Work in Sports
Language barrier keeps media away from Perez
By Jamal Greene, Sports Illustrated
Sportswriters drool over stories like Timo Perez’s.
After four years playing for Hiroshima in the Japanese big leagues, the 23-year-old utility outfielder was signed by the Mets to a minor-league contract during spring training. He then gamely worked his way through the Mets farm system, batting .355 in A Ball at Port St. Lucie and steamrolling his way through Triple A, batting .357 in 72 games with the Norfolk Tides to earn the team’s MVP award.
Called up to the big club in September, he hit .286 in 24 games and filled in ably as a lefty-hitting outfielder. Suddenly, in a season begun in A ball -- A ball! -- he was the starting right fielder in game 2 of a National League Division Series (replacing the injured Derek Bell).
With four at-bats against southpaws Shawn Estes and Kirk Rueter and a fifth against righty Felix Rodriguez, who held lefties to a .158 average during the season, Perez went 3-for-5, drove in two runs with a second-inning single to center and scored another in the ninth. For a team that hit .238 against left-handed pitching in 2000, that’s a godsend. For a writer, that’s 10 column inches without even speaking to the guy -- which is where the problem lies.
Unfortunately for the press contingent, most of whom were brought up in America’s fine multicultural learning institutions, Perez, a native of the Dominican Republic, is fluent in Japanese but speaks very little English.
As much as writers would love to quote him ad nauseum, odds are you’ll never know it. That is, unless you happen to read a story by a writer whose last name is also Perez … or Martinez, or Rincon, or Rodriguez, or something else with a Latino flavor.
Even writers who do speak labored Spanish don’t speak or understand enough for an in-depth interview. So after the game the only interviews Perez conducted were through Brian Murphy, a Spanish-speaking reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, and through Mets utility infielder Jorge Toca. Most of the times you read the words “Perez said” Friday morning, it will actually have been “Toca said,” or “Murphy said.” Call it journalistic license.
With the few English words Perez knows, he may have been able to get through a brief media interrogation, but it would have been with some trepidation. Many Spanish-speaking players who do speak some English are also hesitant to say certain things for fear they or their interlocutor will miss a nuance and they will be misconstrued. So the Murphys of the world get the scoop, leaving the rest to do as one TV crew did after learning that Perez didn’t speak English -- hustle over to John Franco.
For further evidence, see how sparsely Game 1 winning pitcher Livan Hernandez, a Cuban emigré whose English is limited, was quoted in Thursday morning’s newspapers.
Perez will get his ink, but 10 times less than he would have if he had a little more color -- that is, verbally.