MLB- We have a problem here…

Day 49

 

The saying ignorance is bliss can go a long way. After researching in the last 24 hours the degree of steroid influence in countries outside of the United States, I am neither ignorant nor bliss.

Unlike the United States, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela are countries with steriods available at the local drug store, no prescription necessary. The ability to easily obtain the drugs, combined with the impoverished lives so many players’ families lead, makes teenagers particularly susceptible to the quick fix steroids are supposed to provide. The average annual income in the Dominican is around $2,500, and Chicago Cubs infielder Ronny Cedeno, a Venezuelan, said: “We’re poor. We’re really poor. We need to make money. And it’s really hard to say no.”

I have to thank Erin Kathleen of Plunking Gomez for initially schooling me on what are called “buscones” or searchers in Latin America. From there the pandora’s box was opened and I cannot go back.

Buscones can be legitimate men to hustlers who help to bring talent to Major League teams and receive compensation from a players signing, usually anywhere from 10 to 30 percent.

Gonzalez, a shortstop, is in such a position to provide all this — including renovating a new home 2 1/2 miles away, where men lay tile and grin at their teenage employer’s arrival — as a direct result of the renegade system in which major league teams procure Dominican players. The system became so unwieldy that, six years ago, Major League Baseball established an office in Santo Domingo, the capital, to help provide structure, a commodity that has proved hard to obtain.

“Officially, we do not have jurisdiction over these people,” said Ronaldo Peralta, the director of MLB’s Latin American office. “There is only so much we can do.”

Foreign teenagers aren’t subject to MLB’s annual draft, which includes only American high schoolers and college kids. Rather, they are all but auctioned off to teams by street agents known locally as buscones, a derivative of the Spanish for “to find” or “to seek.” The process, which Nationals President Stan Kasten has likened to doing business in “the wild, wild West,” involves Dominican baseball men — part coaches, part providers, part hustlers, part financial advisers — identifying and cultivating talent, preparing the players for tryouts and then selling them in the July following their 16th birthdays to the highest-bidding major league teams. Depending on the arrangement, the buscones end up with anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of the signing bonuses — except in the countless instances in which they rip off an illiterate and unsuspecting family.

I was saddened to read all of the iformation and how MLB has very little power in helping to control these situations outside of the States.

I wondered aloud how many Americans and baseball fans were aware of this practice and where was I in hearing about this. We as a country tend to rally behind circumstances like these but I had not remembered any national outcry..

We won’t buy clothing or shoes made in sweat shops. We demand countries pay living wages or U.S. companies not take up shop in these countries to keep these practices out of sight.

How was it then we allow Major League teams to continue engaging in the process of picking up talent outside the United States where extremely unscrupuous practices are rampant?

MLB is aware of the pitfalls involved in the system. The league, though, says it is helpless to do anything directly about it.

“We do have a concern,” MLB’s Peralta said. “But I have to be honest with you, and I want to state for the record: Buscones, or independent scouts, are a very important part of the industry. They help fill a gap, because there’s not a lot of organized baseball in the Dominican Republic. They provide a service.

“But the sad situation becomes when, like in any other big group of people, there are some guys — and I wouldn’t say the majority of them, because there are a lot of hardworking people — but you will find some bad apples that have abused the players. We have no jurisdiction over them, but still, those incidents are the most publicized.”

Peralta said his office is working with the Dominican government to help establish regulations that MLB couldn’t enforce itself, including setting standard percentages buscones can receive from a signing bonus — 10 percent if they worked with a kid for a year or less, 15 percent if it’s a year or more. Though President Leonel Fernandez signed the legislation, Peralta said it had some “points of conflict” with the Dominican Olympic committee and other politicians, and it is not yet law.

“Basically,” Peralta said, “it’s out of our hands.”

I do understand the flip side of this argument and many buscones do provide a very necessary service to young players and Major League teams. I understand how many players would never see one moment in a Major League ballpark if not for them. What I don’t understand is if the average fan is willing to lobby their team to create the best possible situation and deal with legitimate buscones.

As the league continues to grow in numbers of Latin American players, it’s very possible your team, if it has none now, will have a greater presence in the future.

Now you know and are willing to ask if your team is helping to create a better system for young players or stimulating a negative one already in place? 

 

There are a lot of great articles available for research. The excerpts from this blog came from writers Jeff Passan of yahoo sports and Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post. Both men had great articles and helped to lessen some of the ignorance of this writer.

13 comments

  1. juliasrants

    Tom, what a great article and it opened my eyes to what appears to be a very real problem. Young people can so easily be exploited by people out to make a quick buck. And sadly many of the talented young players go along with this system because there is no other way for them to come to the attention of the MLB teams. But that being said, this is a situation that can no longer be ignored. MLB, who makes so much money off the backs of these young men, has a obligation to work with the government of Dominican Republic to establish a safe way for these young men to try out for the Majors and to insure that someone is there to help them make the transition to the American Culture. Thank you for bringing this problem to our attention.

    Julia
    http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

  2. Jane Heller

    I admit my own ignorance about this issue. I thought scouts in Latin American countries were merely helping the big league clubs to spot talent, nothing more. Shows what I know. The bottom line is that if there’s money to be made somewhere, there will always be those eager to exploit the system. Sad commentary, isn’t it?

    http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

  3. rockymountainway

    Julia- I think we as fans have an obligation to these young players to not allow exploitation. How many have died from steroids that we don’t know about because they just wanted to play ball?

    Jane- Yes it is very sad and although I’m glad I know about it, I’m saddened nonetheless.

    -Tom

  4. AJRoxMyWhiteSox

    I vaguely remembered the term “buscon” before I read your blog today, and I couldn’t remember for the life of me where I’d heard it before. On my way back from class, it hit me. An ESPN.com article from back in September. I wish there was a way Major League players could warn these young kids about what these buscones are doing. These young guys are so trusting because all they want to do is play baseball, and some people feel the need to exploit that. Because of the ESPN article (which I will link to), I know that the White Sox had at least one of those bad buscones who was subsequently fired when the team found out. Here’s the article. I actually cried the first time I read it because I felt so bad for these kids.
    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/otl/news/story?id=3609833
    Jen
    http://ajroxmywhitesox.mlblogs.com

  5. rockymountainway

    thanks Jen I will check that out and I read a lot of sad stories myself when I was researching this. Sad.

    Bob- Very messed up!

    -Tom

  6. Erin Kathleen

    Tom,
    Thanks for the great post on the steroids problem in Latin America (and for the shoutout, too). Most baseball fans are completely unaware of the problem; they think that these players are subject to the same testing as American ones (and they are once they get to the United States). It’s a complicated issue with no easy answers. I’m glad you are helping to raise awareness of it.
    -Erin
    http://plunking-gomez.mlblogs.com

  7. raysrenegade

    Great minds thick alike.

    I was thinking about this right before I posted my first blog today and wrote a second one on this problem too. You can’t blame the kid for the system that was put in place for him to abuse. The “Finders” will do everything to get a great prospect in their mitts.

    Until the MLB devises a draft system to incorporate Latin America and beyond, this kind of exploitation is only going to get bigger and bigger. Awesome look at the situation. I learned a few more things than I knew. Always good to learn something new every day.

    I didn’t want to write about Yuri….he is a wanted man right now.

    Rays Renegade

    http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

  8. rockymountainway

    Happy- Yeah it is a completely different world but its more than starting to creep into ours!

    jeff- Yes we the fans do need to figure out what we are all about. Some more than others.

    Rays- Yes yuri will get his more than ten minutes of fame on this one. And I agree great minds think alike. Love the blog my friend.

    -Tom

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