Baseball as an International Game

Ichiro – photo by Andrew Klein

The Seattle Mariners played a two game series against the Oakland Athletics on March 28th and 29th in Japan as part of Major League Baseball’s Gloops Japan Opening Series 2012.  Although Seattle ended up splitting the series against Oakland, Mariners fans were heartened by the sight of Ichiro Suzuki playing baseball in the country of his birth.  Ichiro is not only a beloved figure but he is one of the main reasons why people talk freely about the internationalization of baseball today.  The growing global popularity of baseball and the fact that many of the best baseball players journey from all over the world to play at the highest level in the United States has led to this sense of internationalization. In fact, this was the fourth time that Major League Baseball opened its regular season in Tokyo.  The internationalization of baseball is growing every year, and fans have much to gain from being invested in it.

Former Major League Baseball player Doug Glanville says it best when talking about being part of this internationalization.  In “The Tenth Inning,” a baseball documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, Glanville says:

“I mean I found it to be very inspiring actually to watch people from different backgrounds and different you know experiences to come together and try to figure out a way to have this common goal, try to win a ball game or win a championship.  I think to me that is the next level of what the national pastime should be about…And for me watching these players from all different cultures, the Dominican Republic and Japan and Korea try to figure out how to work together was a wonderful experience.  And if baseball can set the tone by advancing that I think that’s a great thing.”

Glanville’s comments reflect the view that baseball is not simply about statistics and box scores.  At its best, baseball gives us metaphors for what we go through in life.  The internationalization of baseball can act as a metaphor when it comes to our participation in an interconnected world: like the ball players coming together and setting aside their differences for the goal of winning and making the game better, we must relate to both the people and issues from all over the world for the common purpose of leaving the world a better place for future generations.

Although the term “internationalization of baseball” conjures up thoughts of diplomacy and sophistication, this process has experienced some growing pains.  As the Venezuelan-born Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen pointed out a couple of years ago, the internationalization of baseball can cause tension that can impede the idealistic coming together of players for a common purpose.  According to an Associated Press article from August 2010, Guillen explained that Asian players are given privileges in the United States that Latino players don’t get.  For example, he pointed out the unfairness of Japanese players being assigned interpreters when they come to the U.S. while players from Latin America  not receiving the same treatment.

“Very bad I say, why do we have Japanese interpreters and we don’t have a Spanish one.  I always say that.  Why do they have that privilege and we don’t?… Don’t take this wrong, but they take advantage of us.  We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all these privileges to them.  We bring a Dominican kid … go to the minor leagues, good luck. Good luck. And it’s always going to be like that. It’s never going to change. But that’s the way it is… We’re in the United States… You choose to come to this country and you better speak English.”

Taking baseball and Guillen’s reputation as an outspoken public figure out of the equation, Guillen may have a point.  If a player is part of a one hundred million dollar company within a multi-billion dollar industry and sees people coming from one part of the world treated better, is it surprising that it might raise an alarm?

Ozzie Guillen – photo by Keith Allison

The Chicago White Sox, Guillen’s employer at the time, released a statement after Guillen’s comments received media coverage. The statement explained:

“The White Sox do not agree with the assumptions Ozzie made in his comments…Major League Baseball and the White Sox provide a number of programs to help our foreign players with acculturation, including English language classes…The team also has Spanish-speaking staff assigned to serve as liaisons for our Latin American players.”

Guillen’s opinions and the Chicago White Sox organization’s response bring up two issues.  One is the issue of unfair treatment. The second is the acculturation of international players.  Acculturation seems unlikely if players feel that they are being unfairly treated.  Guilllen’s comments suggest that one group of players should not get favorable treatment at the expense of another group.  It all comes down to Major League Baseball making a real effort to reach out to every single international player when it comes to acculturation, without giving advantages to players from certain countries.

Many would suggest that we can’t focus on the idealistic vision of internationalization when the players that make the game what it is today are being unfairly treated which negatively affects their acculturation.  Baseball is played at the highest level in the United States, with internationalization happening in big league ball parks and club houses all across America.  At the human level, these players are fathers, brothers, friends, and teammates.  Divisions of all kinds can lead to regrettable events that leave bad tastes in the mouths of all those that are deeply committed to the success of internationalization.  Above all else, it seems evident that the internationalization of baseball should continue to be about bringing together the best baseball players in the world and supporting them no matter their country of origin while they play the game of heroes and reminding us why we love the game.


By Steve Kim, Communications

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