Results tagged ‘ Washington Nationals ’

Nationals Player Should Only get Part of the Blame

 

          
 
 
With the recent revelation that the Washington Nationals got bamboozled by a young Dominican player in such an elaborate scheme that the player received a $ 1.4 million dollar signing bonus in July 2006. What is more surprising is the fact that his age was not the only falsehood that escaped the Nationals security background check on the player. His name was also misrepresented to the team, they thought they had signed a 16-year old prospect named Esmailyn ” Smiley” Gonzalez when in fact he materialized into a 23-year old player who real name was Carlos David Alvarez Lugo.



 

 
                   


This has not been the first time when a Dominican player has been found out, or even admitted to an advanced age than has been reported on birth certificates given when they signed their first contracts. In the Dominican Republic one need not ask its children what they want to be when they grow up- the answer is always pelotero. The relationship between  young Dominican boys and baseball is one that transcends simple sentences and abstract thoughts, it can be traced back to simple life changing moments and making a family more secure in their lives.  Yet  the basics of life in the Dominican Republic can be altered forever if a player can get that first shot at baseball, and the professional teams are not wary at first glance when they see a promising prospect on the clay fields.
 
 

Dominicans love and pursue baseball with the passion and yearnings of an adolescent boy dreaming of being at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, with the scored tied in the 7th game of the World Series. Young Dominicans boys do not “play” baseball because is not a game, but is something on which their livelihoods often depend  Can it be true that there is a tropical island of palms and warm tides that revolves around  America’s favorite pastime that has made me happy and sad in ways no other thing or person has in life?  But that’s not quite the whole story, is it? There is passion, but there is poverty. There is triumph and fortune to be had for the few, but there is failure and a per capital income of $1,600 a year for most of this impoverished country.

 
 
 
 I have to think about that for a moment. That would not even equal the cost of my Tampa Bay Rays Season Ticket seat in the Lower Box area of Tropicana Field for a year. And yet, there are people living and eating on that amount every day in the Dominican. I can not even fathom that thought process of living on so little, but hoping to produce so much out of an amount most of us make in a month in the United States. And we wonder why these players go to any length to fabricate a living and a dream in the same motion. I do not agree with the falsehoods, but I can respect the action to make their families lives more secure and financial matter disappear for their parents and siblings.



 
 


 

 
Ever since the early 1950’s, the United States have traveled to see the Dominican players that have embraced the American sport and they have been rewarded by it in return. In 1987 there were approximately fifty Dominicans playing in the major leagues, as of today over 1,443 Dominican players are signed to professional contracts. In addition, as Latinos obtain more ownership and management positions within Major League Baseball, issues regarding the treatment of Latin players will likely become a greater priority for the League. Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno, baseball’s first Latino majority owner is a prime example of this as his team was built around Dominican powerhouses like Bartolo Colon, Jose Guillen and the 2004 recipient of the American League Most Valuable Player Award, Vladimir Guerrero.
 

 
It is easy to see how the system can be manipulated and certain deficiencies of the process evolve simply by the way in which Dominican recruits come to play for Major League Baseball.  There is a huge contrast to the process in which American players become part of the League. In the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, teams may not sign high school players, making the effective minimum signing age 18 years. If an amateur athlete enters the Draft from college he is afforded additional protections by various rules and regulations of the National Collegiate Athletic Association ( NCAA ) that prevent professional teams and agents from taking advantage of him. Once a player enters the Draft by asking that his name be placed on the Draft List, he is protected by the provisions of the current Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement. Upon signing with a Major League team the player is bound to that franchise for a term of six years and guaranteed a minimum salary.
 


These protections are guaranteed by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, also known as the Players’ Union,  and they believe these rules needed to be enacted for a fair playing field between teams and players in labor relations. These devices and rulings are in place to guarantees the rights of players and draftees have earned through negotiations with the League. These rules are considered vital in maintaining  a stable balance to teams and athletes during the process of signing American, Canadian and Puerto Rican players to fill Major League rosters. Drafting guidelines  currently apply only to the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
 


But can these same ruling be adopted or even expanded to include the Caribbean countries and maybe even spawn as far south as South America?   But getting back to the Dominican situation, Dominican recruits are not sheltered by  the same protections and the process by which they come to play for Major League teams.  There is a huge gap in the same rules and protections that are currently afforded to their American counterparts, despite the close geographical locations of the two nations. These differences in the treatment of Dominican versus American athletes by Major League Baseball has raised two main identifiable issues in the past:


1)  Is the signing of a 16-year old from one of these Caribbean countries also a violation of the MLB ruling that players must be at least 17 before they can enter into a contract with the MLB or any of its team?

 
2)Is the presence of buscones and the out-of-sight, out-of-mind policing of existing  MLB regulations by the buscones in the Dominican Republic bring into the foresight  the simple birth certificate forgeries or even alterations to benefit the only those who scout select individual  Dominican players. 
 

According to Major League Rule 3(a)(1)(B), a player not subject to the Draft may be signed at age seventeen, or at age sixteen, providing he will turn seventeen prior to either the end of the baseball season in which he is signed or September first of the year in which he is signed. If the national medias coverage of underage signings is a reflection of widespread practice, then over the past seven years such deceptions have become almost passe.  The Los Angeles Dodgers  have been rocked by this practice in the past when it was learned that Adrian Beltre was signed illegally and knowingly at age fifteen when a Dodgers scout altered Beltre’s birth certificate with white-out to make him of signing age.



 


 
  
A similar indiscretion in 1997, plagued the Florida Marlins  when they signed a Dominican pitcher Ricardo Aramboles for $5,500. However, a disgruntled US agent leaked information to the Commissioner’s office and it was proven Aramboles was only fourteen years of age. Aramboles was  immediately released from his contract. But teams centered in areas of high Latin populations are not the only culprits in this type of 3-card monte. The Cleveland Indians also violated Major League Rules by signing fifteen-year-old Laumin Bessa, dating relevant documents in advance so as to appear that they were signed after Bessa’s sixteenth birthday.
 

In addition to the signing of underage players, teams have been known to hide prospects as young as fourteen years old at remote Dominican training facilities to prevent the children from signing with another team.  And although Major League Rules prohibit the signing of a player under the age of sixteen, there is no prohibition against academies hosting children between the ages of twelve and sixteen for Instructional purposes. It has been suggested by past media coverage that the practice of signing underage players is widespread. This assumption is based on the belief that the player’s incentive to lie and the team’s incentive to accept that lie are too great for either party to avoid.

It is important that while this could be an accurate description of the widespread practice, there is to my knowledge, no empirical data or research of any other kind that suggests this is so.  While the problem of signing or dealing with children under the age of sixteen is perhaps the most vital age-related issue for the Dominican Republic and Major League Baseball, there also exists the problem of players presenting fraudulent documentation to appear younger than their true age in order to avoid seeming “past their prime” and less attractive to Major League scouts.

 The enormous rampant practice of this tinkering was exposed during an immigration crack-down that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001. While deception regarding one’s age is recognized as a survival tactic for impoverished Dominican players anxious to make a living, it is also a clear violation of United States immigration law and persistent violations by Dominican citizens could cause strife between the two nations. Have you ever noticed the difficulty of some players getting out of the Dominican Republic for Spring Training in recent years. Forced to stay behind  in the country while their Visa is analyzed and finally granted permission to travel to the United States to perform their jobs.

     
 

A second major difference between the way in which domestic, Canadian and Puerto Rican prospects are signed, as opposed to Dominican prospects, is that while draftees are protected by state laws and NCAA regulations regarding the acquisition of agents, Dominican players are offered no such protection and thus find themselves at the mercy of buscones, or “finders” who take large portions of their signing bonuses as fee for getting them into the major leagues.  In fact, a Dominican player can expect to part with as much as fifty percent of his signing bonus, in contrast to the three to five percent commissions that sports agents in the United States receive.  

While there is no written accounts of the misguidance by buscones is rampant in the Dominican, the story of  current Ray infielder Willy Aybar bring out into the light the problems of informal representation. Enrique Soto, one of the most famous Dominican “finders”, discovered Aybar at age thirteen and molded his development as a player. Upon signing with the Dodgers, the team released the first half of Aybar’s bonus, $490,000, to Soto, who deposited the check in his personal bank account. Soto then paid the American agent, Rob Plummer, who negotiated the contract, $35,000, and finally awarded Aybar’s family a lump sum of $6,250 and a stipend of roughly $ 2,000 a month. Although Soto returned roughly $185,000 to the Aybars it is believed he is still in possession of over $200,000 of Aybar’s signing bonus. While Aybar received a signing bonus of $1.4 million, most Dominican players receive substantially less. Because non-draftees are treated and signed as free agents the player may go to the team with the highest bid for his services. 


                     

There is also no guidelines or even a unwritten rule for what a team may offer, and signing bonuses for Dominican and Latin players are small in comparison to those draftees receive. For instance, in 2000 the Cleveland Indians signed forty Latin American players for approximately $700,000. Their first draft pick, an eighteen-year-old pitcher from the United States, was paid more than one million dollars above that price. So do not be too quick to judge in this case of the falsehood of this player signed by the Nationals. He was scouted and recommended by a member of the Nationals  staff, Jose Rijos to be the “real deal.”

Because of the financial collapse of world wide currencies, Latin players, and also Dominicans will be quick to move towards falsifying and altering documents to get a shot at the big times. But that is just the world we set up for them. MLB set up an office in the city of Santo Domingo in 2000 to try and stop the practice of doctoring documents for players seeking to play in the US.  In the last crackdown on the Latin players in the major leagues in the early 2000’s , the MLB found at least 550 players had altered their documents to gain access to the baseball league. 

In one case, the player was actually one year younger than was stated on his documents. That player was Jesus Colome, currently a Spring Training invitee to the Nationals camp. So as you can see, a majority of Latin players might have a hidden agenda for getting to the majors and enjoy the lifestyle they could only dream about in their country. What we need to do is try and develop a  player draft system that will also incorporate the Latin countries and other nations not covered currently by the CBA. This will not this influx of mystery and misguided intentions completely dormant, but at least we might be able to celebrate a real birthday with a player, instead of always wondering just how old he really is……….or if that is his real name.

 

 

 

Photo credits for today;s blog: Jesse Sanchez@mlb.com, Associated Press Corp , Jungleboy and coderforchrist@ Flickr.com, www.news.yahoo.com

 

 

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