Lost (and Found) in Translation: Sorry, I’m Not Going to ‘Move On’ and ‘Stick to Baseball’

If the inherent marginalization of the phrases in my header may have turned a few of you off already, I’m sorry. Actually, no, I’m not. Ideally, it just conjured up images of Chris Farley as Bennett Brauer and you bit those words off with gusto, pantomiming mental air-quotes as you read them.

Listen, I’d love nothing more than to write about how Aroldis Chapman threw seven pitches at or over 104 mph in his last outing with the Yankees and how he threw four such pitches in his previous appearance. And that’s after topping that mark only three previous times in his career. I’d love to say that of the last 17 pitches he’s thrown, only two (both sliders) failed to light the radar gun up with triple digits.

And it would be so fun to dig into the fact that Chapman has thrown 1,658 pitches that have exceeded 100 mph since he debuted with the Reds in 2010. He’s done it 254 times in just 31.1 innings pitched this season alone. During that same span, all other southpaws combined have topped the century mark 12 times. As a team, the Cubs have thrown only a dozen pitches of 100 mph or greater since 2008.

I can do little but marvel at those staggering numbers and what they mean to a team that now augments them with relievers who average 95 (Pedro Strop) and 96 (Hector Rondo) on their fastballs and who have wicked breaking pitches to go along with them. And then there’s the old man with 377 career saves (Joe Nathan) who’s hitting 93-94 and who earned his first four outs in a Cubs uniform via the K.

It would be great to move on from the talk of Chapman’s personal life and just stick to sports, which seems to be the hashtagged rallying cry of all those who’d prefer not to let their conscience get in the way of a good time. But since I have yet to find myself able to divorce the athletes on the field from the men off it, I’m going to keep writing about them. Players’ lives don’t stop the moment they unbutton the jersey, though it’d probably be easier if they did.

And since the only thing the Cubs did right on Tuesday was prevent the White Sox from earning a fourth straight walk-off win, there wasn’t going to be anything fun to write about anyway.

Despite my best efforts to express myself clearly, whether it be on Twitter or in this longer-form medium, I understand full well how certain things can be lost in translation. Sarcasm, for instance, is often dulled by digital communication. I am not big-time enough — though Crane Kenney did once remember me enough to call me Kevin — to have been present when Chapman addressed the English-speaking media from the Cell Tuesday, but it was a clear example of how even real-life interactions can get a little sideways.

Using Cubs quality assurance (an inaccurate title if ever there was one) coach Henry Blanco to interpret questions and answers, Chapman failed to make a great impression on the assembled journalists. Theo Epstein later said his new closer was nervous, which seems dubious at first blush. Considering he’d only recently joined the team and was having mics shoved in his face, though, it’s at least somewhat plausible.

The first reports following the presser caused a bit of a flap, focused as they were on Chapman’s seeming inability to recall the conversation both Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein claimed to have had with him regarding their expectations of Chapman as a citizen. While doubts as to Blanco’s skill as an interpreter were brought up later, the damage was done.

After initially using reports of his amnemonic answers to bolster my own skepticism of the Cubs’ vetting process, I quickly began to backpedal and take a different view of the situation. What if, I theorized, there was a significant loss of fidelity in both the questions and the answers and that the whole slapdash setup was a recipe for failure right from the jump? As it turns out, I was pretty much on the money.

If you haven’t seen it already, Stan Croussett (@Crewsett) put together a pretty comprehensive breakdown of the media interview on Twitter Tuesday night. Jon Greenberg then published transcripts of both that English-language clustermug and the one-on-one sit-down Chapman had with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez, which was conducted in Spanish and subsequently translated. The differences in the answers the tone are stark, to say the least.

Greenberg notes that “reporters doubted the skill of Blanco’s translations” and Crewsett indicted Blanco, who is an MLB-certified interpretor, repeatedly. While a share of whatever blame we may want to cast needs to fall on all the parties involved, I’m putting a majority of it at the Cubs’ feet. From all I’ve seen, the team’s lack of due diligence in this matter set Chapman up to fail from the start and created a rare fumble for an organization that has generally done an excellent job when it comes to media and public relations.

I don’t know what the MLB’s certification process for interpreters looks like, but I’m guessing it’s not too rigorous. It’s certainly a difficult and often thankless role, being asked to convey questions and answers between people who speak different languages and to do it in a way that captures as much of the intent of those parties as you can. But I could tell from the moment I saw the transcript that Blanco was ill-equipped for this duty.

The answers just seem disjointed and halting, Blanco uses “he” instead of “I,” and there’s some definite confusion in the responses when it came to Chapman napping and forgetting or not having conversations. The Gomez interview is much cleaner, much smoother, and it’s obvious that the lack of a middle man made for a better Q&A. One the whole, though, clarity and consistency were the exceptions rather than the rule.

So why did I just spend all that time talking about talking? Maybe it’s because the Cubs haven’t given me anything else to write about and Chapman hasn’t actually taken the mound for them yet. Or maybe it’s because this situation is not two-dimensional and I’m doing my level best to present it organically and in the round. Domestic violence is not something we can just “pobody’s nerfect” away like a harmless mistake, but it’s also incumbent on those of us reporting on a story to do so fairly.

Whether you want to see Chapman condemned or given a second chance, he should still be portrayed as accurately as possible. Perhaps I’m imbuing myself with too much responsibility in this matter. I am, after all, little more than an amateur with a consuming hobby that generally costs at least as much as it earns. I also lack an agenda or a need to sell papers or generate clicks (I mean, yeah, I’d love to have more views, but you’re sorely mistaken if you think the revenue generated by this or any other single story is anything more than a pittance) and desire simply to write what I feel.

If I feel like writing about what’s taking place on the field, that’s what you’ll find here. There will, however, be times when the story I want to tell is fraught with details that have no bearing on the final score. Heck, there are times when I’ll write out-and-out fiction. I don’t say this to shame or denounce you, dear reader, only to allow you another peak into why and how I do what I do.

My thinking has always been that if I write what and how I want to, that will come across and you’ll enjoy it as a result. Not all of you will revel in everything here at Cubs Insider and some of you may even find certain topics downright objectionable. But if I curated a site that served as little more than an echo chamber for your own thoughts and opinions, what good would it be for any of us?

Sorry for the soapbox rant, just needed to get those things off my chest.

I do plan to cover Aroldis Chapman as a baseball player and a Cub moving forward, just as I’ll devote time and effort to writing about other aspects of this team as they arise. I’d write these things whether you were here to read them or not, but it gives me no small measure of joy and fulfillment to have you along for the ride with me. Thank you.

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