DRSEA INFORMER: For The Love Of Money

Volume III, Issue 15: A Publication For Your Reading Enjoyment

It has been said that when morality confronts profit, rarely willmorality triumph. And with profit being the main motive behind the proliferation of independent academies dedicated to developing and selling Dominican baseball talent, morality and fair play are likely to strike out.

That has been my main fear as I have watched these academies crop up over the past year, supported by deep pockets, many of them Americans who expect a lucrative return by taking a sizable cut of a bonus once a player is signed by a Major League Baseball team.  They take these budding players under their wing as young as 13, with many of these children dropping out of school to pursue the dream of baseball.

Make no mistake about it, baseball is a business predicated on exploiting the dreams of young Dominican boys who aspire to become Yankees, Astros and Cubs.  But slavery was a business too, based on a driving greed to develop the New World, and absent of any morality.

Some might think it unfair to compare slavery to baseball in the Dominican Republic, but just remember the solitary reason there are baseball academies here is to develop labor as cheaply as possible.  And over the years, that cheap labor system has become infected with its own unique set of problems including age and identity fraud, steroid usage and money skimming.  Things became so bad Commissioner Bud Selig ordered a special investigation of Dominican baseball, then sent emissary Sandy Alderson to head up a reform movement.  Alderson has since gone on to become the general manager of the New York Mets, but the reform movement continues under new leadership.

That new leadership needs to consider what is going on with these independent camps, one of which is reported to have skimmed $1 million this year as its cut of player signing bonuses.  One camp official told me it costs $500 a month to care for and feed each of his 18 charges, meaning an investment of over $100,000 a year.  But if that camp sells even a single player for $500,000, and takes 30 percent, which is common, the investment is more than returned.

Baseball provides oversight on its teams in the Dominican Republic, which has made them subject to both standards and morality; these independent camps are unregulated and not subject to review by anyone, making them, from my perspective, a potential danger to the health and welfare of young prospects who are ripe for exploitation. Where profit is the sole motive, standards and morality don’t stand a chance.

Even Alderson has weighed in on these new baseball factories.  “It could be a positive,” he said, “but they need to make sure it is a positive.”

He explained, “It is not just mailing in a check to some mutual fund and hoping that you are going to get a return. No, there’s a direct relationship with individuals, kids, and (the investors) areas responsible for those conditions with those kids as the independent trainer, as Major League Baseball, as others.” How seriously they take that responsibility is a huge question mark.

When Major League Baseball opened an office in Santo Domingo 10 years ago, conditions began to improve.  And under its new reform referendum, education could become mandatory at every academy as baseball begins to meet its social responsibility in a country where it spends $100 million annually.

But who will hold these investor camps accountable?  With making money the primary motive, where is the social responsibility, particularly for Americans who have no other stake in the Dominican Republic other than to bank on the potential of a 13-year-old – with no one looking over their shoulder?

Baseball in the Dominican Republic hasfar more complexity than you can shake a stick at.

I think Major League Baseball can and should – along with the Dominican government – set up standards and guidelines under which these investor camps operate; under which MLB will do business with them.  Standards for how many kids can live in a room.  Standards for nutrition. Standards for how many hours a day they can practice baseball.  Standards for education.Standards for activities during free time.Standards that protect the health and safety of these children. It is the moral thing to do; it’s the right thing to do.
I must admit that part of my frustration with these investor camps is that so much money is being put into them while the Dominican Republic Sports & Education Academy struggles to raise money.  Clearlyour mission has a moral side, and is not fueled by greed for money, but getting people to invest in human potential, not just athletic potential, has been difficult.  I guess it is easier for people to see and reap the rewards for developing a great pitcher or shortstop than the rewards for developing a great teacher or scientist, for helping someone reach their higher and full potential.  But I keep hoping that will change as the DRSEA continues to be a voice for change, for reform in Dominican baseball, and an advocate for educating those who are becoming increasingly disenfranchised as they try to grasp the brass ring. Don’t they deserve  investment as well?

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