Language in Sports: Interpreting in Major League Baseball

Major League Baseball has not always been multinationally diverse. For much of its early history, the top-level North American professional baseball league was marred by racism and xenophobia; it wasn’t until 1947 that Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, becoming the first black athlete to play in the Major Leagues in the modern era. Thankfully, since that historic season, Major League Baseball has come a long way in its diversity, both ethnically and internationally. Today, well over a quarter of all MLB players are international: players born outside the U.S. made up 29.8% of MLB’s 2017 Opening Day rosters, from a total of 19 different countries and territories.

This influx of international talent has brought with it, of course, the languages of the different nationalities being represented. The popularity of baseball in eastern Asia, for example, has made Korean, Chinese, and especially Japanese important languages in North American baseball culture. By far the most prominent of non-English languages in the Majors, however, is Spanish. Players from Spanish-speaking countries made up 227 of the 259 total non-U.S. born players on 2017 Opening Day rosters; the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, and Puerto Rico alone accounted for 209 of these players.

Facilitating communication between coaches and teammates who don’t share a common language, then, is vitally important. This is where MLB interpreters come into play. For a number of years, teams have been able to request Asian-language interpreters from the MLB; Nori Aoki even had a salary for his interpreter built into his contract when he played for the Seattle Mariners. However, the options for Spanish-language interpreting lagged behind for some time, which became a point of contention with Latin-born players and coaches around the league. Finally, in 2016, through a joint effort between Major League Baseball and the players’ union, the MLB announced that it would be mandatory for each team to provide full-time Spanish-language interpreters.

With growing multiculturalism in baseball has come a demand for effective ways to facilitate communication between speakers of different languages. MLB interpreters provide an invaluable service in bridging the gap between languages and cultures.