There’s a very good and very disconcerting piece up by the New York Times’ Michael Schmidt today, about independant baseball academies in the Dominican Republic – some of which seem somewhat morally queasy, and others like flat-out Dickensian exploitation.
Recognizing that major league teams are offering multimillion-dollar contracts to some teenage prospects, the investors are either financing upstart Dominican trainers, known as buscones, or building their own academies. In exchange, the investors are guaranteed significant returns — sometimes as much as 50 percent of their players’ bonuses — when they sign with major league teams. Agents in the United States typically receive 5 percent.
The investors include Brian Shapiro, a New York hedge fund manager who, along with Reggie Jackson, tried to buy the Oakland Athletics several years ago; Steve Swindal, the former general partner of the Yankees; Abel Guerra, a former White House official under President George W. Bush; and Hans Hertell, a former United States ambassador to the Dominican Republic.
Educators and Major League Baseball officials worry because there is no oversight of the investors’ academies, and they question why the investors want to be part of a system that takes teenagers out of school and has been involved in scandals over steroid use and players lying about their ages.
Even in cases where the academies are well-run and above-board, as Steve Swindal’s is described as being, wealthy Americans “investing” in impoverished 14-year-olds as if they were stocks strikes me as pretty damn unsettling. And in cases where they’re not…
An hour and a half by car from Santo Domingo, at the end of a dirt road in the town of Don Gregorio, a piece of the Dominican baseball system can be found in a small house surrounded by concrete walls and metal fences topped with shiny barbed wire. The entrances are locked.
Inside is a pensión, a dormitory for about a dozen prospects as young as 14. They are trained by California Sports Management of Sacramento, a firm run by the agent Greg J. Maroni and financed by his father, Greg G. Maroni, a dentist who owns several fast-food franchises.
Although one coach supervises the dormitory at night, two other prospects had gone over the fence earlier this year, Mr. Paulino said in September. “It’s to make sure they don’t get out,” he said.
A few weeks later, though, the younger Mr. Maroni and Mr. Paulino said that Mr. Paulino’s characterization of the barbed wire was incorrect and that it had been installed to prevent break-ins.
Yeah, that’s not creepy at all.
As fellow SNYer Ted Berg noted:
Not entirely surprising, but it sort of puts a human face on a bunch of stuff you could pretty much figure out was going on if you ever really thought about it.
For every kid that makes it to the majors and finds success and financial security in the U.S., how many dozens or hundreds are left stranded without even a high school education once they’re no longer a promising investment? And to take up to 50% of a player’s bonus? This whole system makes my skin crawl. The article is well worth reading, but I do wish Schmidt had gotten the chance to talk to former prospects and/or current MLB players who’ve been through the system, because I’d very much like to hear their thoughts on this.