Divided clubhouses can lead to problems between American and Latin players
Published Thursday, September 23, 2010 2:41PM EDT
TORONTO - Varying in size, there is a Latin corner in pretty much every clubhouse in baseball.
The Toronto Blue Jays for instance, have from left to right in one corner, locker assignments for slugger Jose Bautista, shortstop Yunel Escobar and third baseman Edwin Encarnacion. Across from them, catcher Jose Molina is within shouting distance.
Sometimes such denizens integrate well with their North American counterparts, sometimes they don't, and working to avoid a toxic clubhouse mix is something the Blue Jays must do as they move back into the Latin American player market.
"It can go wrong, but that happens in life," says Bautista. "There always is a divide and there always will be. There are cliques here in the big-leagues. Look at our clubhouse. But that doesn't mean I don't like Vernon Wells or Casey Janssen. We just feel more comfortable being around each other, we have similar cultures and it's just a matter of being comfortable.
"It's up to guys to be able to learn how to have teammates."
That can be easier said then done.
Bautista is widely credited with serving as a bridge in the Blue Jays room between the two solitudes, someone who can smooth over misunderstandings and keep small fires from becoming big ones.
"I know I helped out with a ton of cases when I was playing in the minors," he says. "I'd have an American guy ask me, 'Hey, why'd this guy do this? Is he trying to show me up or piss me off?' And I'd be like, 'No, he's doing that because where he's from, this is how you do things.'
"You don't have to have someone like that, but it would ease up issues that could arise."
The Blue Jays need only to look back to their own history to see how wrong things can go.
In 1986, a struggling Damaso Garcia burned his uniform in Oakland after another bad night, and was reamed out by manager Jimy Williams in front of the whole team because he thought his second baseman was disrespecting the organization.
The other Latin players on the team didn't see it that way. Garcia was traded before the next season.
"He did it out of frustration," says Tony Fernandez, the longtime Blue Jays shortstop. "I know Damo, Damo is a very proud man, Latin players are very proud, and sometimes you are so frustrated you don't know how to express that frustration and the best way for him to express that was by burning.
"Basically he was saying to himself, 'I'm going bad with this uniform, I need a new uniform, I need to create something to break out of this problem.' He never thought that could create such a controversy."
There is no surefire way to avoid volatile combinations in the clubhouse. Two Americans can end up hating each other just as easily as an English-speaking player and a Spanish-speaking one.
The best defence is in-depth scouting of a player to learn what makes him tick.
"I don't know that there's anything you can do -- you can't force a dynamic," says Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava. "I do know for the most part the players that we sign, we try to find players that are of good makeup and good character.
"There's always going to be this guy doesn't like that guy, but I think because of the type of player we select, we don't have any issues like that."