As the song (sort of) goes Baseball's Back, Alright! Resting Pitchface is joined this week by Ursula of Flipping Bats & Winning Games to discuss the state of the NL East (don't hold her Mets fan-dom against her). Of course, the NL is mainly a bad idea factory, but that's not so out of keeping with the official bad idea factory that is MLB (extra humidors? limited mound visits???). We discuss those bad ideas and some good ideas of our own, like adopting some aspects of Finnish baseball or giving Leslie Jones and Sonia Sotomayor their own baseball show. We're so excited that it's baseball time again!
Happy National Girls and Women in Sports Day! In addition to that, we're midway through the first week of Black History Month! These two things together make today a perfect day for a review of a book I read recently, which I would wholeheartedly recommend to you all. Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, the First Woman to Play Professional Baseball in the Negro League, by Martha Ackmann, is an excellent biography of Toni Stone and a fascinating view into the history of Negro League baseball in the mid-1940s through 1950s.
The book starts in Ms. Stone's young childhood and follows her closely through her retirement from baseball in 1954. It also describes some details of her later life. However, the main focus of the book is on her playing career, both amateur and professional. The overarching theme throughout is Ms. Stone's love for the game. From her childhood playing on a church team, to her semi-pro years with the St. Paul Giants, to her experiences on Negro League teams including the San Francisco Sea Lions, the Indianapolis Clowns, and the Kansas City Monarchs, Ms. Stone endured constant discouragement and mistreatment as a Black woman who wanted to play baseball. But she never gave up on the game she loved. Even after her retirement, the book describes her coaching and playing with amateur teams in local parks near her home.
In spite of her passion and talent for baseball, Ms. Stone had to fight for playing time and fair compensation every step of her career. One of the most poignant details of the book was the disconnect between the way the teams advertised her, and her actual experiences. The owners told local newspapers that they were paying her thousands of dollars to play, when in reality she was getting a fraction of what they reported. They also billed her as a star of the diamond, when the way they treated her as an employee did not reflect any kind of star status. It was often difficult for the men on the Negro League teams to find road accommodations given the status of segregation; for Ms. Stone, it was even harder, since the male players often found places to sleep that would accept Black men but not a woman. Eventually Ms. Stone discovered that she could find lodging in brothels in the cities her team traveled to, making friends with the women working there and becoming able to depend on their hospitality. Having to scrounge for a place to sleep may be sadly typical at times for some of today's underpaid minor leaguers, but it would be unheard of today for an MLB player receiving top billing and bringing in big crowds to have to deal with these types of living conditions.
The uncertainty and instability she faced on the road, as well as within the organizations that employed her, cannot have been easy for Ms. Stone to bear. But even at the end of her career, as the integration of the MLB threatened the future of the Negro Leagues, and as the introduction of other female players such as Mamie "Peanut" Johnson and Connie Morgan threatened Ms. Stone's place on her own team (due to the owners' view of female players mainly as gimmicks to bring in audiences, rather than individual players with value), Ms. Stone always pushed for fair opportunities to play as she deserved. When she ultimately retired in 1954, it had more to do with the lack of playing time her manager was giving her than with any desire to quit the game of baseball.
The text is clearly non-fiction/history rather than novelization, which I preferred for this type of topic. In particular, when white women write about Black women, a novelization style provides far too much leeway to veer into sensationalization and/or exploitation (see: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks). Martha Ackmann is an excellent journalist-historian known for her earlier book on a group of female astronauts, The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight. But Ackmann, though she is white, depicts Ms. Stone and the figures in her life with consistent respect, without falling into stereotypes or tropes about African-Americans. The author/narrator's voice is minimal to nonexistent throughout, rightly allowing the facts about Ms. Stone's life to speak for themselves.
One adaptation of Ackmann's book is already in the works, a play by Lydia R. Diamond, an award-winning Black playwright and professor known for previous works including The Bluest Eye and Smart People. The Ackmann biography is a fascinating read on its own, but it is even more encouraging to know that it is providing others with source material to create different types of media based on Toni Stone's story, and to ensure that Ms. Stone's commitment to the game of baseball against all odds is not forgotten.
You can find Curveball on Amazon here, or at your favorite independent bookstore or local library!
Read it? Have an opinion? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or @restinpitchface on Twitter to share your thoughts!
Did you know that Christian Yelich autocorrects to helicopter? #yelicopter Also, Ichiro is a wasp now. No, this didn't become a Marlins podcast overnight, but the Nats only made like 1 1/2 moves since our last episode. This is Howie do it and Anthony Rendon might be making the money he's earned. That said, Marlins going to Marlin, and Orioles going to LOLOrioles.
It's been a cold stove offseason. Resting Pitchface has thoughts.
Episode 29: Hashtag Cold Stove
But with this handy infographic*, you can see how Trea matches up against some of the fastest (and slowest) animals of the land and sea. He may not be cheetah-fast, but he’ll leave a lot of animals in the dust, even if he doesn’t have the water-propelled jet action of a flying squid.
(*literally nothing in this image is to scale)
Baseball is coming back to the Olympics in 2020. But just how international is baseball, particularly professional baseball? Of the big four professional sports in the US - football, basketball, hockey, and baseball - baseball has the highest representation of players born outside one country. Approximately 28 percent of MLB players are non-US-born, similar to the all-time high of international players in 2006. Only 12 or so MLB players are from Canada, though a few have dual US-Canadian citizenship, including Freddie Freeman, whose neck I assume qualifies as its own citizen. Twenty other nationalities are represented, with the Dominican Republic (123) and Venezuela (91) accounting for about 62 percent of foreign-born players. Other well-represented countries include Cuba (28), Puerto Rico (25 - part of the US, but with players competing separately at the Olympics), and Mexico (15).
Japan and Korea each have 9 players in the major leagues, and each also has pro-leagues of their own, as does Mexico. (The Mexican professional league is associated with the MLB as a AAA-tier league.) Other countries have either winter leagues or pro-leagues, further expanding the number of potential players for the Olympics.
For comparison, the NBA features 101 or so international players for around 450 roster spots, yielding a non-US-born rate of 22 percent, and a charming map about the 2014-5 season: http://www.nba.com/global/map/. Non-US-born NBA players are from Canada (12), France (10), Australia (8), Brazil (7), in addition to players from 33 other countries, making the NBA the most diverse big four sport in terms of countries represented. Twelve teams participated at Rio, including those countries well-represented in the NBA, with Team USA recently crushing Team Serbia in the finals for the third straight gold medal.
Hockey has a majority of non-US-born players, with 49 percent of players in the 2015-6 season hailing from Canada. About 24 percent of players were not from the US or Canada. Hockey has even less diversity in terms of countries of origin, with 18 countries represented other than Canada, including 25 percent of NHL players who are from the US. Sweden (85), Russia (41), the Czech Republic (39), and Finland (39) also contribute a large number of players to the 990 roster spots. It is worth noting that, while hockey is featured at the Winter Olympics, the upcoming World Cup of Hockey will feature a ‘Misc. Europe’ team, in addition to teams from the US, Canada, Russia, Sweden, and the Czech Republic. Canada has won three of the last four gold medals in men’s ice hockey at the Olympics.
NFL football is unsurprisingly overwhelmingly American, with about 97 percent of roster players born in the US. Chances are pretty low of seeing American football at the Olympics, though I would spend good money to watch a field-goal-kicking event. Or an Olympic event in explaining what scoring a safety is when you’re drunk. I really feel like we, as a nation, have trained for it.
Back to baseball: There are also questions of scheduling and participation during a long baseball season, versus during the Olympic break for hockey or the off-season for the NBA, as well as of quality of competition, should MLB players not want to participate. Since MLB players only participated for the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Olympics (and teams were limited to non-25-man-roster players), it’s a bit more difficult to predict how Olympic baseball will go.
Cuba is the historic powerhouse, winning gold in 2004 with entirely non-MLB players. It’ll also be interesting to see how, if at all, the US’s more open policy with Cuba will affect the number of Cubans in the MLB, and thus willingness to participate in the Olympics. I assume defectors like Jose Fernandez - now a US citizen - and Yasiel Puig would not represent Cuba in the Olympics. I have no inkling of whether Fernandez would play for the US either, but I feel that he and Nathan Adrian might medal in any international smiling competition they entered.
The Nationals are not a particularly international team, with only seven players on the 40-man plus DL roster born outside the US, three in Venezuela (Buffalo, Lobi, and Petit), three in the DR (Lopez, Difo, and Severino), and one in Mexico (Perez). In comparison with the rest of the NL East, Miami has 17 non-US-born players, the Mets 13, the Phillies 17, and the Braves 11. (As a note to the baseball-reference gods, listing players’ nationalities with tiny flag depictions that do not actually download to spreadsheets is no way to win friends and allies. Just sayin’.)
The last Olympics went pretty well for at least one now-National: Baby Stephen Strasburg and his nascent chin beard represented his country well as the only college player on team USA, with an ERA of 1.67, one-hitting the Netherlands and eventually winning bronze. So, even if Olympic baseball remains the domain of non-big-league players, seeing the next Strasburg might make it worth tuning in for anyway.
This was originally posted at the Resting Pitchface Tumblr.
If you pay any attention to baseball news, by now you’ve heard that closer Aroldis Chapman was traded from the Yankees to the Cubs, in exchange for four Cubs players including one of their top prospects. You probably know that the Nationals were in the mix as well, and that they are disappointed they didn’t get him. And you almost definitely know about Chapman’s 30-game suspension for an incident of domestic violence in which he choked his girlfriend, shoved her up against a wall, and fired eight shots into the wall of his garage. He admitted to firing the shots, but has largely downplayed the incident. For Nats fans who care about what their players do off the field, the news that we didn’t get him came as a relief. He’s going to Chicago, he won’t be on our team, great, move on, that’s it.
Nats fans, that’s not it.
For one thing, the Nats wanted him. Dusty Baker has worked with him in the past in Cincinnati, and in fact made some pretty questionable comments defending him back in December when the news about the domestic violence case first broke. Even now that Chapman has admitted to at least some of the incident, including the gunshots, the Nats still went after him this month. The reason we don’t have to see Chapman wearing the Curly W tomorrow has nothing to do with his actions; it ultimately came down to the fact that the asking price was too high. Back in December, the Dodgers passed on him after getting close to a deal because they didn’t want to be associated with the domestic violence case. The Nats, and many other teams, clearly had no such qualms. From the team’s perspective, we didn’t dodge a bullet here - we missed out.
Many fans are claiming that since Chapman has served his suspension, the incident should no longer be an issue. Even his new manager doesn’t seem to be all that concerned. But simply serving a suspension does not erase the fact that Chapman clearly has problems with violence. The new MLB policy also includes treatment and intervention for players who have committed acts of domestic violence. However, Chapman’s continuing lack of demonstrated contrition shows that he has not yet reached a point where he understands why his actions were so wrong. Until he shows he has reached that point, fans and clubs have every reason to remain concerned about how he may act in the future - and in fact how he may be acting now behind closed doors, given the high rates of repeat offenses in domestic violence cases.
But he’s playing for the Cubs now, so why do we care?
Because this is a problem that exists all across baseball, and throughout professional sports. José Reyes is playing for the Mets in our own NL East. He was given a hero’s welcome by the team and by many fans and reporters after the Mets obtained him at a discount following his suspension for grabbing his wife by the throat and shoving her into a glass door. Oh, but those are just Mets fans, right? They’re all jerks anyway. Nats fans would never act like that… Or would we? We want to win a World Series title as much as anybody. It’s amazing what people will forgive in the name of winning a game.
So what can we do? He’s not on our team. We don’t work for Major League Baseball. Where do we start? A few basic suggestions:
-Speak out. Many reporters and other sports-related personalities are downplaying the issue. Use social media, article comments, and other methods of feedback to respectfully but firmly let them know that what they’re doing is unacceptable.
-Do the same with your friends. Domestic violence as an issue is handled poorly by many otherwise well-meaning people (see above re: the quotes from Dusty). It may be easier to let comments slide. But silence is compliance. Whenever you can, try to start a conversation about it instead. You might not change everyone’s mind, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change anyone’s.
-If you are able, consider donating to your local domestic violence-related charities. Here are some ideas for national organizations that accept donations. Some of them are looking for objects other than money, such as used cell phones.
-Elevate the voices of survivors of domestic violence, as well as those sports reporters who are writing about the issue constructively (some of whom are domestic violence survivors themselves). Players such as Josh Donaldson who grew up with the effects of domestic violence and have spoken about their experiences are crucial here as well.
-Don’t stop talking about it just because Chapman won’t be wearing a Nats uniform any time soon. It’s tempting to let it go - out of sight, out of mind, right? Don’t. We can do better than that. We need to do better than that.
If you have feedback or questions, please contact us through the ask box, on Twitter, or via email. This is a sensitive issue, so we welcome commentary and criticism that is presented respectfully. Deliberately inflammatory comments will be ignored. This was originally posted at the Resting Pitchface Tumblr.
The only thing more fun than a tater getting mashed, a dinger getting dinged, or Bob going ‘See. You. Later,’ is when a pitcher hits that kind of home run. So talk of a pitchers-only Home-Run Derby at this year’s All Star Game sparked our interest.
And we at RPFP are firmly in favor of anything that makes the All Star Game #fun for the first time, particularly given that the All Star game ranges from simply dull to soporific. (Much in the same way a position-player pitch-off or a bat flip contest would possibly liven up the game.)
There are pitchers who can rake, but getting on base and putting one over the wall are different skills. How many pitchers are honestly that good at hitting homers?
To find out, we did some digging on Play Index, looking at the most home-run-hitting pitchers of the past 20 years. (This search specified that pitchers had to appear in at least 20 games per season and have at least 10 plate appearances in any given season, and then examined home run totals per season.) After that, home runs per plate appearance were calculated as a rate, and pitchers were sorted by that rate, considering lefties and righties separately.
Among lefties, Gabe White, who hit one homer in 10 plate appearances in 2000, topped the HR/PA ratio, with a rate of .1. (As a note, he hit that as a Rocky in a Rockies-Rangers 12-6 game in Colorado.) Next on the list was former National Zach Duke who hit two home runs in 23 plate appearances with Arizona. (Neither of them was in Arizona - one in Houston and the other in Miami.)
Mike Hampton makes a pretty good case for being a pitcher who can ding some dingers, having hit 16 career homers, seven of them in the same year (2001), with an HR/PA ratio of .081. He did hit four of these in Colorado, though, and given that this was a year before the Rockies started storing their baseballs in a humidor, perhaps park conditions contributed to such a high dinger rate. (He did hit nine more homers in the remaining nine years of his career, which is respectable but perhaps not Home-Run Derby material.) Randy Keisler also hit one homer in 15 PAs, though in Cincinnati, so didn’t get the Colorado bump.
Which brings us to noted homer-hitter and bunny rescuer Madison Bumgarner. MadBum is the best home-run-hitting lefty pitcher of the past 20 years - the only lefty to exceed MadBum’s 2014 four homers is MadBum’s 2015 five homers, with a rate of .051 and .061 HR/PA respectively. (And as a note, even though he has hit homers against Colorado, he has not hit any in Colorado.)
Among righties, the picture is fairly similar: In the top five, Felipe Lira hit two homers in 21 plate appearances for the Expos; Jorge Sosa hit three in 32; and Chris Brock hit one in 11. Brooks Kieschnick hit seven in one season, but this is mired by his also having spent much of his career as a position player.
Carlos Zambrano makes a case for being the best home-run-hitting righty of the past 20 years, with 24 home runs in 12 years, none in Colorado, with a HR/PA rate of .075 in 2006 with the Cubs, better than either of MadBum’s spectacular seasons. The MLB could do worse than drafting Big Z for a return during the Home-Run Derby. (Or maybe to pitch to MadBum during the Home-Run Derby for maximum hashtag fun.)
At a team level, Nationals pitchers are … not good at hitting home runs. The Expos righties had the highest rate of HR/PA in the past 20 years with .049 HR/PA, and the Nats are almost at the bottom - though above St. Louis (ha!) with a rate of .017 with righties, an eyelash above the Cards’ rate of .015. Lefties are somewhat better, with a rate of .016 that puts the Nats above the Mets, Bucs. Dodgers, Expos, and Padres. (The Nats have the lowest total sum of lefty and righty HR/PA, with a rate of .0325, almost half of the Expos rate of .063.)
Among Nats pitchers, only Livan Hernandez and Gio Gonzalez have more than one home run, with four and three, respectively. Hernandez had 10 total career, and Gio has only three, though Gio played in the AL prior to donning the Curly W. Save one homer from John Lannan, Gio is the only lefty pitcher for the Nats to ever hit a home run. (The Post dubbed him the Babe Ruth of the Nationals pitching staff.)
The only solution, of course, is #GioforHRDerby.
Of course, there’s no such thing as close to perfect. Either you throw a perfecto or you don’t. But Max flirted with it again tonight, with no baserunners allowed until Addison Russell hit a solo homer with one out in the 6th. Max would ultimately allow one other hit and no other runs through 7 innings to earn the win against the Cubs.
According to Mark Zuckerman, in 47 starts for the Nats, Max has now carried a no-hitter into at least the 6th inning… 7 times.
Two of those, of course, were his two actual no-hitters. In both no-hitters, Max was painfully close to perfect. That first would-be perfecto ended with the HBP heard round the world - which FP, and some of us, are still inclined to ignore and call it a perfect game, since Tabata totally leaned into it. But sadly baseball doesn’t work that way.
In the second no-no, it was a perfecto but for the grace of Yunel Escobar, with the only two baserunners coming on an Escobar error in the 6th followed by a fielder’s choice. Funnily enough, the baserunner who reached on that fielder’s choice was Daniel Murphy.
In fact, before each of the no-hitters, Max had sort of a “warm-up” start in his preceding game (and can anyone tell me what foreshadowing is….?) On September 28th vs. the Reds, Max allowed three baserunners on walks, but kept a no-hitter going until one out in the 8th. And on June 14th (a year ago tomorrow), Max was perfect until the seventh, when Carlos Gomez blooped the one Brewers hit of the game.
What does all that mean, other than that Max Scherzer, when he’s in control, is really really in control? Given that Max has functionally been one batter away from a perfect game twice now (since the second baserunner in his no-hitter against the Mets only happened because of the previous error), maybe the third time will be the charm. And given how he looked tonight - not that different from how he looked in those “warm-up” starts on September 28th and June 14th - everybody might want to tune in five days from now.
UNJINX, UNJINX, UNJINX, KNOCK ON ALL OF THE WOOD.
With the recent call up of Cat Latos’s dad (Mat Latos), we here at Resting Pitchface thought that now would be an appropriate time to revisit a topic briefly touched upon in an earlier show.
Baseball pet names.
No, not dugout nicknames or the nicknames we as fans come up with at home that will never grace a player’s ears (Michael A Taylor, it’s probably best you don’t know how often we refer to you as ‘Bambi’), but the names of baseball pets and pets named for baseball. Brainstorming has been done, and here’s a short list of some of our favorites:
- Jason Yipness
- Jose Pawtista
- Pawliver Perez
- Columbia MD Native Steve Lombardoberman
- Clay Pugholtz
- Yasiel Pug
- CC Sabassett Hound
- David Dahlmation
- George Springer Spaniel
- Roger St Bernardina
- Corgi Seager
- Dan Puggla
- Collie Ripken Jr.
- Charlie Blacklab
- Opoodle Herrera
- Bark McGweimeraner
- Max Schnauser
- Manny Machowdo
- Melvin Pupton Jr
- Tyler Clippurrrd
- Bryce Harpurr
- Jayson Purrth
- Clawton Purrshaw
- Justin Purrlander
- Jean Seguana
- Marcel Iguana
- Boa Jackson
- Christian Yelfish
- Nick Cassellamas
- Evan Llamagoria
- Nolan Lion
- Mel Otter
- Billy Hampsterton
- Asgerbil Cabrera
- Paul Goldfish
- Wilson Llamos
- Jared Saltalamaccawchia
This is something we’d love listener participation in! If you’ve got a suggestion or a favorite, please let us know! Especially if it is something you’ve already named a pet (and if so, please, pictures?). Submit your comments to us on tumblr, on our twitter, or at email@example.com. This was originally posted on the Resting Pitchface Tumblr.
The Nats haven't made a lot of moves so far this offseason, but some other teams have made some doozies, making some people happy and others not so much (#savechristianyelich). The Nats have changed their uniforms, something we noted when two thirds of us went to Winterfest. We talk about that, the return (?) of Tim Lincecum, how dWAR for first basemen is the shrug emoji of stats, oh, and baby names we hate. It's the last Resting Pitchface of the year!
Episode 28 - Compassionate Release
Resting Pitchface is back and on brand. This time around? Sociolinguistic discussions, can MLB change its traditionalist spots for a player like Ohtani Shohei, and is the final form of all baseball players Adam Dunn. There's player pants, sleeveless jerseys, and junk balaclava here. PSA: don't vomit in dorm rooms.
Episode 27 - #thirststove
Every October I complete a ritual known as ‘caring about the AL for about a month.’ (I mean, nothing wrong with it, but have they considered letting pitchers hit?) Part of this ritual includes getting know more about various AL players, like Alex Bregman, the Astros affable, quick-handed third-baseman. (Also, the Astros won it in 7. Not saying I’m writing this to say ‘called it,’ but called it.)
So it was cool getting to know more about the Astros generally (not Gurriel), and Bregman specifically, including finding out that he’s learning Spanish to better communicate with his Spanish-speaking teammates, which includes the rest of the infield.
This New York Times piece discusses his efforts to learn the language, as well as his own overestimate of his fluency and his team’s gentle ribbing about his apparently terrible accent. It also quotes teammate Carlos Beltrán, whose advocacy was instrumental in getting the MLB to provide a Spanish-speaking staff member for each team to serve as an official translator and interpreter, saying the most important thing is that Bregman tries, even if he has odd word choices.
To its credit, the article acknowledges that Bregman chose to learn Spanish, and contrasts this with his teammates who have had to learn English to communicate with English-language media. (It also didn’t ponle acento a Beltrán.)
Other pieces also mention but don’t unpack, this contrast. In this ESPN article, Bregman’s Spanish-speaking teammates praise his hard work in learning Spanish. It also quotes Bregman, who says that he hopes one day to be bilingual, like teammate Carlos Correa, and that he sees speaking Spanish as a necessity if he wants to be a leader on a Latino-heavy team. (And if he ever needs a conversation partner, I’m told that my Resting Pitchface coconspirator Laura volunteers as tribute.)
All of this is fair coverage - but it feels somewhat incomplete.
Bregman’s efforts are absolutely praiseworthy, and I’m not writing this to be critical of him. I’m writing as someone engaged in similar efforts - learning Spanish for work and, in part, because I live in a predominantly Latino neighborhood and should be able to communicate effectively with friends, neighbors, and coworkers.
Bregman seems like, for want of a better term, a good egg with a fielding percentage almost, but not quite as good, as Anthony Rendon’s. (Sorry, I had to. #anthonyismyfavoriteplayer) But praise for an English-speaking player learning Spanish - on his own time, with a high tolerance for his mistakes - buys into unstated notions about bilinguality, and praises Bregman while not extending the same praise to his teammates.
What Bregman is doing is known as elective bilingualism, or learning a second language as a foreign language. It’s generally done with the assumption that the learner will retain their fluency in their dominant language. No one thinks that Bregman will transition from speaking and writing predominantly in English to doing so in Spanish. Adding a second language is seen as a choice, worthy of New York Times-level praise, a function of his being enlightened, educated, even erudite - but ultimately an elective, individual effort. Oh, look a footnote.*
His teammates, however, are engaging in circumstantial bilingualism, learning a second language as a second language. This is generally done with the assumption that the learner will eventually displace their primary language in order to function in the dominant social language. A learner might still speak a home language (in their case, Spanish), but for official or ‘high’ functions, they are expected to participate in their second language, such as players speaking to English-language media in English. People who are circumstantially bilingual do not expect that the society in which they function will honor or even respect their primary language. Their attempts to learn a second language will be met with a low tolerance for mistakes and limited praise for their efforts.
So, going back to baseball terms: Bregman can make mistakes and be seen as hard-working because he’s ‘chosen’ to learn a second language. Beltrán, who is now functionally bilingual but has spoken about his early attempts to learn English as difficult and isolating, would be seen as ‘inarticulate’ for having a limited vocabulary and phraseology in English. One is choosing to learn a second language as an addition to his first, a sign of ‘leadership’ because he’s doing something that isn’t strictly necessary; the other is obligated to do so, quickly, and with limited tolerance for mistakes. Bregman’s Spanish is burgeoning; Beltrán’s English was ‘broken.’
This contrast - Spanish-speaking players have to learn English while English speakers can choose to do so - is largely unstated in articles about Bregman. Would the Times publish a piece on José Altuve’s fluency in English? No, because it’s the ‘dog bites man’ of baseball’s approach to language acquisition.
Players come to the United States (or Toronto), learn English rapidly, either via teammates or language classes in the minors, because they have to, and aren’t generally given much attention for meeting this expectation. Wilmer Difo walked up to ‘Unchained Melody’ for much of the season, a song he discovered in his attempts to improve his English. That he was walking up to a sentimental ‘oldie’ was newsworthy; that he listening to music to learn English wasn’t.
Last year, the Houston Chronicle came under rightful criticism after quoting Carlos Gómez verbatim in ‘broken’ English. Japanese-speaking players like Yu Darvish and Ichiro - whose social English is fine but who have expressed concerns over being seen as inarticulate or being misunderstood - retain interpreters as intercessors between the media and themselves.
The campaign to ‘ponle acento’ and the provision of official Spanish-speaking interpreters to MLB teams are good, though hard-won, first steps, both a long time coming in a sport that’s now 25 percent Latino and about 30 percent non-US-born. Teams have Spanish-language broadcasts and social media, including LasMayores and the Nationals more anemic efforts, and the Ponle Acento campaign in September brought awareness to the issue of misspelling players’ names.
Nationals-side note: Many teams have Spanish-language radio broadcasts, but the Nats don’t, which seems like a major oversight in DC, Maryland, and Virginia, where people who speak Spanish at home make up about 6 percent of each entity’s population (DC - still not a state!), but about three-quarters of a million people, total, and about 50 percent of non-English-speakers, according to American Community Survey data.
Things are improving, but slowly, incrementally, and aimed at fixing issues with Latino players such as media relations and name Anglicization, rather than designing a more inclusive environment by having English-speaking players learn Spanish, and supporting and encouraging bilingual reporting.
So, while Bregman is doing something extraordinary, praise for his efforts should also acknowledge the more difficult ‘ordinary’ efforts of his teammates. And if what he’s doing is truly exemplary, then MLB should use it as an example and provide more sustained, systematic approaches to bridging the linguistic divide in clubhouses. The League has largely been reactive in issues of concerning language equity. Perhaps it’s time for some leadership beyond just praising and elevating an individual effort.
* These come from two great reads: ‘English Language Learners and the New Standards: Developing Language, Content Knowledge, and Analytical Practices in the Classroom,’ published in 2015, which cites Guadalupe Valdes’s ‘Bilingual Minorities and Language Issues in Writing: Toward Profession-Wide Responses to a New Challenge,’ published in 1992.
- Thank you to everyone who Tweeted, emailed, texted and screamed to the heavens for listener contributions for this episode. #swearjar
- Dusty Baker's managerial stats
- The Nationals outscored the Dodgers in 2016 and the Cubs in 2017
- Matt Williams was ... not good
- Anthony Rendon's numbers in the NLDS were better than Kris Bryant's.
- Thomas Boswell on Stras' flu game
- Queer fancy stats and a season recap
Today we're all wearing our Dusty Baker Defense Squad hats and our swear jar is hungry. We've got listener participation in this episode of Resting Pitchface, which seemed appropriate as we discuss what the majority of the fanbase is thinking. Also featuring some post Game 5 analysis (sigh) and an unexpected plea to Jeff Bezos.
Episode 26 - In Dusty We Trusty
Superstitions, shrines, stolen bases, and screaming. Resting Pitchface went to games 1 & 2 of the NLDS and we have a feelings hangover. Let's all decompress together. Rally TFU TFU TFU!
Episode 25 - A Very Hoarse Episode
And the Resting Pitchface MVP pick for the season - Tony Rendon-y, Tony Two-Bags, Anthony 'the Boyf' Rendon. Pictured below: Our feelings about Anthony Rendon.
Resting Pitchface has nothing appropriate to say (do we ever?) so we're going inappropriate. Luckily rookie dress up day is a thing, and a thankfully creative thing this time around. Thing have been awakened within all of us. There's also tautological arguments, discussion over what is the opposite of warbley jesus music (it's dick jokes), and hotties at the hot corner. We all support Bruce Maxwell and MLB damn well better do the same. Dusty Baker wants us to listen to the youth.
Episode 24 - Brought To You By The Letter F Bomb
Everyone's all about Verlander. Except us.