A Japanese pitcher, a catcher and a pitching coach walk into a bar. Think you understand where this joke is going? No? Well, the protagonists of the joke didn’t understand it either. But come Opening Day, they’ll have a better chance of getting it.
According to Jayson Stark of espn.com, baseball owners have approved a new rule that would allow interpreters to join managers and pitching coaches on trips to the mound. The new rule would go into effect this season and would cover all languages. If a Japanese pitcher needs a Japanese interpreter, one with fluency in Japanese would accompany the coach or manager to the mound. Similarly, a Spanish-speaking pitcher would be afforded an interpreter fluent in Spanish, and so on.
Having an interpreter on the mound would eliminate potential confusion and misunderstanding between a pitcher, his catcher and his pitching coach or manager. This is especially true in Asian pitchers, who might convey that he understands what his coach is saying with a simple nod, when in reality, he’s just nodding to be polite and doesn’t understand any part of his coach’s instructions.
As told to David Waldstein of the New York Times, former Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson once paid a visit to South Korean-born pitcher Jae Weong Seo on the mound in a game against the Atlanta Braves in 2004. With the newly-retired Chipper Jones still in the prime of his Met-killer career, Peterson instructed Seo not to throw Jones a strike. He had a number of statistics to back up his reasoning for the instruction, but did not tell Seo because he wanted to make it as simple as possible for his non-English-speaking pitcher. Seo simply nodded and said okay, leading Peterson to believe that his pupil had understood what he was asking him to do. Jones promptly crushed a perfect strike off the Shea Stadium center field fence for a double, causing Peterson to say:
“You know, I don’t think he understood a word I said.”
Jae Weong Seo is no longer pitching in the major leagues, while Rick Peterson has bounced around from team to team since being fired by the Mets in 2008. He is currently the director of pitching development for the Baltimore Orioles. It should be noted that in Peterson’s first year with the Orioles in 2012, the pitching staff lowered its ERA to 3.90 after registering a 4.89 ERA in 2011. It was the first time the Orioles’ team ERA was under 4.00 since 1997, which was the last time the team made the playoffs before 2012.
It’s imperative that a pitching coach or manager get his point across to the pitcher every time they come out to the mound. But what hope does the pitcher have of heeding his coach’s advice if he has no clue what he’s saying?
While he was a member of the Mets’ coaching staff, Rick Peterson had difficulty conveying his point to his non-English-speaking pitchers. Many other coaches have had the same problem as well. But beginning in 2013, the language barrier between pitchers and coaches will drop due to an interpreter being present for all mound conversations. Perhaps now, the barrier between being a successful pitcher and a mediocre pitcher will also drop for some foreign-born pitchers as well.