May 062004
 
Authors: Joshua Pilkington

We’ve used this space before to talk about something very dear

to us: baseball in the Dominican Republic. We’ve praised its

development of stars like Sammy Sosa and Miguel Tejada in the past

and would do so again today if not for a previously unknown problem

with the system, one we wish to address: the exploitation of

baseball prospects in the Dominican.

“They sign 25 guys and maybe only one is a good player,” said

San Francisco Giants manager Felipe Alou in “B�isbol:

Latinos and the Grand Old Game.” “It’s like they throw a net in the

ocean, hoping that maybe they’ll get a big fish. The problem is if

they don’t get a big fish, they’ll throw all the smaller ones

back.”

For those who have not read Tom Farrey’s “Finder’s Fee” in the

May 10 edition of ESPN the Magazine, the term busc�n is

foreign, yet it is the busc�n who is at the root of our

problem.

The buscones are those who devote their time searching the

Dominican for the next Sosa or Tejada. They seduce 12-year-old kids

to leave school and enter their training camps to develop their

“special” talents and receive a big signing bonus from major league

clubs at the age of 16 or 17.

All for the nominal fee of 25 to 50 percent of said signing

bonus.

The system is a plus for MLB, because as an entity it does not

have to spend money on developing talent, pays a prospect’s

busc�n a small commission and puts the player in a

developmental situation he otherwise could not be in legally –

since signing players under the age of 16 is illegal (though that,

too, is a problem).

In addition to the large percentage the busc�n takes from

the prospect’s signing bonus, more than one busc�n can claim

to have been in contact with the prospect and demand his share of

the bonus as well. In the case of one player, according to Farrey,

the signee of a $150,000 bonus was left with less than $1,500 after

paying the seven buscones who claimed to have “developed” the

prospect.

Even more disturbing is the problem Arturo Marcano Guevara and

David Fidler identified in their book “Stealing Lives”: most of the

money promised to the players upon signing (usually between $5,000

to $8,000) never reaches them…

It’s not that baseball hasn’t helped the Dominican in many ways,

as “Hoy de New York” columnist Enrique Rojas told us, “MLB’s

investment in the island reaches more than $76 million annually

with the creation of 1,200 direct jobs and 900 other indirect

jobs.”

Furthermore, all 30 teams have established a baseball academy in

which they invest a combined $14.7 million annually to train signed

prospects, Rojas added.

The problem is not the money invested; it’s the way the

investments are carried out.

According to Guevara and Fidler, 28 visas are distributed to all

30 MLB teams annually (a total of 840) and “assuming every

foreign-born major league player receives a visa, major league

teams have approximately 618 visas to use to bring foreign-born

minor league players to the United States.”

Not a bad total until we observe that the total leaves, “2,247

minor leaguers without visas, or approximately 78 percent of all

foreign-born players under minor-league contracts,” Guevara and

Fidler wrote.

Many would react to this by saying, “yes, but those signed

players are still signed and still have a job,” to which we would

reply using, again, the words of Guevara and Fidler.

“The projection of the ‘rags to riches’ mythology onto the

exploitation of Latin children by MLB represents profound ethical

myopia in the American baseball world. … It essentially holds

that it is acceptable to treat poor children worse than affluent

children because they are poor.”

Our solution?

Why not allow these kids to stay in school and develop their

baseball skills? As we mentioned previously, kids leave school

believing they’ll be the next Sosa, but “for every Sosa there are

hundreds, even thousands, of players that will not obtain anything

in return for having invested the young years (in baseball camps),”

said Jos� Escarram�n, president of the National

Association of Independent Baseball Programs. “This scenario is not

beneficial for a third-world nation that, though proud of its

baseball stars, needs to educate its people.”

With each team already having established baseball academies in

the Dominican, what impedes them from turning the “academies” –

which Guevara and Fidler more rightfully called “hideouts for

prospects that teams do not want to be seen by other scouts,” –

into schools where time is devoted to educating and baseball.

Escarram�n has already established 322 training programs

that require their participants to go school to receive baseball

training. Can’t baseball just take it one step further with its

already established camps?

Baseball in the Dominican is a great entity and MLB has done

much to help the country flourish, while bringing us stars like

Sammy Sosa, Vladamir Guerrero and Pedro Martinez in the process.

But does that give it the right to hinder the development of

thousands who don’t reach that level?

We think not.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.