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3/7/2013 4:19 PM

Inside Major League Baseball's Dominican Sweatshop System

Teen shortstop Yewri Guillén died the day the Nationals were supposed to ship him to America. Has MLB learned from the tragedy?

By Ian Gordon | Mon Mar. 4, 2013 3:02 AM PST


Yewri Guillén, in an undated family photo

THE BASEBALL MEN started coming around when Yewri Guillén was 15. Like thousands of other boys in the Dominican Republic, he had been waiting for them for years, training on the sparse patch of grass and dirt across the road from the small concrete-and-wood house he shared with his mother, father, and two sisters in La Canela, a hamlet 45 minutes southwest of Santo Domingo. By the time the American scouts took notice, he had grown into a 5-foot-10, 165-pound, switch-hitting shortstop with quick hands and a laser arm. In 2009, at the age of 16, he signed for $30,000 with the Washington Nationals. The first thing he'd do with his bonus, he told his parents, was buy them a car and build them a new house.

But soon after Guillén's signing, Major League Baseball put his plans on hold. The league, having grown more vigilant about identity fraud, suspended him for a year, alleging that he'd lied about his date of birth on paperwork to boost his potential value to scouts. Guillén's family got a lawyer to fight the suspension, and in the meantime he lived and trained without pay at the Nationals' academy in Boca Chica, the epicenter of MLB's training facilities in the country. There, he was notoriously hard on himself. Johnny DiPuglia, the Nationals' international scouting director, said Guillén would even take himself out of games after making small mistakes like missing a sign from the third-base coach. "He had no education, none at all," DiPuglia told me. "I didn't think he had any teeth because he never smiled. And he always had watery eyes—there was always sadness in his eyes."

DiPuglia made it his mission to cheer up the teenager, "to open up his heart." He wouldn't let Guillén pass without giving him a hug and a smile, and little by little, DiPuglia said, Guillén started to loosen up, becoming a better teammate and a happier kid. Later, when other talent brokers approached Guillén claiming that they could get him a better deal with a different team, Guillén turned them away because he felt that he owed it to the Nationals for sticking with him. After MLB finally authorized his contract at the beginning of 2011, the Nationals told him they'd be sending him to play for their rookie league team in Florida. He was to leave in mid-April.

When the headaches first came on, they were barely bad enough to mention. On April 1, Guillén headed home to La Canela to get his travel documents in order. His family brought him to a clinic in nearby San Cristóbal. When he returned to the academy and missed a couple of games, DiPuglia called him out—in the Dominican Republic, nobody rides the bench because of a headache. When the pain got worse, DiPuglia sent Guillén to the trainer's room, where he was given some tea and an aspirin.

The next day, on April 6, the Nationals sent Guillén back to La Canela. He had a slight fever when he left the academy. On April 7, Michael Morla, a longtime local trainer who also acted as Guillén's agent, was at the field in La Canela when he saw Guillén, a damp towel wrapped around his head, lurching toward the community's health post, adjacent to the field. Morla approached Guillén's family, urging them to take him to Santo Domingo for care: "The boy is bad!"

Guillén's aunt and uncle rushed him to the Clínica Abreu, the capital's best private hospital. But because his contract hadn't been finalized he didn't have health insurance, and he was refused treatment when his family couldn't come up with the $1,300 admission fee. His aunt and uncle moved him to a more affordable Cuban-Dominican clinic nearby, where he was admitted on April 8. The doctors diagnosed bacterial meningitis. Guillén later had surgery to drain brain fluid, but the disease had progressed too far. On April 15, the day he was to leave for the United States, Yewri Guillén died.
 

THE TRAGEDY WAS a blip on the sports world's radar, a blurb on ESPN's Spanish-language crawl. The handful of news reports hit all the same notes: MLB said that the team followed appropriate protocols [1] and did all that it could; the Nationals vowed to promptly vaccinate [2] all the players at their academy; everyone from the team's medical director to the general manager expressed sorrow about the death.

"A 16-year-old doesn't know how to play baseball," Red Sox star David Ortiz told me. "I don't care what they say."

Here's what those stories left out: There wasn't a certified athletic trainer, let alone a doctor, to evaluate Guillén at the Nationals' academy, a spartan training camp with cinder-block dorms. No one from the team accompanied him to Santo Domingo or intervened when he couldn't get into the Clínica Abreu. (The club didn't cover the costs of his treatment until after he was admitted to the Cuban-Dominican clinic.) And following Guillén's death, the club required his parents to sign a release before handing over his signing bonus and life insurance money—a document also stating that they would never sue the team or its employees.

Guillén's death is the worst-case scenario in a recruiting system that treats young Dominicans as second-class prospects [3], paying them far less than young Americans and sometimes denying them benefits that are standard in the US minor leagues, such as health insurance and professionally trained medical staff. MLB regulations allow teams to troll for talent on the cheap in the Dominican Republic: Unlike American kids, who must have completed high school to sign, Dominicans can be signed as young as 16, when their bodies and their skills are far less developed.

"A 16-year-old doesn't know how to play baseball," the Boston Red Sox's David Ortiz [4], an eight-time All-Star who grew up in Santo Domingo, told me. "I don't care what they say. When I signed at 16, I didn't know what the **** I was doing."

Teams are not eager to talk about the disparity between MLB's domestic and foreign rookie leagues, as I would learn firsthand when looking into Guillén's death in his native country. Nor is it much of a concern to locals: The sport is ubiquitous and beloved, and given the Dominican Republic's 40 percent poverty rate [5], the allure of the big leagues is powerful. Ortiz said Americans don't understand the pressure on Dominican teenagers, including in some cases to lie about their age. "The thing that made me mad about the whole situation is that people want to look at us like we are criminals," he said. "I would like to get in their face and ask them, if that was their only way out, what would they do?"

A Tale of Two Talent Markets

These star American and Dominican players have a lot in common—except the age they signed and the bonuses they got.
 
  • Mark McGwire vs. Sammy Sosa

     

    McGwire's Bonus: $145,000 Year Signed: 1984 Age: 20

    Sosa's Bonus: $3,500 Year Signed: 1985 Age: 16

    McGwire’s and Sosa’s pursuit of the single-season home run record in 1998 brought baseball a whole new generation of fans. Left: Donruss, right: Fleer

     

  • Mike Mussina vs. Pedro Martínez

     

    Mussina's Bonus: $225,000 Year Signed: 1990 Age: 21

    Martínez's Bonus: $6,500 Year Signed: 1988 Age: 16

    Two dominating pitchers, Mussina and Martínez were selected for a combined 13 All-Star Games and faced off in the playoffs in 2003 and 2004. Left: Upper Deck, right: Upper Deck

     

  • Lance Berkman vs. David Ortíz

     

    Berkman's Bonus: $1 million Year Signed: 1997 Age: 21

    Ortiz's Bonus: $25,000 Year Signed: 1992 Age: 16

    Powerful first basemen Berkman and Ortiz have made a combined 14 All-Star Games and whacked 761 home runs between them. Left: Bowman, right: Donruss

     

  • Troy Tulowitzki vs. Hanley Ramírez

     

    Tulowitzki's Bonus: $2.3 million Year Signed: 2005 Age: 20

    Ramírez's Bonus: $20,000 Year Signed: 2000 Age: 16

    Tulowitzki and Ramírez were top shortstop prospects and so far have made a combined six All-Star Games. Left: Topps, right: Upper Deck

     

  • Byron Buxton vs. Amed Rosario

     

    Buxton's Bonus: $6 million Year Signed: 2012 Age: 18

    Rosario's Bonus: $1.75 million Year Signed: 2012 Age: 16

    Buxton, a teen outfielder from Georgia, was the highest-paid 2012 draft pick; Rosario, a shortstop, got the largest bonus of any Dominican last year. Left: Mike Janes/Four Seam Image/AP Photo, right: Adam Rubin/ESPN

     

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The legions of teens swinging bats and diving for ground balls each year on Dominican fields must negotiate a system with little in the way of support or a safety net. Whereas Major League Baseball requires all 189 minor league teams in the United States to have certified athletic trainers and "all reasonable medical supplies," no such requirement exists at the Dominican academies. Nearly two years after Guillén's death, Mother Jones found that 21 of MLB's 30 teams lack certified trainers in the Dominican Republic, including the Nationals.

Rafael Pérez, head of Dominican operations for Major League Baseball, said his office's role is to provide services to the clubs, not wag a regulatory finger at them: "Sometimes people have a negative reaction when things are imposed," he said. That's why the Nationals faced no sanctions, even though one of their players died of an entirely treatable illness. They had followed the rules, but those rules don't require the teams to do very much. Pérez insisted that the league has aimed to improve facilities and standards in recent years, albeit on a voluntary basis: "Some clubs are having a harder time than others. But they all have great intentions."

The reality is that a stark double standard persists, said Arturo Marcano [6], a Venezuelan-born lawyer who a decade ago coauthored a book [7] on corruption and youth exploitation in MLB's Dominican operations. League officials recognize that the system is flawed and that it should be improved, he said. "They always say, 'We're working on it,' or, 'Things are getting better.' But in the end, it's the same response they've been giving since 2002."

The top six producers of major league talent as of Opening Day 2012

Since then, Latin American players have become an ever more important part of the game. At the start of the 2012 season, players born in Latin American countries made up 42 percent of minor leaguers and 24 percent of major leaguers. They accounted for 6 of MLB's 25 highest earners [8], and like superstar Albert Pujols, whosigned a 10-year, $240 million contract [9] in December 2011, more than half of the Latin American players came from the Dominican Republic, the most from any country outside the United States.

And yet, if 2006 is any indication, of the hundreds of Dominican prospects at the academies each year (along with Venezuelans and other Latin Americans also training there), less than half will ever leave the island to play even in the minor leagues, let alone in the big show, where under 3 percent will eventually step up to the plate. More than three-quarters will drop out of baseball in four years. Americans in the rookie leagues also face long odds, of course, but nearly 70 percent of them will advance at least one minor league level, and they are more than four times as likely to crack a major league roster. They are also far better paid at the outset: The average signing bonus for American players drafted in 2011 was $232,000; for international players, it was approximately half that.

Everyone participating in the system—from the CEOs of major league franchises all the way down to the often sketchy local talent brokers in the Dominican Republic known as buscones—has a say. Except for the kids. "The objective in Latin America is to sign talent, but do so in an affordable way," Marcano said. "But there isn't anyone who speaks for the players, who are giving up their childhood in search of a dream that few realize."
 

BASEBALL FIRST CAME to the Dominican Republic in the late 1800s, most likely brought to the island by Cuban immigrants. Although several teams formed and began playing tournaments by the early 1900s, it wasn't until Ozzie Virgil [10] debuted for the New York Giants in 1956 that a Dominican made it to the American major leagues. Several accomplished players followed, including Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal [11], but the first real wave came after Toronto Blue Jays scout Epy Guerrero [12] started the first academy in 1973, turning a house and a cheap plot of land into a rudimentary training camp. A decade later, the Los Angeles Dodgers, recognizing a potentially rich vein of talent, created a template for the contemporary baseball academy called Campo Las Palmas [13]. But most teams were content to play the odds, parachuting in to look for big-time talent at bargain basement prices. As former Colorado Rockies executive Dick Balderson once explained, "Instead of signing four American guys at $25,000 each, you sign 20 Dominican guys for $5,000 each."

Young Dominicans dreaming of big league stardom play in a 2009 pickup game in Santo Domingo. Marc Asnin/Redux

Conditions at some academies were substandard and even dangerous. When the Nationals' DiPuglia was starting out with the St. Louis Cardinals in the mid-1990s, his players slept eight to a room and navigated a field full of rocks and the occasional goat. In his book, Stealing Lives [7], Marcano told the story of a player named Alexi Quiroz and his path through the Chicago Cubs' Dominican academy, a place the ballplayers referred to as "Vietnam." There, 19 teenage boys shared one bathroom without running water, a drunk coach allegedly threatened them with a gun, and, after Quiroz separated his shoulder playing shortstop one day, he was treated by a street doctor who stomped on the joint to pop it back into place, ending his career.

As American teams began paying more attention to Dominican prospects in the early aughts, more and more ex-players and wannabes started working as buscones, scouting and training teens even before they had turned 16. They had flashy nicknames like Cachaza or Aroboy, and their training methods and negotiating tactics led to rising bonuses for their players—typically along with a hefty 30 percent cut for their efforts. Some buscones gained a reputation as ruthless operators willing to do anything—forge player birth certificates, bribe investigators—to boost their take.

By 2009, following several high-profile identity fraud cases and bonus-skimming scandals, MLB dispatched executive Sandy Alderson [14] (now the general manager of the New York Mets) to take stock of operations in the country. His report [15] called for restructuring the league's Dominican office, improving identity investigations, regulating the buscones, and generally curtailing corruption.

But his recommendations were only advisory, and critics maintain that little has changed since. One big shift did go into effect in 2012: Major League Baseball restricted teams to a $2.9 million international free-agent budget [16], in part to blunt the power of buscones by driving down signing bonuses. The bonuses had hit a high point the prior year, when the Texas Rangers signed 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Nomar Mazara to a record $4.95 million deal [17], but since have begun to drop and will remain suppressed under the cap. A few teams, such as the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres, have chosen to invest in better facilities and training programs, but they remain in the minority.

The Nationals, meanwhile, have been tight-lipped about their operation since Yewri Guillén died. (MLB later said Guillén had died of a sinus-related infection [18], not meningitis, but league officials declined to provide Mother Jones with any documentation confirming such a diagnosis.) And access to the team's academy proved challenging. Shortly after I arrived in the Dominican Republic in January 2012 and scheduled a tour of the Nationals' facilities, I received an email from team administrator Fausto Severino retracting the invitation: The visit was "not going to be possible for the moment."

"The only player I've had who could throw harder than this kid was Yewri Guillén. He was tremendous."

I headed over to the academy anyway. My cab driver drove out of downtown Boca Chica on a street that quickly gave way to a trash-lined dirt track. After a few bumpy minutes, the road dead-ended in front of the entrance, which had a large Nationals logo painted on the wall. A security guard sat near the metal gate, chitchatting with a couple of players, an empty batting cage behind them.

Eventually the guard stood up and waved me in. With its smallish concrete dorms, the facility was humble compared to the country's high-end academies, including the $6 million Pirates complex I'd visited a few days before. But it wasn't unpleasant, either; palm trees lined two well-manicured fields beyond the gravel driveway.

The guard suggested there was a kind of family atmosphere to the place, mentioning how some players who'd made it to the minor leagues came back in the offseason to work out. He seemed happy to talk, so I asked him if he knew the player who died.

"Ah, yes," he said, his voice dropping a little. "Yewri, he got sick, went home, and passed away. So sad."

I asked if he thought the team did right by Guillén's parents.

"They collected money," he said. "But what's that to a family that lost a child?"

DiPuglia would tell me later that he saw the settlement deal as fair. "We pushed it through," he said, noting that the team's owners were under no contractual obligation to give Guillén's family the $30,000 bonus or the $50,000 insurance payout. "I think they did the right thing, the humane thing."

A Nationals scout, center, runs drills with local players during a tryout at the Complex de las Américas in February 2011 in Boca Chica. Ricky Carioti / The Washington Post / Getty Images

Or was it just the relatively small cost of doing business? To hear veteran buscón Astin Jacobo Jr. tell it, locals are well aware that they've gotten the short end of the deal for a long time—even as some aggressively pursue their own stake in the recruiting game. Prior to checking out the Nationals' academy, I'd gone to meet with Jacobo in a resort town near his home base in San Pedro de Macorís, the legendary "cradle of shortstops" that has produced the likes of Alfonso Soriano [19] and Robinson Canó [20].

As we sat down at a beachfront restaurant for a round of beers, it was hard to miss the costume ring Jacobo was sporting, a long-maned golden lion with faux-diamond eyes. First, he insisted that he wasn't a buscón, because that label implies someone who makes money without working, and he definitely works hard for his cut. Then he got right to the point about the market for raw talent. "It's not a secret to anybody that we were being taken advantage of for the last 50 years," he said, smiling. "The kind of players that we signed, for the kind of money that we sold those players, I mean, it's amazing."

Jacobo, who grew up in the Bronx, knows the history of the business. Long before emigrating to the United States, his father, Astin Jacobo Sr. [21], was one of the first successful proto-buscones in the Dominican Republic, operating as a de facto broker for players who lived in the sugarcane mill towns around San Pedro de Macorís in the 1960s and '70s. Many of them, like Astin Sr. himself, were cocolos, or dark-skinned immigrants from the English-speaking West Indies. If an MLB scout back then suggested to Astin Sr. or his contemporaries that a 19-year-old wasn't worth signing, more often than not the kid would have a birth certificate in hand the next day showing he was 16. Even the tiny-sounding sums paid to prospects then exceeded the wildest dreams of most Dominicans. And like his son years later, Astin Sr. would get his slice.

A trainer works out at the Willy Baseball Academy, a homegrown camp in Palenque, in June 2010. Christopher Morris/VII

As the table filled up with emptied Presidente Lights, Jacobo stepped up his criticism of Major League Baseball, which he said is only interested in reform insofar as it reduces teams' financial risk. He ticked off a list of wealthy Dominican stars who've made untold sums for their clubs and the league—and who were signed for next to nothing back in the day: "Sammy Sosa [22]: $3,500. Miguel Tejada [23]: $2,000. Vladimir Guerrero [24]: $1,800. Trust me, if it was still like that, MLB would never talk about it."

Jacobo claimed that he and others ushered in higher signing bonuses by developing private academies for Dominicans as young as 13 years old. The idea was to better prepare players for showcases, which then helped buscones push for more money from major league teams come negotiation time. To those who charge that buscones take too big of a cut, Jacobo said that on average he spends $10,000 on each player he trains, housing, feeding, and even clothing them until they sign. "And if he's a very special player? You might end up spending $30,000 on a guy who is not your son."

After putting in all that work, he added, he'd be damned if anyone, MLB or otherwise, was going to limit how much he earns. "I have to tell you this," Jacobo said, the sun dipping behind the seaside shops. "We don't care what price they want to put on our players. They're our players. It's going to come down to how much I want to sell them for."
 

LA CANELA ISN'T so much a town as a smattering of houses off a winding two-lane coastal road, a way station between the Gatorade bottling plant in Haina and the Padres' $8 million academy in Najayo. The day I visited, the field where Yewri Guillén once played was filled with romping preteens shagging fly balls and taking turns swinging a cracked aluminum bat. Guillén's former mentor Michael Morla surveyed the scene from behind the first-base dugout, reflecting on the 50-plus players he'd signed to pro contracts since starting his own training program here 15 years ago. Scouts had been showing up frequently to watch Morla's latest star,Fernery Ozuna [25], another strong-armed, line-drive-smacking prospect.

"The only player I've had who could throw harder than this kid was Yewri," he said. "Guillén was tremendous. Tremendous."

Getting to Fenway or Wrigley is no small feat for the hundreds of Dominican players at MLB academies each year. Here's the road from 2006 for these big league hopefuls, a majority of whom didn't even make it to the rookie leagues where their American counterparts began.

Morla still wasn't sure how to reconcile Guillén's death. If MLB hadn't dallied so long with its identity investigation, he said, maybe Guillén would've been in the United States a year earlier. If the Nationals had sent him to a physician instead of back home to impoverished La Canela, maybe the infection would've been treated successfully.

He pointed me across the road, where several men were sitting in plastic chairs in front of a bright white house with curving iron bars and the letters "Y" and "G" on the facade. I introduced myself to Carlos Guillén, Yewri's father, a chocolate-skinned man with short-cropped silver hair and a raspy voice. His initial answers to questions about his dead son came out in staccato bursts. He started playing when he was a kid. He played here. Yeah, I played. I was a pitcher. The scouts called him a prospect. Everyone said he would go far.

I asked him about his son's illness. "He was sick there in the academy," he said. "And then they sent him here sick."

As he recounted the nightmare, his brother, Bienvenido Ortiz, interjected, saying he was the one who'd introduced his nephew to the game. "The only way for a boy to get millions right now in this country, without being an engineer, is baseball," Ortiz said. When Guillén fell ill, he said, he was the one who called around to get his nephew into a hospital and paid for him to be admitted. And when Guillén died, he said, he was the one who wanted to sue the Nationals.

"I told him," Ortiz continued, motioning toward his brother. "'Read the contract. A few strange things are going to show up in there.'"

Ortiz showed me the agreement [26] Guillén's parents signed a month after the funeral, a notarized document that I photographed before handing it back. Exactly when and how Guillén became ill remains unclear to this day. But in 2011, in return for Guillén's $30,000 signing bonus, his parents agreed to the following terms:

(1) that Guillén died of bacterial meningitis, but that he'd contracted it outside of the facility and therefore it had nothing to do with the Nationals;

(2) that the team gave Guillén the appropriate treatment when he got sick;

(3) that they would never sue the team or its employees for the death of their son.

"They came here to screw us over," Ortiz said, his voice rising. "We didn't want problems—we just wanted things to be resolved."

Carlos Guillén looked off at the ball field across the street. It was empty; the kids had all gone home for lunch. Guillén's mother, Sandra Perdomo, later told me that despite the settlement she felt that the Nationals had forgotten about her son. Team officials always used to talk about how they were one big family, she said, "but then what happens? A month and a half after he died, I never heard from them again."

MLB's Rafael Pérez maintains that the league and the Nationals did everything they could. Pérez worked for the Mets at the time, and upon hearing the news, he said, he reviewed his own team's emergency plan. The Guillén tragedy, he said, raised teams' awareness: "I think we all understand that it could've happened any other place." But when pressed about his team's plan for dealing with medical emergencies at the time, or changes to those procedures since, he said, "I cannot go into the details of that. Just put it this way: I think great things came out."

After leaving the Guillén home, it was a short cab ride from La Canela to the tiny Iglesia San Antonio, perched on a small hill just off the road in Nigua. I scanned the church's graveyard, an overgrown, uneven plot filled with aboveground vaults. It took 20 minutes and a phone call back to La Canela to locate Yewri Guillén's final resting place, but eventually I found it, off to the far right.

The Nationals' DiPuglia, shaken by the tragedy, told me that shortly after Guillén's death he'd felt like he needed to come here to the grave, to ask for forgiveness. He hadn't meant to be so hard on the kid, coming down on him for missing a few games because of a stupid headache. "He was like a son," DiPuglia said, pain in his voice. "A second son."

The lower half of the vault was painted a bright sky blue, but the top half was plain concrete, rebar poking out at the corners. A dirty candleholder sat in front of a whitewashed cross, where the teen's first name was misspelled: YEWRY N. GUILLEN P. It was a hushed place in midafternoon, far removed from the busy ball field just minutes away.

This story was supported by a grant from the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.


Links:
[1] http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-04-21/sports/35261726_1_bacterial-meningitis-washington-nationals-dominican-republic
[2] http://nesn.com/2011/04/mlb-to-consider-new-vaccination-policy-in-wake-of-prospect-yewri-guillens-death/
[3] http://americasquarterly.org/node/2745
[4] http://boston.redsox.mlb.com/team/player.jsp?player_id=120074&c_id=bos&player_name=David-Ortiz
[5] http://data.worldbank.org/country/dominican-republic
[6] https://twitter.com/arturomarcano
[7] http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/product_info.php?products_id=20143
[8] http://content.usatoday.com/sportsdata/baseball/mlb/salaries/player/top-25
[9] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/09/sports/baseball/angels-lure-pujols-with-10-year-contract.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
[10] http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/hispanichistory/news/story?id=2598606
[11] http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/maricju01.shtml
[12] http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Epy_Guerrero
[13] http://losangeles.dodgers.mlb.com/news/press_releases/press_release.jsp?ymd=20060315&content_id=1350589&vkey=pr_la&fext=.jsp&c_id=la
[14] https://twitter.com/MetsGM
[15] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/608594-alderson-report
[16] http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/international-affairs/2012/2613346.html
[17] http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/international-affairs/2012/2613166.html
[18] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/nationals-journal/post/nationals-prospect-yewri-guillen-died-of-a-sinus-infection-not-bacterial-meningitis/2011/05/24/AFv8zaAH_blog.html
[19] http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/soriaal01.shtml
[20] http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/canoro01.shtml
[21] http://www.nytimes.com/1990/08/22/nyregion/about-new-york-where-hizzoner-holds-court-beneath-a-tree.html
[22] http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/sosasa01.shtml
[23] http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/tejadmi01.shtml
[24] http://mlb.mlb.com/team/player.jsp?player_id=115223#gameType=%27R%27
[25] http://www.baseballamerica.com/blog/prospects/2012/07/diamondbacks-sign-top-colombian-catcher-oswaldo-garcia-dominican-shortstop-fernery-ozuna/
[26] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/608598-guillien-family-contract-with-the-nationals
[27] http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/03/watch-story-behind-dominican-baseball-yewri-guillen

3/7/2013 4:42 PM
I would expect those Dominican players would accept less, for two reasons: 1.) To them it was a ton of money, American's have a different idea of what's fair. 2.) Those examples you mention, the Dominican players were all younger and in-turn should get less. 

As far as your main story, its a stretch to think MLB had anything to do with this young man's death. 
3/7/2013 5:08 PM
At 16, I'd have thought I could live the rest of my life on 20k.   And, even if I couldn't, I'd make more. 
3/7/2013 6:06 PM
RACISTS!
3/7/2013 7:41 PM (edited)
You'll have to find a reason other than emotion to get me to think bigger government is what the correct prescription is here. Without a free market environment, those examples of poor "exploited" kids, which are really success stories, wouldn't have happened and they'd still be on the island. As the article admits, thousands of kids are hoping that they are the ones being "exploited". I don't know why they would unless there was something desirable about it...

"A society willing to put equality ahead of freedom will end up with neither. A society willing to put freedom ahead of equality will end up with a great measure of both."
3/7/2013 8:45 PM
First of all booger, not sure why you have brought up free markets-big government and all that stuff when this was about how baseball behaves as a business toward a particular population. Political yes, but not exactly a polemic by Lenin against private property or whatever. 

A society willing to put "freedom" ahead of equality means some are "free" and others not - as in slavery. Took a Civil War to get rid of that one.

Without equality there literally is not freedom, since freedom is NOT choice in a marketplace - that is called "shopping". Freedom is citizenship in a society of self-government, membership in a republic. But if you aren't equal to other citizens then you are not really fully a citizen and so not free. If you are dependent on others for your livelihood or access to the means to earn it you are not free (THE swindle in all the Hayek-Friedman-Ayn Rand stuff is that they don't mention that most of you will have bosses while you are busy being "free" to "choose" - not having a boss or having to work for wages not being one of the choices available in the marketplace). 

Anyway I am not sure why you have drug up the inevitable drum beat of "big government" which does not seem to be openly advocated in this article, nor in any comments made here before yours. I think Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz were worth the signing bonuses of Mussina and Berkman. Anyone here disagree ? if they were worth - and here I am understating - as much as the other two players, then clearly pay has nothing to do with "value" but with power. Which is what this article is about. 

NOW we see where "big government" does come in after all - except here it is REAL big government, not the fantasy kind that people who always go on about "big government " mean: Imperialism. The dominance of the United States over most of Latin America (until recently) meant low incomes for people in most of those countries and coups d'etat organized in Washington against any government, or movement,  that tried to do something about that poverty (The Sandinistas, Allende, Arbenz, Aristide in Haiti who raised the minimum wage, the recent government in Honduras overthrown a few years ago, the attempted coup against Chavez in Venezuela, and of course Juan Bosch in the DR overthrown by a US invasion). 

That is real big government and is one of the causes and ways of maintaining internationally the power difference that leads to the otherwise inexplicable gap in signing bonuses in these cases. 

Or maybe you think that the Players Union has had nothing to do with the increase in their salaries since say, 1969 when Jim Bouton finally publicized the woeful salaries of most MLB players in "Ball Four" ? Must be that the value of every mediocre pitcher is great than Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver's back then I guess. Free market works again. 

Or you could listen to George Foreman talk about how Headstart and government War on Poverty programs were what kept his family with a roof over their heads and gave him a chance to do something with his life (Elvis Presley's family survived on welfare for a time and lived in public housing too, so big government gets part of the credit for rock n' roll too, same for the Beatles and the Stones and the British Welfare state, or maybe someone thinks British music - Amy Winehouse excepted, has been better since Margaret Thatcher got elected?). And this from a man who when he won the gold medal at the Olympics waved the American flag cheerfully, not from Muhammad Ali or those guys who raised their fists. 




3/7/2013 11:26 PM
The article's writer and yourself both feel that "something should be done". That 'something' would have to be done by the government, and anytime you add 'something' to the government's to-do list, it gets bigger. I don't feel I'm the one bringing the subject up.  

"A society willing to put "freedom" ahead of equality means some are "free" and others not - as in slavery. Took a Civil War to get rid of that one"
     I think you meant "anarchy" rather than freedom in quotes. History/evidence shows that having a government provide a military and a judicial system is better than any alternatives. As far as slavery goes, it doesn't matter what kind of government you have if that government approves of slavery. The most social socialist goverment, the most free republic, or a dictatorship; if the leaders approve, you have slavery. Democracy gives you the best odds of getting rid of such a thing, as a majority opinion will likely detest it. So not sure why you brought that up since a big government republic or a small government republic can respond in exactly the same way.

In this life, we all have bosses. I prefer having some measure of choice in the market place who my boss is any day over having your tax dollars and the goverment that manages them (poorly) be my mandated boss.
 
I'm guessing Latin America had low incomes before America got involved.

Somehow I doubt Elvis would have died without welfare. The biggest goverment assistence program in the US goes to the native indians, and it appears as though they are also ranked #1 in poverty. Hmm... Saw a nice documentary on a group of indians who, for some reason, didn't qualify for government assistance, and has had to fend for themselves. Not only are they not starving to death, they are doing better than most Americans.

I'm a big fan of evidence, and evidence shows that if you take two people in a "poverty" state (not sure who gets to define that) and give one welfare and the other nothing, guy #2 will end up being more prosperous far more often. In 2013 I don't understand how people can still be denying this. Well I take it back. I do understand. The entire liberal platform is driven by emotion. Even though imperical evidence shows this stuff doesn't work, it feels like it ought to so we keep trying.

I have never received a signing bonus for accepting employment. Whats up with these Latino guys getting better treatment than me? Perhaps I should demand my government do something ASAP.

Minimum wage is the easiest thing to tear to pieces. Economics 101: making the price of something artificially high causes a surplus of that something. You raise the minimum wage, you get higher unemployment. Just ask unskilled teenagers, particularly ones from the inner city who aren't getting a proper education from mother-washington, how easy it is to get a job these days........or ask Italians. Is it true they have mandated vacations there? Does that help make people employable? What would happen if the leaders of every African country decided to make minimum wage $9 (equivalant of)? Would that be a magic savior of their economy?

Again, if thousands of Domincan kids are hoping to be "abused" or whatever, then it must be desirable. If you start adding regulations and mandatory bonus levels, you'll make a surplus out of these kids and fewer will get a chance to come over.  
3/7/2013 11:34 PM
. "If you are dependent on others for your livelihood or access to the means to earn it you are not free"
 
Isn't socialism the mechanism that causes people to be dependant on society????
3/8/2013 9:25 AM
"I think Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz were worth the signing bonuses of Mussina and Berkman. Anyone here disagree ?"

Was Martinez or Ortiz forced to sign anything?   Free will put their names on the dotted line.

I once went for an interview.  The company I worked for had closed it's doors.  The interview went well.  They offered me the job.  I requested my previous pay.  The future employer told me "You're worth more when you're employed.  You aren't."   Was my value somehow less?  I didn't think so.  But I took the job because, well, I needed to work.  I'm sure this happens even more often now.   Should an article be written demanding change?
3/8/2013 12:49 PM
As I said above, and as anyone who has worked for wages knows, the real issue is a power imbalance. I am "free" to not have a job and starve. Unfortunately, owners of businesses and employers - including baseball franchises, are not "free" in this sense - those poor guys are "condemned" and "forced" to be able to decide how much to offer to others, pretty much take it or leave it. Which is why they hate unions. 

Basically what you are saying is that those who are discriminated against in any field are free to not participate and die, starve or whatever. Yes, at some existential level you can decide to refuse to cooperate and die instead, and that happened in the anti-Nazi resistance or in the concentration camps, on the slave plantations and so on. But is this freedom or merely refusal to accept the unjust conditions ? 

The option faced by Martinez and Ortiz if they did not want to play in MLB and sign their names was 

"The average wage for a common laborer in the Dominican Republic is around 3,000 to 6,000 pesos a month. I came to this estimate after reading through some apparently well honed statistics earlier this morning. Though this knowledge stretched the bounds of my observations, and I had difficulty believing that this amount of pay could sustain a person with a family in Sosua — a town where a small piece of cooked chicken costs 30 pesos, an uncooked chicken breast 70, an avocado 25, and a loaf of bread 35 OUTSIDE of the tourist areas." -

and a peso is at 36 to 1 US dollar. At 35 pesos times 30 for an average month we have around one-third to one-sixth of an entire income can go to buying a loaf of bread. Sure Ortiz and Martinez were free to accept this life instead for themselves and their families. What they were not free to do was to have their real market value - as measured by their relative talent level to players like Mussina and Berkman, be offered or available to them. 

I don't think that's free or freedom. If unequal power relations determine your options then you are not free and the fact that this particular system does not hold a gun to your head when it robs you is part of its genius and its injustice, since it corrupts even the definition of freedom. 

Even under the best conditions - where you can choose your employer and receive the market value for your work and skill level you are much better off since not discriminated against compared with your peers (eg Martinez is offered the same deal as Mussina) you are not free since you are not free to choose to live without a boss. Only to starve and die without one. 

Now if I am not free to live without a boss but only die without one explain how I am free - the tomb is not freedom. Neither is hunger. 

3/8/2013 1:16 PM
I think it's a fair point that the clubs could have a certified atletic trainer and medical supplies available and could have helped this kid get the medical care he needed.  It says they didn't intervene, not that they refused to help, so I'm guessing they weren't equipped to diagnose and understand the potential seriousness of his particular illness. I think the facilities should have medical support more readily available.

I also think the article would be better received if it had focused on that and not have gone so far in trying to paint these facilities as sweatshops.  That may be accurate but I still don't know how conditions there compare to the homes the players came from or what the prospects are for players that live there but don't make it to America vs. kids that never even train at these facilities.  I hate that graph comparing Dominicans at the training facilities to Americans that are already at Rookie ball.  How old are the kids in the training facilities?  Aren't they younger than the 18-20 year olds at Rookie ball?  Of course there will be smaller number that have advanced in the same time frame as players that have already made it to professional baseball here.  I think the missing and bad information in the article pulls attention away from some important points that could and should be addressed.
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3/8/2013 11:01 PM (edited)
Obviously all of the ML teams are in collusion to make sure these kids get the worst life possible, preferably starving to death. If they didn't collude, these 16yr olds who are sure-things for ML success, would get bid up by supply/demand. Team work!

I'm dissapointed, Italyprof, that you haven't responded to the basic economic principle I pointed out; keeping the cost of something artificially high causes a surplus of that something. Would you really prefer that fewer kids got signed so that some would get paid more and others not at all? The irony of that position is that you're a proponent of wealth spreading, and yet this scenario will produce the opposit results. I'd rather see as many kids get a chance to be signed as possible. Seems like thats good for the DR.
3/9/2013 3:59 AM
Posted by MikeT23 on 3/8/2013 9:25:00 AM (view original):
"I think Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz were worth the signing bonuses of Mussina and Berkman. Anyone here disagree ?"

Was Martinez or Ortiz forced to sign anything?   Free will put their names on the dotted line.

I once went for an interview.  The company I worked for had closed it's doors.  The interview went well.  They offered me the job.  I requested my previous pay.  The future employer told me "You're worth more when you're employed.  You aren't."   Was my value somehow less?  I didn't think so.  But I took the job because, well, I needed to work.  I'm sure this happens even more often now.   Should an article be written demanding change?
I thought you were going to say that the next day you went into the bosses office and asked for a raise. He askjed how you figured you should get a raise and you said that well since you have a job you were worth more and your boss said you have cahoones and gave you a raise.
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