MLB’s Ponle Acento Campaign Is a Step in the Right Direction

Adrian Gonzalez is a primary supporter of the Ponle Acento campaign. (via Arturo Pardavila III)

Adrian Gonzalez is a primary supporter of the Ponle Acento campaign. (via Arturo Pardavila III)

If you’re active on social media, which I’m going to assume you all are to some degree if you’re reading this piece, you may have noticed a new addition to the traditional red, blue, and white Major League Baseball logo.

acento-logoIn keeping with a new campaign, called “Ponle Acento,” MLB has taken the phrase to heart and put an accent on its own logo, to encourage players and fans to do the same.

“Ponle Acento” is a simple phrase for a simple initiative. Plainly translated it means to “put the accent on it,” and that is what this new campaign seeks to do; put accents and tildes on the backs of baseball players’ jerseys and, subsequently, encourage others who write about the sport, in a casual or professional manner, to do the same. It was the brainchild of LatinWorks, an Austin, Texas-based Latino advertising company, working in conjunction with MLB. The press release announcing the campaign noted that its mission is to “highlight the history and excellence of Latinos in MLB,” and that “Ponle Acento” is meant as “an inspiring call-to-action for Latinos to continue leaving their mark on and off the field in our communities.”

The campaign made a splash back in May when Dodgers first baseman Adrián González, a primary supporter, shared a photo of his jersey with the accent and the tag #PonleAcento, and encouraged teammate Enrique “Kiké” Hernández to get the accent on his own jersey.

Roughly, that means that the only things missing after 16 years in the majors has been his accent mark. Hernández then shared a photo of his own, newly accented jersey on both Twitter and Instagram and commented, bilingually, “…so now I invite all my Latino brothers to get their accent.” These photos helped to swirl the campaign into internet relevancy early on in the season, but things didn’t start to gear up until September.

Although Hispanic Heritage Month is nationally recognized as lasting from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, to honor the period when numerous Latin American countries gained their independence, MLB instead devotes the entire month of September to honoring the impact of Latin American players in baseball. During this time there are usually individual team celebrations, such as the Seattle Mariners’ “Salute to Latin American Beísbol Day” and the Kansas City Royals’ “Viva Los Royals Day,” as well as a major league-wide day of remembrance to honor the memory of Roberto Clemente.

This year, on the heels of a new January policy change which officially required all MLB teams to have a Spanish translator on their staff, MLB has increased its involvement with Hispanic Heritage Month by bringing the “Ponle Acento” campaign to the center stage of American baseball. This has most notably included the change in logo, but has also featured numerous teams donning special shirts during batting practice with the accented logo on the front and #PonleAcento on the back.

It seems like a pretty straightforward initiative, and it is. Innovations in embroidery machinery now make adding diacritical marks much easier and, for those who write about baseball, it requires only a flick of the wrist or two swift keystrokes to “put the accent on it.” However, the presence of this campaign itself carries immense historical significance, and is an important step toward a more progressive professional sports culture.

Before we look ahead, to consider the impact a campaign like this could have on the future, we must first look back to understand the significance of this campaign in the first place. Latin American players have undeniably become a major part of major league baseball, not to mention a strong presence throughout the minor leagues. As of 2016, according to the Major League Baseball Racial and Gender Report Card, Opening Day 25-man rosters included 28.5 percent Latino players. There have even been, albeit incredibly vague, conversations with Commissioner Rob Manfred about the addition of an expansion team in Mexico. The presence of Latinos in baseball is far from a new trend; when we look at the earliest period of baseball in the United States there is almost immediately a Latin American presence.

The origins of baseball itself are a bit convoluted, and subsequently our understanding of baseball’s spread throughout Latin America is somewhat mixed up as well. Shortly after its founding in the United States the game traveled south and, due to geographical proximity, reached Cuba first before expanding throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. Though there are no exact dates to be found about the specific arrival of baseball in Latin America, we do know that Cuba’s first professional league was established in 1878, less than a decade after the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed in the United States. The development of professional baseball in the U.S. and in Latin America occurred almost tangentially, and that rich history has enabled Latin American countries to develop strong baseball roots in their own right. However, playing in “Los Mayores” continues to be the ultimate goal for many of those who grow up outside of the U.S.

It is difficult to determine with certainty who the first Latino to play professional baseball was, due to questionable birth certificates and census records. However, among top Latino baseball scholars such as Adrian Burgos Jr., there seems to be a consensus that Esteban Bellán, a Cuban native from an elite family, was the first Latino to play baseball professionally in the United States. Bellán played on the Rose Hill College varsity baseball team in 1868, just as baseball was becoming professionalized, was a member of the Troy Haymakers barnstorming team for two years, then returned to Cuba in 1872.

This information of baseball in its nascent stages highlights just how intertwined professional baseball in the United States is with Latin America, and Latin American players. Baseball in America would not be what it is today without the influence of Latino players throughout history but MLB, and the American media, have been painfully slow in recognizing their impact.

64858Examples of baseball’s failure to respect and value these Latino players abound in both far-off and recent history. For example, years ago, when sportswriters included quotes from non-native English speakers they would often write them out phonetically, giving the impression that these men were unintelligent, or uneducated. More recently, it has become expected for sportswriters to clean up the quotes of non-native English speakers, and less eloquent native English speakers, but what should have been a problem of the past persists.

As recently as May of this year Carlos Gómez, then-outfielder for the Houston Astros, was quoted in broken English in a critical piece by a Houston Chronicle writer. Many were offended, including Gómez, who fired off a series of tweets to the writer. The Chronicle editor issued a public apology.

Anglicized nicknames abound, often to make it easier for native English speakers to pronounce more challenging Hispanic names; Esteban Bellán was referred to as “Steven” in news pieces, and Topps and O-Pee-Chee baseball cards for Puerto Rican superstar Roberto Clemente referred to him as “Bob” or “Bobby.”

165058Even Clemente’s Hall of Fame plaque, the first of its kind for a Latino ballplayer, was incorrect. The engraver mistakenly wrote his name “Roberto Walker Clemente” when, in keeping with Latin American tradition, the mother’s maiden name should come at the end. This error was not rectified until 2000. Sometimes the insensitivity is less suble, as in 1961, when San Francisco Giants manager Alvin Dark attempted to prohibit his largely Latino clubhouse from speaking Spanish.

More relevant to the new “Ponle Acento” campaign, it was not until more than a century had passed since Bellán’s debut that the first diacritical mark that uniform experts are aware of appeared on a major league player’s jersey. During that hundred-plus year period few, if any, media members used the appropriate diacritical marks for players’ names. Anthony Salazar, the chair for the Society for American Baseball Research’s (SABR) Latino baseball committee, noted, “The idea of adding accent marks is two-fold: first, you are correctly pronouncing the player’s name, and secondly, you are building awareness to a culture’s proud history. It’s my hope that #PonleAcento is carried into other areas, such as the newspapers’ sports pages and other media.” Salazar also noted that, in conjunction with this campaign, “officials at Topps Company are currently considering the idea of adding the accent marks to baseball player cards, though internal discussions are ongoing.”

Encouraging the addition of these accents does not make up for decades of mistreatment and prejudice, but it is a critical step forward in recognizing, and appreciating, that baseball is not simply just a North American sport. The “Ponle Acento” campaign is a way for MLB, and its players, to celebrate the future and honor the history of Latinos in baseball by leaving a physical mark.

For MLB to make real progress with Commissioner Manfred’s professed drive for increased diversity in hiring there has to be a point where diversity is not simply something acknowledged by upper level executives, but is embraced by all levels throughout the leagues. The “Ponle Acento” initiative seems small, just a mark on a jersey to many, but in the context of history it stands proud in opposition to the pejoratively anglicized nicknames and phoneticized words of the past.

References & Resources


Isabelle Minasian is the Digital Content Specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Before she spent her days creating and sharing baseball nonsense in Cooperstown she did so in Seattle, where she wrote for Lookout Landing, La Vida Baseball and, clearly, The Hardball Times. Follow her on Twitter @95coffeespoons.
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Mike T.
5 years ago

why walk off wins are bad for your health
I posted some controversial material here last week hoping to appeal to some skeptics like myself and it occurred to me to provide some context – why would someone use scalar weapons to affect sports?
The negative beings I accuse of such things feed of something very different than you or I. They feed off the energy released by human hormones during episodes of fear or mass excitement.
Are walk off wins exciting? They are! That is why dramatic ends to baseball games are engineered by the negative beings, their energy grid, and their scalar attacks. I have also personally experienced such things and some of you may have as well.
This is almost over, the faster this message spreads the faster the grid will come down, the faster baseball will go back to being the organic game we though it was.
Thank you for reading, this is helping.

Dubslow
5 years ago

Excellent, glad to hear MLB is taking this up, I was just thinking about this after yesterday’s FG obit was properly accented.

My first thought is that the FanGraphs backend technology will need a serious upgrade. It’s notorious (in my head at least :P) for improperly storing or rendering data that was entered with the correct accents. What’s seen on (e.g.) a play log is a misrendered jumbled mess. Kiké is one such example. (Does FanGraphs rely on Microsoft tech? They were some of the latest adopters, especially with their corporate database software).

Oh and by the way regarding this sentence: “when, in keeping with Latin American tradition, the mother’s maiden name should come at the end.”
Strictly speaking, using “Latin American” in this case is about as wrong as using “African American” to describe a black person in Africa or Europe or wherever. More correctly you could just say “hispanic”, since it’s derived from customs on the peninsula of Hispaniola in Europe (with some variations in the New World).

Dubslow
5 years ago
Reply to  Dubslow

Only now do I find the term for misrendered characters: Mojibake https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mojibake#Other_Western_European_languages

Paul Swydanmember
5 years ago
Reply to  Dubslow

Incorporating accent marks and tildes is on our to-do list for upgrades at FanGraphs over the winter. It’s not an easy fix, but it is doable.

Pedant
5 years ago

In the antepenultimate paragraph, you spelled the campaign name incorrectly as “Ponle Accento” (note the two Cs).

Paul Swydanmember
5 years ago
Reply to  Pedant

Fixed. Thank you for the catch.

Carl
5 years ago

Honest question here. How does one put accent marks and tildas in a keyboard?

87 Cards
5 years ago
Reply to  Carl

Using the Alt + (numeral)—-from our friends at Penn State:

http://sites.psu.edu/symbolcodes/languages/psu/spanish/

Dubslow
5 years ago
Reply to  Carl

If you’re on some Linux you can bind the compose key. I use my right windows/super key, so to get an accent like José I merely type:

Shift+J o s compose ‘ e

Tesseract
5 years ago
Reply to  Carl

You can use the US-international keyboard. It makes things easier if you write in both english and spanish

bucdaddy
5 years ago

It’s a small thing, so I wouldn’t go out of my way or plan a special trip or anything, but if any of you happen to be driving along I-79, there’s this:

http://cdce.wvu.edu/programs/current_programs/nl-beisbol

As a side issue, I want to talk about this:

“As recently as May of this year Carlos Gómez, then-outfielder for the Houston Astros, was quoted in broken English in a critical piece by a Houston Chronicle writer. Many were offended, including Gómez, who fired off a series of tweets to the writer. The Chronicle editor issued a public apology.”

I work as a newspaper copy editor, usually doing the sports section, and this is an issue that came up with the (now former, he left for another paper) sports editor. He occasionally quoted some athletes verbatim, using slang or less than perfect English, and we had a discussion about it, or at least I explained why I was inclined to tidy up a quote here and there. As anyone who’s ever hung around athletes much (or, really, hung around most people in general) knows, very few of us speak perfect English. Sports writers traditionally clean up the grammar and remove most or all of the “ums” and the “likes” and the ‘y’knows” because reading exact quotes would be excruciating.

But occasionally, I think there need to be exceptions. One is if there is some good point to be made by quoting exactly. If, say, the head of the English department at the local university routinely used poor grammar or was largely inarticulate in speech or writing, you might be justified in quoting exactly, so people can determine whether their children are being properly educated or their tax dollars are being spent well. If President Obama visits a black church and speaks with the cadences and words that community is used to hearing (is that what “vernacular” means?), that’s relevant.

Another reason might be to offer a better sense of who the players are as people and how they interact. If you were quoting a group of players (some black, some white, some Hispanic) bantering and joking with each other, you might want to try to capture the flavor of that in something less than perfect English, because everyone knows perfect English isn’t usually the way people address each other when they’re just being themselves.

One other thing you need to keep in mind about this as well: With the explosion of video technology, there’s often readily available a recording of the athlete or coach or manager saying what later gets quoted in the paper. So fans can check what gets written versus what the player/coach/manager actually said. If you clean up the speech TOO much, you run the risk of losing credibility with your audience.

I’m a Pirates fan, and I’ve seen many quotes from Clint Hurdle on my go-to Pirates site ( bucsdugout.com ) that are apparently verbatim because they ramble and take awkward turns and are sometimes almost indecipherable, though the gist usually comes through. Now you could clean them up and try to turn them into English, but you know there’s video out there that would show Hurdle saying what he REALLY said.

For the record, I’m guessing this is the quote that upset Gomez:

“For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed.”

Because he’s quoted only two other times in the offending story:

“If you start playing to what the fans do, it’s hard to do. When you have 40,000 people outside screaming at you, you smile and you’re (upset). I’m the one here, enjoying my time. You’re watching because you can’t play.”

And:

“I’m not even thinking about free agency. At the end of the year … I’m going to decide what I’m going to do.”

I don’t see much wrong with those.

Were I editing the piece, I probably would have asked the writer what the point of running the offending quote verbatim was, at least for the “I not really do much” part. I don’t really see why that couldn’t have been rendered as “I didn’t really do much.” As for “The fans be” and “They be,” I might be inclined to let that slide. For better or worse, a lot of people use “be” that way, and I don’t see how it would be insulting the speaker to quote verbatim.

My $.02.

Paul G.
5 years ago
Reply to  bucdaddy

You should read some of the sports writing in the 1920s and earlier. I’m pretty sure that some of the quotes have not only been cleaned up of “ums” and various profanity, but promoted into something a college professor would say when showing off.

bucdaddy
5 years ago
Reply to  Paul G.

Heh, yeah, Paul, I’ve read a lot of that kind of thing. And I believe it when it comes from the mouth of, say, Christy Mathewson*, not so much for, say, Ty Cobb.

Way back in my sportswriting days, I covered a high school whose wrestling coach cursed almost literally every third word. It was highly entertaining to hear in person, in a Joe Schultz kind of way, but the quotes took some heavy editing before they got into print. I didn’t use … either, because I would have used them a lot: “He got the … guy on his … back and the … referee wouldn’t give him any … points. What the … we supposed to do?” Like that.

*– “Pitching in a Pinch” is a really good book, speaking of Christy, and I’d recommend it. It’s in public domain now, so it should be downloadable for free if you have a reader. He has John McGraw speaking very good curse-free English, which I find extremely hard to believe. I just mentally insert “f***in’ ” about every fourth word when I read those quotes.

John Autin
5 years ago

I am 100% in favor of correct spelling and pronunciation of all names.

But I’m also against needless embellishment of text characters. What’s the purpose of the accent in “González”? Do we really have to be told which syllable is emphasized? I have never heard the name mispronounced.

For the same reason, when I use the word “facade” in an English sentence, I don’t need a cedilla to show that the “c” is pronounced “s”, because there is no alternative pronunciation. If my readers know the word, they know how to pronounce it; and if they don’t know the word, pronunciation is the least of my worries.

Language always moves towards standardizing the simplest forms that get the job done. I look forward to the day when “González” can be written “Gonzalez” not because it’s been Anglicized, but simply because everyone knows how to pronounce it, so the owners no longer see the need of an accent.

Until then, of course, I’ll respect everyone’s right to have their name properly depicted, as long as it’s keyboard-accessible.

Well-Beered Englishman
5 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

The difference between “González” and “facade” is that González is his birth name. Totally separate from issues of pronunciation, I don’t see why honoring somebody’s name by spelling it correctly is such an issue. If a sports reporter is willing to write “Metta World Peace,” they should be willing to write “González”.

John Autin
5 years ago

Englishman, I don’t see the point of your comment, since I did include the accent in his name and stated — twice — that I would always try to depict anyone’s name as they spell it.

Paul G., what I’ve read indicates that the accent in “González” merely tells which syllable is emphasized. If you have other information, can you point me to it? If not, can you explain why we *need* to be told which syllable to emphasize? Isn’t that accent really a useless relic?

And to Dubslow, yes, I would favor phonetic spelling. But that’s not the immediate issue, is it?

Paul G.
5 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Which syllable is emphasized changes the pronunciation significantly! That’s true in English as well! I will admit that sometimes it is subtle. There were times I would repeatedly mess up a pronunciation but I could not really tell the difference between the correct and my pronunciation. However, Spanish speakers know and it makes it obvious that you are not as fluent as you think you are. In Spanish there are pronunciation rules. When you see an accent mark it means the regular pronunciation rules do not apply.

The other thing to remember about accent marks is sometimes two different words are spelled exactly the same except for the accent mark. For instance, “si” means “if” but “sí” means “yes.” Then there is the whole “por qué” (“why”) vs. “porque” (“because”) issue.

As to the “ñ”, that is pronounced so significantly differently than “n” that it is essentially its own letter in the alphabet.

Marc Schneider
5 years ago

As an aside, my name is Marc and many people spell it as Mark (in many cases, by people who have known me for years). I would prefer that people spell my name as my mother intended. It’s annoying. But I rarely bother to correct them.

Paul G.
5 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

The accent marks and the tildes are important in Spanish. It changes the pronunciation significantly. I know because of prior (mostly failed) attempts to learn Spanish I would botch the accent marks repeatedly. It’s the guy’s name. If he wants the accent mark he was born with, all the power to him.

There are technical issues with trying to get Spanish accent marks to work with English word processors, but there are ways. The more complicated issue is if Japanese players wanted their names spelled out in Japanese. It’s one thing to ask an English native speaker to parse through punctuation added to letters in the English alphabet. It is another to try to get readers to understand something in a completely different alphabet.

Dubslow
5 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

How would you like it if I spelled your name as Jon?

I bet you wouldn’t. I would argue, as you do, that it’s shorter and doesn’t change the pronunciation, but you wouldn’t care because that’s not how your name is spelled. Your name is John, not Jon.

And frankly, the pronunciation argument isn’t relevant because in Spanish it *does* change the pronunciation. It doesn’t just mark the accented syllable. (But again, even if it didn’t change the pronunciation, that’s irrelevant to the spelling of your name.)

John Autin
5 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

On second thought … There are, of course, many names that are less commonly heard by English speakers, where accent marks are helpful — e.g., the filmmaker Iñárritu.

I still think that language will continue trending towards simplification — dropping most diacritical marks, more phonetic spelling, etc. But in the meantime, I will continue to respect existing forms as best I can.

Doug DeMoss
5 years ago

I like the idea. I HATE the logo, which looks like somebody took a golf club or a hockey stick to the plate.

Jonathan Bergeron
5 years ago

Just an aside, this applies to (very few) French-speaking players, too. As a French-Canadian, I always cringed when I saw Éric Gagné’s name without accents. Gagne and Gagné are two different tenses of the same verb (approximate to “win” and “won”), so of course they don’t mean the same. Anyway, I fully approve of correctly writing any given name ! Great effort !

hardywombat
5 years ago

I’d love to see a team in San Juan.

Tesseract
5 years ago

One mistake. The campaign labeled “Salute to Latin American Beísbol Day” has the accent in the wrong letter it should be “Béisbol” an accent is not just for looks, “Beísbol” sounds much different than “‘Béisbol”

ricardomj
5 years ago
Reply to  Tesseract

It depends in wich part of Latin America you’re on, for instances Mexicans tends to speak giving the tone on the last syllable, and we in South America and in the Caribbean islands tends to pronounce it with the tone in the first syllable.

Kathie H
5 years ago

Great campaign which should have been instituted decades ago. FYI: line reads “Sometimes the insensitivity is less suble” and should read “subtle.”

Fake Yeezy V2
4 years ago

It’s hard to beat an iconic pair of retro sneakers. The best ones can stand the test of time, remaining relevant long after they’ve stopped being the flavour of the month.