High Noon In Santo Domingo – Remember those great Westerns where the townspeople bring in a hired gun – even pinning a badge to his chest – to clean up their lawless society?

Sandy Alderson, baseball’s new sheriff in the Dominican Republic, has taken recent steps to address the corruption that has undermined the integrity of the game, instituting new policies including the fingerprinting of prospects as young as 15.

The fingerprinting of prospects was first advocated in the DRSEA INFORMER last August and I wondered then if anyone would listen.  Apparently someone has, with Alderson admitting that age and identify fraud continue to be major problems in the Dominican Republic and that fingerprinting technology can make a difference in establishing true identities.  In the past year, baseball voided some $15 million in signing bonuses after age and identity fraud were discovered.

The August INFORMER suggesting fingerprinting as an identification mechanism also pointed out that there are quality scanning machines available and those machines will now be installed at all team facilities in the Dominican Republic and will be used to track unsigned prospects as they showcase their talents prior to signing at age 16.

There have also been increasing incidents of performance enhancing drug use among Dominican prospects and Alderson said that drug testing will now be part of a wider process that will include background checks players must consent to in order to be signed by teams.  There will also be a series of drug education workshops for prospects.

The top 50 prospects in the country will be subject to the new rules this year;  all Dominican players will be incorporated next year.

Previously, Alderson, who was hired by baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to police Dominican baseball, expanded baseball’s Scouting Bureau to cover all of Latin America, enabling evaluators to provide scouting reports on players currently not subject to the draft.  This has led many to speculate that enhancing the responsibilities of the Scouting Bureau is a prelude to an international draft.

That fear sparked protests at a meeting Alderson held with team representatives, protests by buscones, prospective players and others concerned that the reform movement will destroy the current system. At one point buscones, the independent scouts who find prospects for teams, refused to show their players to the Scouting Bureau; Major League Baseball retaliated by refusing to allow a prospect league game to be played at a team facility.

But, in a breakthrough development, the Dominican government reportedly has proposed licensing buscones, a move that would presumably regulate their actions and address some of the corruption associated with them.

Reliable sources tell me that while most people in baseball embrace the need for reform, Alderson is still viewed as an outsider coming to a foreign country to force and enforce change, something many are not comfortable with.  “On the surface, this looks like another attempt at American Imperialism,” one insider told me.  “He has to be careful not to build resentment that he will never be able to overcome.”

Already, there is talk that if an international draft is implemented, the Dominican Republic might refuse to cooperate; I find that unlikely, given how life changing even a small signing bonus can be in this country.

Alderson has gone out of his way to try to convince people in the Dominican Republic that his mission is a peaceful one and that he wants to preserve the institution of baseball here while eliminating problems. But he has already admitted that the problems he has to address are far more complicated and complex than he imagined when he accepted the job of reform cop.

Sandy Alderson Gary Cooper

He has said publicly and privately that he does not want to institute an international draft, but has been dangling that potential like the sword of Damocles, stating that if current problems can’t be addressed, the more likely a draft.  The value of the sword, of course, is not that it falls, but that it hangs – and what is accomplished while it remains suspended.

Alderson has also told people that while he understands the value of education, providing a well-rounded education to prospects is not one of his priorities.  The gunslinger is shooting blanks here.

If Alderson’s goal is as he says – to enhance the overall reputation of baseball in the Dominican Republic – than he also has to take into account both national interest and social responsibility.  He is on record as saying, “Major League Baseball is committed to collaborating with all of the appropriate parties to educate young players and expand the resources available to them as they pursue professional careers.”

Baseball spends $100 million a year in the Dominican Republic, but 95 percent of prospects will never have successful pro careers.  With that sort of collateral damage, there needs to be more responsibility for those who don’t make it, understanding that the overwhelming drive to succeed in baseball is part of the reason for age and identity fraud, for the use of steroids, all of which impact the integrity of baseball which gets so much of its talent from the Dominican Republic.

Providing extensive education – either academic or vocational – would not only be in the best interest of the thousands of prospects being developed in the Dominican Republic, it would also be in the best interest of baseball, which is desperately trying to implement reform while maintaining a positive reputation.

If drug education is seen in the best interest of both baseball and Dominican prospects, why not expand educational opportunities, expand the resources available to them when the statistical inevitability is there will be no professional career for most?  Comprehensive education should also be one of Alderson’s goals if he is truly about positive reform.

Razing Arizona – With almost a third of its membership born outside the United States, the Major League Baseball Players Association has taken a swing at Arizona’s new immigration law, calling for an immediate repeal or modification.  The new law, which goes into affect in midsummer, makes it a crime for illegal immigrants to be in the state and gives police the power to check individuals for proof of legal status to be in the United States.  Critics claim the new law will lead to racial profiling; Michael Weiner, head of the players association, said the Arizona statute “could have a negative impact on hundreds of major league players.”

According to Weiner, the new law could affect the 15 Major League Baseball teams that conduct spring training in Arizona as well as all teams who come to play the Arizona Diamondbacks.  “All of these players, as well as their families, could be adversely affected, even though their presence in the United States is legal,” Weiner said. “Each of them must be ready to prove, at any time, his identity and the legality of his being in Arizona.”

Michael Weiner

The Arizona law was obviously implemented to stem the tide of illegal Mexican immigrants, but many players fear the worse; that enforcing the law will make all Latinos suspect.  Many teams typically take foreign players’ visas for safekeeping, leaving players without the documentation Arizona now requires.  “It doesn’t make sense to carry those papers all the time,” one Dominican player said, “because of the fear of losing them.  And what happens if you just forget to carry them on a trip to the grocery store?  Now you have a young kid subject to arrest and possibly spending the night in jail.  It doesn’t make any sense.  It is just plain racist.”

Many are now calling for Major League Baseball to pull the 2011 All-Star Game out of Arizona in protest of the law; some sports organizations did boycott the state when it refused to adopt the Martin Luther King holiday, and many organizations already have protested the new law by pulling conventions and other events out of Arizona.

Major League Baseball has a lot at stake in this game and can wield a huge bat in striking against this flawed law by yanking the All-Star Game .  While the U.S. and its 50 states have every right to protect again illegal aliens within their borders, the odds that Arizona’s law will target Latinos is a bet that would bankrupt Las Vegas.  Waiting until some young prospect from the Dominican Republic is wrongly jailed will be too late.

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