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Professional Baseball, Globalization and the Need for Professional Interpreting

Published February 11, 2016

Baseball is an integral part of American cultural identity. So when news broke in January that Major League Baseball would require all 30 teams to provide two full-time Spanish/English interpreters, the news made headlines across the country.

The move by MLB authorities is proof positive that baseball isn’t exclusively America’s pastime anymore and hasn’t been for some time. Many of the best players don’t necessarily speak English. They weren’t hired to. They signed on the dotted line and came to the US from Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and elsewhere because they could pitch, hit or steal bases better than other MLB hopefuls who DO speak English as a first language. With 25 percent of all MLB players hailing from Spanish-speaking countries at the beginning of the 2015 season, this new rule was long overdue.  


For years the Major Leagues have been getting by with bilingual teammates and coaching staff when there was a need for interpreting for Spanish-speaking players. This unwritten policy of just “getting by” at practice, team meetings and press conferences belies the current status of professional baseball. Last year, Forbes reported that Major League Baseball was estimated to be worth $36 billion, with the average team value reaching $1.2 billion. Yes, Americans do love their baseball and are willing to pay to see it and wear their team’s colors. They should have the opportunity to hear from all of their team’s players as well.

Major League Baseball isn’t alone in its need for high-quality interpreting to ensure its players understand and are understood. The National Basketball Association has had at least 100 players from other countries for the last two consecutive seasons, which works out to 22 percent of all players, compared to MLB’s 25 percent from Spanish-speaking countries.  

International sporting events like the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup have understood for decades the importance of ensuring athletes can communicate clearly with other players, officials, and in particular, their fan base and media all over the world. This is why the organizers of these international events dedicate the necessary talent and money so that athletes can express themselves in the language they prefer while the fans and the press can listen and understand in theirs. This is all possible thanks to highly-trained professional interpreters.  

The value of interpreters at world-class sporting events for elite athletes is well-understood at the graduate school where I teach; alumni and faculty of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey have interpreted for athletes at every Olympic Games since 1984. After years of interpreting for VIPs at press conferences and interviews, I can say without hesitation that using trained professional interpreters can make all the difference. It allows the athletes to communicate effectively with the media and their fans because when you have to speak in another language, you say what you can. When you speak your own, you say what you mean.

Unlike the provision of interpreting services in our nation’s courts and hospitals, this isn’t a question of social justice or human rights. It is a question of good business, plain and simple. When players understand and are understood, teams play better, fans are happy and the media report accurately on the day’s games. Everybody wins. Major League Baseball has taken a step in the right direction by instructing all teams to hire interpreters. What remains to be seen is how the individual ball clubs will comply with the new rule issued by the Commissioner’s Office.

Yankees outfielder and Puerto Rican native Carlos Beltran told the New York Times in reaction to the new rule: “This is the MLB. We have a large Spanish-speaking contingent of players and coaches, and we need to be as professional as possible in everything we do.” As teams begin to hire interpreters for the 2016 season, that should be the standard as well.

Epilogue and Call to Action: I originally wrote this blog as an op-ed piece I hoped to publish in a national newspaper in January, because, let's be honest, interpreters aren't the ones who need to read it. Two weeks and five rejections later, it's clear there is still much work to do to raise the profile of interpreting outside of the profession - in other words, with all those who need our services and who should be hiring professional interpreters! So, I decided to post on our blog.

And now here's where we might all make a difference: Major League Baseball teams have started to advertise vacancies for “Spanish-Language Translators” on the MLB’s employment website. Aside from the requisite knowledge of baseball and baseball statistics, Spanish fluency and a willingness to travel, the positions require absolutely no formal training in interpretation, consecutive or simultaneous. At least one vacancy announcement doesn’t even require a college degree. 

We urge everyone to call, email, tweet, and post on their own and on Major League Baseball's social media accounts to urge the MLB to make training in professional interpreting and translation a requirement for the job. Use the hashtag #pro1nt4MLB It's up to us to get the word out!

How to Contact Major League Baseball

Email: Click here for Major League Baseball's contact form. 

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