaking country who can speak at least “clubhouse Spanish” – they don’t speak fluent, but they speak enough. to communicate rudely with their Latino teammates.
Others, like the recently retired Brian Dozier, have become mainstream Spanish speakers. The Washington Post columnist Barry Svrluga highlighted this fact on Thursday. The story focused on Dozier deciding to learn Spanish to become a better teammate, and how it benefited him, his Latino teammates and friends, and the organizations that signed him.
Unfortunately, there are not enough of these players.
Latinos are the foundation of the current roster and player development structure in MLB. Some of the game’s biggest stars – and the richest contracts – are Latinos, like Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, Jose Abreu, Francisco Lindor, and Manny Machado, who is of Dominican descent but was born in Florida.
The game spends billions of dollars on Latino players – the San Diego Padres, who play 20 miles from the US-Mexico border, spent $ 640 million on Tatis and Machado to occupy the left side of their infield. And in the last international signing period, 285 players have been signed, the overwhelming majority from Spanish-speaking countries. In total, more than $ 100 million has been spent in these areas, and more than $ 55 million on players from the Dominican Republic alone, according to Spotrac.
All this to say that while some baseball players, including executives, criticize Latin players for not speaking English well enough – usually a ridiculous and ignorant claim – the idea of English speaking players learning even moderate Spanish is rarely explored.
That’s why Dozier’s story matters. He learned a new language on his own. He rightly thought that if he could communicate better with his Latino teammates, it would be better for the team and their relationships. He was there, as Svrluga writes.
“I think we as Americans have to take it upon ourselves to say, ‘Hey, these guys are going to play for a championship like us, and you need real camaraderie to make it happen, and to make it happen. happen, we have to take it upon ourselves to learn Spanish, ”Dozier said.
MLB and the teams have improved over the years to help young Latino players acclimatize to the game in the United States, but having English speaking players and coaches crossing that aisle is generally ignored, leaving it up to everyone. to do it himself, like Dozier.
That should change. For as much money that teams invest in players whose native language is Spanish, some of whom have no formal education and never left their countries before being signed, the teams should start to innovate in their development system. Part of this makes them more comfortable in clubs by encouraging English speakers to learn Spanish. This does not mean that all English speaking players should be fluent and that Spanish speaking players should not learn English. Only that it is beneficial to have more balance.
It’s not uncommon for a Latino prospect to fail because they’ve never fully acclimated to a new country or culture. Or for communication and language gaps to shift a team from a Latino player, sometimes losing that investment to see that player move on to a new team with a more comfortable atmosphere and then thrive.
Without a doubt, baseball has inclusion issues with a number of minority groups – in the fan base, with players, coaches and executives. But there are small steps in the right direction that can be taken immediately.
One of the biggest for MLB’s investments should be burden sharing for assimilating Latino players. If you need to know how this can be successful, just check out Dozier.