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
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
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
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
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
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
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.”
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.