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The Dominican Comparision
'Developed vs. Undeveloped' Baseball

Alan Klein

  • The Underdevelopment of Dominican Baseball
  • The Trajectory of Dominican Major Leaguers
  • Role of Major League Academies in the Underdevelopment of Dominican Baseball
  • Defines 'developed' baseball
    Joe Kehoskie
  • Dominican comparison
  • Cost of signing Dominican Players
    Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria
  • Dominican Comparison
    Carlos Rodriguez Acosta
  • On the Dominican Republic


    Alan Klein
    Sports Anthropologist

    • The Underdevelopment of Dominican Baseball
      The underdevelopment of Dominican baseball I took from a larger dependency theory model. It's kind of a way to understand the way that systems work and interact. It has nothing to do with intention. It has nothing to do with the desire of the team to operate at some level and capacity. It has nothing to do with that at all. Rather what we're seeing is that systems have unintentional consequences. And one of those things that operated here was the fact that as the presence of major-league baseball deepened, as they opened up academies for the production and cultivation of Dominican ballplayers' before they sent him over to the United States, as that happened you had a reverberations occurring all up and down the amateur levels of Dominican baseball. Typically all Dominican professionals came from the amateur leagues. Once the academies were present on the island, once there was widespread scouting going on almost everywhere on the island, young boy who were 14 and 15 and who would've made their way up through the ranks of amateur baseball in the Dominican Republic avoided that, they circumvented it and they moved directly to the academies. So that it visually and you could see it. Every morning you would drive to the Academy, you would see 15/20 kids out there, not one of them had a uniform, they all had pieces of one uniform pieces or another, poor equipment, they would be right at the gate waiting for the security people to open up the gates and they would go in for their tryout. If they got signed, they were happy. If they didn't get signed, it didn't even deter them for a minute; they would be on the road hitchhiking to the next location. And they would eventually find one of those 20 some clubs that would eventually pick them up. And if not then they might return to amateur baseball. The result was that the people who usually stocked the amateur league from which professional baseball in the D R got its impetus and its force stopped going there so in an odd way the presence of these major league ballclubs ultimately resulted in the decline of the quality of the amateur leagues and the overall decline in health of these leagues and the future was pretty much determined by going to major league outlets. That's the way it worked.
    • The Trajectory of Dominican Major Leaguers
      Well the way it works in terms of becoming a major leaguer in Dominican baseball is following the signing bonus and playing in the Academy. Should you successfully complete that face of it you would be given one of the 24 visas that the team is allotted. At that point you are typically sent to the Florida leagues which is the rookie leagues for the team and at that point that's where a tremendous amount of cultural alienation or what we call culture shock in anthropology begins to take place. The attempts at the academy to teach you English, to teach you the kind of customs that you might face. The truth is the average kid goes to language classes in the Dominican Republic is tired and bored at the time the class will we ends and never takes anything into consideration. The big exception for that is always someone like Pedro Martinez even at 15 you knew that Pedro was gonna be able to talk English really well because he's a gabber, he needs to speak. But the average kid feels intimidated by it. So all the preparation essentially that a club tries to get going at the academy level really doesn't affect these kids for the most part. When they get to the rookie leagues in Florida especially in the spring that's where they see it for the first time. A lot of clubs have tried really hard to get people who are bilingual at all levels of the Organization to start curbing some of those culture shock effects and make it easier for a kid to speak to ... the Red Sox have someone here in Lowell, a Puerto Rican manager always who takes the Latino players under their wings and teaches a matter go into a restaurant and order or teaches them how to stay out of trouble so forth and so on. So various clubs have done various things to, some more some less, work on curbing the larger effects of culture shock. If the ball player gets a leg up here it's usually the ball player who not only has superb skills but the person who also is psychologically and culturally prepared to play and some kids just do better than others. Increasingly I see that the tools the physical skills that make for a good ball player are very much impacted by these other cultural notions and psychological notions. So a ballclub like the Dodgers or like the Arizona diamond backs or Houston or any of the other clubs that have huge a Latino populations or face Latin America and, they have usually put things in place that allow them to maximize their ballplayers, that is they won't lose as many ballplayers as a Kansas City will or as a Detroit, which is less concerned with those things. In any event the trajectory then goes from the Academy to the rookie leagues and each year they begin to move on up and we begin to see various things happen. It can never be forgotten that these are 20 year-olds, their preoccupation is not simply with escaping poverty but also having a good time and there's a lot of diversions that any, Anglo or Latino, ball player has to be made aware of. For Latin ballplayers it's compounded by the cultural problem and the language problem but that trajectory is one not only moving through the organization and showing significant improvement at each level but also overcoming the cultural factors. I tried to show in the past that a lot of times you get ballplayers who succumb, who just don't have to make up for success, they just are culturally floored... in the old days it would be made even worse by race, now most ballclubs have a way of handling the race issue. The Florida League in the year 2000 is not the same as the Florida league that people went to in the 50's when you might have been the only black in the entire city, where you had to stay in the black part of town, that's no longer the case. But still race does periodically crop up and that some what ameliorated significantly in the last to, up three decades. So that's not a problem that's going to crop up as often. But cultural problems occur, loneliness factors a career, and that's why they try to get ballplayers to cluster on a team, they don't try to necessarily have you room with other Latinos but they like to have multiple numbers of Latinos on the team so that they can lend support to each other. In fact many ballclubs typically insist that a ball player room with an Anglo ball player to help language acquisition, it seems to work pretty well for a number of people.
    • Role of Major League Academies in the Underdevelopment of Dominican Baseball
      The relationship of the academy to the underdevelopment of baseball is a mixed bag. Clearly, it is the outpost, the physical outpost of major-league baseball. Major-league baseball doesn't exist in the Dominican Republic outside of that Academy as far as the 15 year-old ballplayers, that's what he sees. The fact that the ball players will, kids will gravitate toward that Academy and avoid playing amateur baseball, that's it. That's the essence of the underdevelopment angle right there. They will not go back to that amateur league, they will not move through that amateur system anymore it if they can help it so to that degree the academy is directly involved with underdeveloping the game. However, as every team points out they're giving kids the opportunity to play, to earn huge amounts of money and to that degree yes they are: on an individual level, they are giving good candidates an opportunity to play ball and to earn a lot of money. On the other hand, there are unintended consequences such as the ones we talked about that are underdeveloping the game. It's not an intentional thing, it's not the intention of the Academy to underdevelop the game, it's what happens when systems interact, it's not something that major-league ball clubs even think about: is there a way to get around it? I don't really know. I don't know how you get around it. I don't think we can return to the old days of the healthy robust Dominican leagues, I don't think that exists anymore in the future. Does it mean that there's no amateur leagues of any quality or caliber anymore? I think not, I think you could probably develop the game a little bit better, you could conceivably get a set of parallel structures so that the academies could in fact take ballplayers who are not yet ready and move them directly into an amateur league. They could subsidize those amateur leagues. It could all be done, whether it will be done I don't know.
    • Defines 'developed' baseball
      Developed a baseball from an anthropological perspective would operate on a number of levels. One, and the most important I think, is it that its locally controlled, that its autonomous, that it does not depend for its future on external agencies, external countries, or cultures. That's one one sense of developed and it's the most important because once that goes everything else changes. The other is, and this is important for Cuba and the Dominican Republic as well as for the old Negro leagues, is that the level of play is high, its considerable, it's high; everybody understands that they compete on an international level and they do quite nicely. Thirdly, that the state in the case of Cuba has the ability to grow the game, to develop the game, to reward the game, and to make it a strong kind of structure that has internal cohesiveness. So the fact that its autonomous, the fact that the state can implement a system that will foster the growth of the game, and the fact that it is a high-level of competition that we see, those are all things that I would call the key factors of developed baseball. And the absence of those is underdevelopment.
              There three variables that make for developed baseball: one is the strength of competition, it has to be exceedingly high quality, secondly it has to be autonomous, it has to have the ability to function and work on its own independent of external interventions, and thirdly, it has to be a operating within a system that can actually reward and foster of the growth of the game not only in terms of individuals but as a structural institution itself. And Cuba was high on all three counts prior to 1991.
              Question: and to what extent is that a result Cuban political system? And ideology of socialism?
              Answer: but as we can see from any socialist state, the state has the resources to throw behind the development of the game. Here was a wedding of two good partners: one was this incredible tradition of Cuban baseball that was acknowledged by everyone in the world, on the other hand the state now was in a position to not let individuals catch or not catch on to a team depending on who was the scout for that team, now the state could actually foster that kind of growth, it could take a young boy, find that young boy, identify him, and develop him from the cradle to the grave. That's what a socialist or state run operation can do for you.

    Joe Kehoskie
    American Sports Agent
    • Dominican comparison
      It is definitely a win win situation for Cubans to leave. It is… it can be win-loose, I suppose, for some players that may not be able to bring their families over. Obviously if you leave and if you do not sign a lucrative contract it is not a given that you can bring your family over, it is not a given that you can have a nice house, and a nice car and nice clothes. A lot of Cuban people, it is not uncommon in Miami for people to come to Miami and they go back to Cuba a few months later because they can't adjust to the life style. It is different down there, life is lot faster, and it s lot more expensive. You know, there are pros and cons to the Cuban life style versus the US life style. But for most players, it is win win, even if a player leaves Cuba and does not sign a major league contract. A lot of time, there is opportunities in Japan or in Korea, or Colombia, or a lot of other places where they can go and make a decent living. Much more money than what they make in Cuba or even in the US minor leagues in some cases. And they have an opportunity to live a much better life style and a lot of time, they are able to come to the US eventually, settling in Miami or wherever they choose and bring over some family members. So it is definitely I would say 99% of the time it is a win/win opportunity for…
              Dominican players show the same love for baseball than Cubans do. But they, I think for them it is more like a money motive. They see what money can do, it is an opportunity like…like their Cuban counterparts in players in Venezuela and throughout the international market they see an opportunity to train and to go play in the US at the highest level. Primarily from their love of baseball they do want to play in the major leagues baseball here is close second, to what it is in Cuba, I guess. So it is a primarily an opportunity to go and play with the best. Secondarily, like…like the Cuban defectors helping their families …a million dollar contract to a player in the DR, not only helps the player but it can help an entire generation of their family members. So it is kind of a dual opportunity, so it is almost a need base system. You know, here in the Dominican it is a little bit different than Cuba. In Cuba, they do stress education a lot more than they do here it seems, whereas in the in Cuba, they bring a player over the academy, they go to school, and they train. They got better facilities by enlarge, the players identify the whole prospect, whereas Cuban prospects, they are not obviously not developing for the US. Whereas in the Dominica, it is much more lower budget operation, whereas players they train in a little field you know wherever they have a training that kind of thing. May be a local trainer, coaching them. Unfortunately, here in the Dominica a lot of times kids just quit school at 10, 11, 12 and play baseball full time. It is great, it is great for the kids that make it because they become super star, they get million of dollars in the big leagues. But for 98 kids out of 100, it results in a kid that is 18, 19 with no education. So it is, it is kind of a win loose you know in the Dominican, it is probably more win loose you know in the Dominica than what it is in Cuba. In Cuba, obviously the life style it is not going to be there at the end of you know 18, or 20 or 22 like it could be here, if you go to school. But at the same time you do at least have a basic education and the government is going to provide certain things for you but at the same time I am not here to glorify Cuba. That is just only the one minor difference between baseball system there and here. It is the Russian base system that is in Cuba, where they identify the young players, move them in their system and they are there like football players in the US on college scholarships, that is how it is in Cuba. It is a much lower budget situation but it is, it's a more full, it is a more well rounded training that they get here in the Dominica. Here in the Dominica, you get younger kids, and a lot, a lot you know they aren't strong, they are malnourished in a lot of cases, so it is more, it is a much less finished product than you get in Cuba at a similar age. The Cuban players leave obviously they can go straight to that Triple A or even the major leagues in some cases, whereas your Cuban players are signing a little younger and you know…not as strong as their Cuban counterparts, so they go they start out in the Dominican in the in the "Ruky" Leagues.
              The difference between the Cuban players and the Dominican players essentially is in Cuba, it is a more well rounded system for baseball players. They are identified at 10, 11 or 12 years old move into academy much like American football players are on College scholarships. They move into a system, they go to school, they train they got top-notch facilities. Cuban players there as Fidel Castro calls them are the spoiled children of the revolution because they get treated much better than your average citizen in Cuba, much better than, and much much better I guess. It is relatively speaking, they still have 1958 car and a bike in some cases. In the Dominican, the major difference is a more, more one-dimensional. It is baseball, baseball, baseball, they train at a much, they start training at the same age, but instead of moving to a facility where they are fed and trained and they lift weights and that kind of situation, they go to classes they tend to in a lot of cases, forsake school completely and train… play baseball all day, every day, obviously it is it is not as well rounded from the sense that they are not strong, physically as their Cuban counterpart of their similar age. And they do not have the same education, education background that your Cuban players would have. So that is the major difference.
              Well the US turns out world class ball players but they do not at the level of these countries I think there is no happy middle ground between desparation in this country and opportunity in the US. The desperation in this country really drives the players but the lack of funding and lack of nourishment leaves them a little smaller , a little less, a little weaker thann their American counterparts. On the other on the flip side, the American kids are wealthier, they got a lot of opportunities, a lot of choices of what to do with their time. They've got their cars, they ve got 'jobs, they got girlfriends, they ve got baseball, football, basketball, they 've got sega, they got everything else going on in their lives, they do not have that same desire that the kids in Latin America have, that same need, in fact, to play baseball to improve their lives. They know that they can be so, so, move on to college and go on and do a number of other things and have a comfortable life whereas in this country and in a lot of other Latin countries if you can play baseball it is a ticket out of here and improve not only your life but your family's life.
    • Cost of signing Dominican Players
      Traditionally in the Latin market, I would say players would sign for about 5 to 10 cents in the dollar compared to the US counterparts. Right now, that is changing for the kids that sign with an agent now and get exposed. They can pretty much sign on par and even beyond that for the kids, because obviously here in Latin America the players are free agents. It is interesting…the interesting situation in Latin America; they are free agents by nature. They are not subject to the major baseball draft, but at the same time most of these kids are found by one team and immediately signed so they never get that free agent opportunity whereas in the US, they are subject to the draft but everybody sees them they get drafted early, they get a lot of money. Down here you can be twice as good as the first "champ" player but if only one team sees you and offers you 10 thousands dollars, traditionally that teams "own" the player. So what we are trying to do is essentially is signed those kids and get them out so all 30 teams see them and see them for 6 months or a year and really have the opportunity to see the player appreciate the talent that they have and see and then pay accordingly. And I hate to put the emphasis on money, but obviously baseball is a business like any other in the US the kids in the first trial are trying to get a million, 2 millions, 3 million dollars. And there is no reason why the kids in Latin America and the rest of the international market should not be treated the same way.

    Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria
    Cuban Baseball Historian
    • Dominican Comparison
      I take a dim view of what the major leagues are doing in Dominican Republic with these so-called baseball academies, where children are being signed at a very early age, and not being cared for, most of them are providing the context for the stars to emerge, if you take a hundred baseball players in those academies, or one hundred baseball players anywhere, only one of them will play even an inning in the major leagues, the others are there as a supporting cast. So I am very much afraid that there would be a significant human cost to a feeding frenzy by the likes of, I'm not going to mention the owners, but the teams that would go down there and sign players. Now I don't know how that can be avoided, the future Cuban government would have to regulate the flow of players somewhat and the major leagues would have to come up with some rules to deal with the problem. In fact I think the major leagues should right now be doing something to regulate the way Latin America players are signed not only in the Dominican Republic but also in Venezuela, where the age of constraints are not observed all the time. I believe that major-league baseball should invest in the countries where, I believe major-league baseball should invest in the countries where it draws its talent from and it that it should be very careful not to exploit young people. It's like my view, that I think, that when a major football team signs a player from the University, that team should donate a couple of million dollars, not to the athletic department of the University, but to the department of Spanish and Portuguese for instance, or the philosophy department, or something that is educational, I mean something should be put back. And I don't think that this is happening in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, where they also have baseball academies, and this is something that would be a problem if the Cuban situation changed.

    Carlos Rodriguez Acosta
    Commissioner of Cuban Baseball
    • On the Dominican Republic
      There are many countries that develop baseball players. But once that boy turns 16 and can throw 85 mph, he is signed. They take him off to a team, most often one in the United States. That kid doesn't have the opportunity to develop in his own country or even to represent his own country. Because I am certain that if the Dominican Republic could count on all of the players from the Dominican Republic it would have one of the best baseball leagues in the world.

     
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