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Monday, March 04, 2013

Mother Jones: Gordon: Inside Major League Baseball’s Dominican Sweatshop System

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.

DJS, the Digital Dandy Posted: March 04, 2013 at 09:53 AM | 21 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: dominican

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   1. Mike Emeigh Posted: March 04, 2013 at 10:40 AM (#4380128)
This is a disturbing - and unsurprising - article. Some excerpts:

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.

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."

(quoting buscón Astin Jacobo Jr.)

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."

(Bienvenido) Ortiz showed me the agreement 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."

-- MWE
   2. John Northey Posted: March 04, 2013 at 11:44 AM (#4380167)
One wonders who the 9 ML teams are that care at least a tiny bit (certified trainers) vs the 21 who see the players as 100% disposable. If you can't be bothered to even have a trainer there then what are you doing besides looking for a winning lottery ticket?
   3. DA Baracus Posted: March 04, 2013 at 12:03 PM (#4380180)
Excellent article.

The photo on page 3 says a lot.
   4. Jim Wisinski Posted: March 04, 2013 at 12:35 PM (#4380206)
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:

I don't have time to read the article at the moment but this excerpt strikes me as a problem. His office SHOULD be wagging a regulatory finger at them, MLB is using these academies to farm talent and it's their responsibility to make sure that teams are taking care of the kids.
   5. valuearbitrageur Posted: March 04, 2013 at 12:37 PM (#4380209)
With all the money they spend there methinks the teams care a little bit about the health of their players.

And let me guess, if Guillen was in a dominican school or at home with his parents, he gets immediate medicl care? Or are players health and life expectancy higher in the academies?
   6. Der-K: downgraded to lurker Posted: March 04, 2013 at 12:45 PM (#4380216)
Kids at the academies come from different backgrounds but:
* I bet teams would benefit from stepping up their facilities (in particular medical care), even aside from moral obligations. (What happened here, by al acounts, sounds very not okay.)
* Life in the academy is often better than life outside it, in some important respects, and I doubt teams should supply a level of facilities, etc... that is commensurate with what they'd do in the States.
* Agreed on #4.
   7. John Northey Posted: March 04, 2013 at 01:06 PM (#4380244)
#5 - seems they don't care much if you read the article. The bonus babies (guys getting the 6-7 figure bonus money) are shipped to the states quickly I'm sure. The guys in these facilities are the lottery tickets, guys who if they work out 'woohoo' if they don't so what? The teams investment is minimal and thus 21 teams cannot be bothered with having a certified trainer let alone any medical staff. Remember, this is the Dominican, trainers and medical staff (non-imported) would be dirt cheap vs what we'd expect. Sign a couple of nurses to keep around to ensure any injuries are minor, have a trainer to get these kids into good physical shape and when 90% of them flop out at least they will be in better physical shape than when they came in while the few who do make it will be in better shape at a younger age. All you need is one player to reach the majors for a season or two to make such a minor investment pay off handsomely. Yet many teams won't do it as they penny pinch where they can, I'm sure many being guys who think 'that wasn't there when I played so these guys don't need it' and stuff like that.

You see this attitude in business as well, with companies cutting back on benefits leading to higher stress and more sickness for their employees and lost profits but it isn't obvious in a quarterly report thus ignored. Why would MLB be any different? Costs are obvious, benefits not as much.
   8. Der-K: downgraded to lurker Posted: March 04, 2013 at 01:09 PM (#4380251)
This was written by a former BA intern, by the way.
   9. Zach Posted: March 04, 2013 at 03:56 PM (#4380457)
Age 16 might not be the optimal time to sign if you're looking for big bonus money. It seems like all the really big bonuses go for power bats and power arms. Who's got power at age 16?
   10. The Good Face Posted: March 04, 2013 at 04:06 PM (#4380468)
Age 16 might not be the optimal time to sign if you're looking for big bonus money. It seems like all the really big bonuses go for power bats and power arms. Who's got power at age 16?

Bryce Harper? Anyway, very few 16 year olds would have actual MLB power, but I think what teams are mostly looking for is projectable power. Does the ball jump off the player's bat? Can they drive the ball? Do they generate good bat speed? What's their body type?
   11. Der-K: downgraded to lurker Posted: March 04, 2013 at 04:12 PM (#4380474)
9: There's a stigma on guys who sign after 16 - it says something about how other teams feel about you as a prospect.
   12. Zach Posted: March 04, 2013 at 04:17 PM (#4380477)
11: Well, that's savvy signing by the teams, then. You sign players for minimal money right before puberty hits and bail out on the guys it passes by.
   13. Der-K: downgraded to lurker Posted: March 04, 2013 at 04:23 PM (#4380483)
I think that 17+ year olds are undervalued, actually - I've seen others suggest this of late as well. Have not done any studies, though.
   14. Mike Emeigh Posted: March 04, 2013 at 04:26 PM (#4380486)
If you haven't seen it yet, I really recommend that you see Ballplayer: Pelotero, which follows Miguel Sano and Jean Carlos Batista through their signing process. Astin Jacobo Jr. is one of the featured buscóne in the movie as well. I picked it up on iTunes.

-- MWE

   15. Greg K Posted: March 04, 2013 at 04:50 PM (#4380504)
Channel 4 in the UK did a documentary on Dominican Baseball Academies. It's geared for an audience that isn't familiar with baseball, but the guy follows a kid around as he's taking offers from teams. Interesting stuff.

EDIT: Ah I see Patterson Segura (the player the film follows) has signed with the Nationals since it aired.
   16. Greg K Posted: March 04, 2013 at 05:06 PM (#4380511)
Speaking of Dominican players, I see Angel Villalona played some ball last year. Is he an actual prospect still/again?
   17. Der-K: downgraded to lurker Posted: March 04, 2013 at 05:28 PM (#4380525)
Who knows?

Thanks for the link (15), will watch tonight.
   18. Joe Kehoskie Posted: March 04, 2013 at 10:28 PM (#4380649)
This is a strange article. I kept waiting for the "gotcha" but it never came. At most, it's an attempted hit job on the Nationals and MLB with a bunch of recycled (and misleading) info.

A person who reads this would be left thinking that the MLB facilities in the D.R. are bad and the players are paid peanuts. In reality, the MLB-affiliated fields and facilities in the D.R. now rival if not surpass those of many U.S. colleges, while the average Dominican player, when adjusted for PPP, is now paid more than the average draft pick.

(The timing of the story is also odd. It was apparently based on a trip the author took in January 2012, some 14 months ago.)
   19. Der-K: downgraded to lurker Posted: March 04, 2013 at 11:00 PM (#4380674)
15 is blocked in the states - shoot.
   20. Joe Kehoskie Posted: March 04, 2013 at 11:10 PM (#4380681)
19: Try this link.
   21. Der-K: downgraded to lurker Posted: March 04, 2013 at 11:41 PM (#4380701)
thanks joe - i'd tried a few duds but yours worked.
spoiler: dpl had his bonus at 60k

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