We Are The World

Juan Rivera
Los Angeles Times sports blogger Steve Bisheff wrote Monday that he underestimated Juan Rivera’s talents — in part because Rivera doesn’t speak English in interviews.

 

Los Angeles Times blogger and former Orange County Register sportswriter Steve Bisheff posted Monday night an admission that he had misjudged Juan Rivera’s talents. His justification:

I thought he was a decent enough player, who, in the best of circumstances, would hit maybe .280, finish with 22 or 23 home runs and perhaps 80 RBIs. Not bad, mind you.

Just nothing to get excited about. Kind of like Rivera’s demeanor. He is about as personable as a foul pole, a quiet, introverted type who rarely says anything in the clubhouse and claims not to speak English, though there are those who think that’s just a ploy to avoid reporters.

In other words, he is everything Torii Hunter is not.

Goodness.

By no means am I about to tar all sportswriters with this metaphorical brush, but Bisheff’s admission reveals something that’s troubled me about far too many scribes — the journalist’s reporting about a player is tainted by how big a quote machine he is.

This isn’t limited to sports journalism. I’ve mentioned before that I dabble in political consulting as a sideline. I learned a long time ago that reporters will be far more sympathetic to your cause if you regularly feed them information. It makes their job easier. I’ve seen many articles published over the years — some sympathetic to my causes, others critical — that were largely reprints of information handed to the reporter by a source, without adequate fact checking.

Bisheff’s bias is that Rivera doesn’t speak English and, in particular, the suspicion that Juan might know more English than he lets on.

Well, here’s a revelation for you — lots of Latin ballplayers know more English than they let on.

I remember during the 2002 playoffs that Francisco Rodriguez used an interpreter during post-game press conferences. I was laughing on the sofa because Frankie’s English was quite good. I’d known Frankie in the minors, spoken to him frequently, interviewed him at Salt Lake in July 2002, and happened to see him at Anaheim on September 15 when he was called up. We spoke in English — and his was quite good — about his overnight flight from Salt Lake City.

Most Latin players are anxious to practice their English — with people they trust.

Many of them come from countries where the media are controlled by the authoritarian government. Juan Rivera is from Venezuela, which is run by Hugo Chavez. The Dominican Republic isn’t exactly a bastion of free speech either. So these players are naturally distrustful of the media.

But it seems to me that Bisheff and his colleagues could achieve a lot more access if they simply learned some Spanish.

Bisheff’s comment reminded me of the May 21, 2005 press conference at Rancho Cucamonga where Kendry Morales was introduced to the baseball world. I was there to videotape it; no television media showed up, only newspaper reporters, so I have the only video of this historic event.

Click Here to watch the press conference. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection are required.

A reporter from the Los Angeles Times monopolized the first fifteen minutes of questioning. (The Angels’ Media Relations should have cut him off, but that’s their problem.) Charlie Romero, the manager of the Angels’ Dominican academy, was there to translate for Kendry. When the Times reporter finally relented, a female reporter from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin asked Kendry a question — in Spanish. The Times reporter meekly asked for a translation.

I was laughing to myself, thinking “Good for you!” that the Daily Bulletin reporter stuck it to the Times scribe.

But it was symptomatic of the same attitude Bisheff has — you owe it to us to speak our language, or else we might not write nicely about you.

I look forward to many more interviews with Rivera, Morales and other Latin players — in Spanish.

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