Too bad today's broadcasters don't understand that an athlete's delivery on the field is a lot more important than his delivery on the radio. While Tony Peña's Royals steal bases, chalk up wins and excite fans with their new enthusiasm, Kansas City's top-rated radio sports show has decided not to talk to the new manager because he has a thick Dominican accent and broken -- or at least sprained -- English.
"We have made a decision with this show that [Peña] is not a guy we will seek out for interviews because he is extremely difficult to understand," Kevin Kietzman told his afternoon sports-talk audience on WHB 810 shortly after Peña was hired.
Last week, Kietzman continued the criticism: "It's difficult for me to say what it is that I feel. It's hard to loosen up to where you feel comfortable having a conversation with him."
Kietzman claimed that Royals fans wouldn't be able to understand Peña. "What [the media] will find is that it's difficult for listeners and viewers to understand him," he said. Danny Clinkscale, a regular contributor to Kietzman's show, echoed his boss' thoughts. "When I have the choice of four sound bites, and two of them are Tony Peña and one's A.J. Hinch and one's Paul Byrd ... the likelihood is that you're going to hear the Paul Byrd and the A.J. Hinch more often," Clinkscale said, proving in his next sentence that he's no English scholar himself. "Tony's not going to be on never, but you have to make sure that it's worth people listening to."
The Royals' new skipper is a proud man. His erect posture declares his dignity even when he's seated. His baseball uniform is still military-crisp ten hours after he puts it on. His eyes never leave mine as he answers questions after a game, but he looks troubled that people would consider his accent a reason to not talk to him.
"I don't care what everybody says," Peña explains. "I know my ball club understands, and that's what counts. I don't pay no attention to that. I try and do my best. I know my English is no perfect. Everybody has to understand that. I come from a foreign country, and I do my best, and I still go on."
Peña has never faced this kind of prejudice before. Not during eighteen years in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Boston and Cleveland, where he was an All-Star catcher five times. Not even in New Orleans, where he coached the Triple-A Zephyrs for the past three years. "Nope," he says.
Are we really less tolerant than Cajuns? Nope. I couldn't find one fan at the K last week who had a problem understanding Peña on other broadcasts. "I can understand him just fine," says Sandi Wells, a Royals fan from Gladstone. "I work in a high school where there are a lot of different accents. So I don't find him that difficult to understand."
Nick Russo, of Belton, faults Kietzman's college education: "Tell Kietzman if he'd gone anyplace besides K-State, he could probably understand him."
Meanwhile, on KMBZ 980, the Royals' official station, Soren Petro and Nate Bukaty have individually blasted Peña's managerial decisions. On that station, negative talk about the Royals manager was rarer than Royals victories back when the hapless Tony Muser was in charge. Don Fortune recently picked a fight with Peña, too, questioning why the manager didn't tell broadcasters before a game that he'd benched a pitcher.
It's great to see that the media have decided to be tough on a Royals manager. But Peña has proven himself worthy of more respect than Muser ever deserved, regardless of whether Kietzman understands a word he says.