December 22, 2006
Thursday's Washington Post had a feature story on the economic effect that big league baseball recruiting is having on the Dominican Republic, one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. It focused on Esmailyn Gonzalez, a 17-year old shorstop from the Dominican Republic who just got a $1.4 million signing bonus from the Washington Nationals. His family lives in a corrugated steel shack. Baseball has been a godsend for many poor families in the Caribbean and Central America, but the article notes the dark side: exploitive scouts and agents who promise the moon but don't deliver. (Remember Jerry Maguire?) The article explains:
Foreign teenagers aren't subject to MLB's annual draft, which includes only American high schoolers and college kids. Rather, they are all but auctioned off to teams by street agents known locally as buscones, a derivative of the Spanish for "to find" or "to seek."
Gonzalez's agent says he receives a 20 percent commission, which would be $280,000 from the $1.4 million bonus. Many of the buscones encourage their clients to take steroids to impress major league scouts. Ironically, there are no legal regulations on such transactions in much of Latin America, which in a sense more closely approximates the ideal of unfettered capitalism, for better or worse. MLB officials say they are working with the Dominican Republic government to prevent abuses of young baseball prospects. There is no question that the small island country overall benefits economically from baseball, but as is so often the case in today's globalized economy, the benefits are often uneven and capricious. As part of the "collateral damage" in the high-stakes competition, many young boys' bodies are ruined for life.
Journeyman utility player Robert Fick has signed a minor league contract with the Nationals, which includes an invitation to spring training tryouts but not much else. Although injury-plagued this past year with the Nats, he is the kind of solid backup player that all teams need, and it's too bad he didn't get a better offer from the team's front office. I had forgotten that he was named to the American League All-Star team when playing with Detroit in 2002. See MLB.com. His career sounds a little like Kevin Costner's character "Crash" Craddock in Bull Durham, except that Fick did make it to the "big show."
Former Washington Senators shortstop Cecil Travis passed away at the age of 93. As a rookie, he helped the Nats win the AL pennant in 1933, the last time a Washington team did so. Travis had a .314 career batting average and was considered by Ted Williams to have been ["one of the five best left-handed hitters I ever saw,"] but he was banged up by combat duty during World War II and never played as well again after the war was over. See Washington Post. [NOTE: For some reason, the extensive obituary written by Matt Schudel that appeared in today's print edition is not available online.]
A new visitor named Edward Frank paid me a kind compliment for this Web site, especially the MLB franchise history page. (I am in the process of revising that page, so his suggestions on team name changes are timely.) He also offered his opinion on the most "consistently faithful" baseball teams over the years:
By consistently faithful I mean - (1) never changed city of origin AND (2) never changed team nickname - from the date of inception of the franchise. Some franchises might be older, but none more consistently faithful.
It's an intriguing question. He thinks the Detroit Tigers are the most faithful team, followed by the Chicago Cubs. After you've thought about it yourself for a minute, roll the mouse over those blank spaces to see what Mr. Frank thinks.
Those who are registered for this Web site can put their two cents in by using the comments feature; click on the "LINK / comments" link at the top of this post. (I had to suspend registration last month because of all the spam, but I expect to get it operational again next week.)
Mike Zurawski sends news of improvements at Fenway Park, described at MLB.com. Indirect financial support for this came from $5 million additional state tax credits for historic preservation; see Boston Herald. Speaking of Fenway, I noticed that Dave Matthews (who got his start in Charlottesville, when I lived there) has put out a CD of a concert his band performed there during the All Star break last July. Last year Jimmy Buffett did the same thing. Mike also sent me this link with extensive text and even bigger images of the Washington Nationals' future stadium.