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Players Go To Bat For El Duque

Marlins, others call Yankees' policy unfair


July 3, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

The New York Yankees have just about everyone in baseball talking -- in either English, Spanish or Japanese -- about their attempt to force pitcher Orlando ''El Duque'' Hernández to learn English.

The Yankees provided Hernández, a Cuban defector, with an interpreter for five years, but informed him Monday he will have to learn English and speak to the media on his own.

The move is being debated in clubhouses all over the big leagues.

''It's discrimination. It's completely unfair. It's absurd,'' said legendary Hall of Fame Spanish broadcaster Felo Ramírez, who is also from Cuba and now announces games for the Marlins. ``There is no reason or explanation for the Yankees to do that. The Yankees should concentrate on El Duque as a pitcher, and forget the rest.''

Some feel the Yankees are punishing Hernández, who has struggled the past two seasons, and the new policy is just a way of sending a message. Hernández makes $3.2 million.

''I don't think this happens if he is 15-1,'' Hall of Famer Tony Pérez said. ``When you don't play well, things happen. . . .

'It's the Yankees' fault he doesn't know English,'' said Pérez, who learned English on his own when he came to the big leagues from Cuba. ``They gave him five years. He didn't have to learn. Now, it's going to be harder on him.''

Many Hispanic players are upset because no one has complained about major-league players such as Ichiro Suzuki and Hideo Nomo of Japan and Chan Ho Park of South Korea using interpreters.

''It's not right,'' said Marlins third-base coach Ozzie Guillén, who is from Venezuela. ``Why do they bring a guy from Japan to interpret for Japanese players and they don't do it for Latin players. Why do Latin players have to suck it up and learn English? Hideo Nomo isn't better than Pedro Martínez. Ichiro isn't better than Juan González. It's not fair to Latin players.''

It can be argued that Japanese players typically come to the majors at an older age and have little exposure to English.

But Marlins pitcher Michael Tejera, a Cuban defector, points out that is exactly the situation with Hernández, who came from Cuba, where there is no exposure to English.

''I don't think it's fair. This is not his language,'' said Tejera, who defected when he was 16. ``I was younger, so it was easier for me to learn English. When he came here he was much older, so it was harder for him to learn.''

More than 40 percent of the players in the major leagues are Hispanic, and almost none need an interpreter. Hernández used one in New York, and pitcher Bartolo Colón, who was just traded from Cleveland to Montreal, uses an interpreter. Montreal right fielder Vladimir Guerrero knows almost no English. The Expos provided him with an interpreter for one year, but Guerrero almost never speaks to the media, so the Expos stopped.

When Fernándo Valenzuela came from Mexico and became a star for the Dodgers in the 1980s, the Dodgers used a scout to interpret for him.

''I've never heard of a player who wanted one and didn't get one,'' said former Marlins pitcher Alex Fernández, who played for the White Sox and Marlins. ``What the Yankees are doing isn't fair, not at all.

``The Yankees are paying him to be a pitcher. He has other things to worry about. . . . Just because he doesn't speak English? That doesn't mean he's not being a team player. Why would it?''

Fernández said if it becomes a big enough issue, the players' union would become involved.

The Marlins have used a regular interpreter only once -- for Livan Hernández, Orlando's half-brother who came from Cuba with no skills in English. He learned, and surprised reporters in 1999 by telling them he wanted to do interviews in English.

The Marlins also used an interpreter during Luis Castillo's 35-game hitting streak, but it wasn't their idea. Guillén volunteered. ''I did it as a favor, to make him feel more comfortable,'' Guillén said.

The Marlins have a simple policy.

''If someone wants one, he gets one,'' said Marlins vice president of communications and broadcasting P.J. Loyello.

Most Hispanic players who are signed learn English in the minor leagues, where teams provide help. Some teams have baseball academies in the Dominican Republic, and they begin exposing players to English at the age of 16.

Marlins catcher Ramón Castro, who is from Puerto Rico and admits feeling uneasy giving long interviews in English, said no one realizes how difficult it is to adjust to an English-speaking media.

''The Yankees aren't being fair to him,'' he said. ``I'm afraid when he talks to them [in English] he will make mistakes. It's going to be tough for him. Why would the Yankees want to do that to him?''

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