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.