Mondesi’s legal issues in DR may create ripple effect

I’ll bet there is a lot of nervousness among Dominican baseball players this week after Raul Mondesi was placed on the restricted list by the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is a result of a lawsuit by former major leaguer, and current buscon (Dominican rogue/official/unofficial, depending on the situation, talent scout) Mario Guerrero, who alleged that he is owed around $640,000 by Mondesi because of a verbal agreement made years ago that Mondesi would give Guerrero a certain percentage of his total earnings because of training that Guerrero gave him. When this was backed up by witnesses, a Dominican court ruled in favor of Guerrero. Subsequent to this, Mondesi’s bank accounts were frozen in the Dominican Republic and the Pirates ended up witholding his pay.

Most, if not all, players coming from the Dominican Republic were originally “discovered” by some kind of buscon. These may have been family members, neighbors, friends of friends, total strangers, or a more or less more formal scout linked to a major league team. It really runs the gamut. While many buscones are legitimate, responsible people, there are also some buscones who are pretty sketchy. From my understanding, from accounts from people who have known Mario Guerrero in his buscon phase of his career (including at least one former State Department official who used to deal with Mario Guerrero on visa issues for his players…), Mr. Guerrero is a pretty shady character.

Who knows what the truth is at the bottom of this mess — it is unclear what the relationship between the Dominican court decision and the Pirates’ actions is, the legitimacy of the court ruling (in a country where the rule of law is questionable and the court systems are consistently under serious pressure to clean up their act), and certainly what the details are of the court case that started this.

But what is not in doubt is the almost lawless, frontier aspect of scouting in the Dominican Republic, that leads to the “discovery” of many of MLB’s biggest stars.

As Dominican (and other Latin) players begin to search their memories for any promises made, or to consider the potential for claims against them from people in their past, and move what money remains in Dominican banks (which after last year’s banking crisis can’t be many — what was Mondesi thinking?) to the US or elsewhere, the big question is what the potential for “copycat” or real claims against them might be. No one got where he is today without doling out plenty of favors to plenty of people.

Many of the people who really deserve it already have received or continue to receive the financial and prestige benefit from the stars who made it, in the complex network of patronage that surrounds most Dominican players. But what about those who feel they have been left out, or maybe have purposely have been left out for whatever reason?

Just like the crazy litigation in the US (think about the multi-million dollar case with McDonalds and the spilled coffee…) over many issues, there is real potential for a wave of similar litigation breaking out in the DR alleging all sorts of monies owed for services rendered. The impact on Dominican players, in terms of time and money, could be tremendous. And it could also force MLB’s hand in making some order and sense of the buscon system.

This is just one more thing to distinguish how the Latin players are different from most US players in the big leagues. In many cases, the Dominican and other players have come from places of such poverty and with so few opportunities that it is beyond the realm of understanding of most US players and certainly the majority of US fans of MLB. To get where they are, these players had to really persevere and fight to get where they are.

At one stage, the buscon was a tremendous help in getting them here. Now it could be that we are entering a new stage in which these players, rightly or wrongly (it really is hard to know in the Mondesi case without knowing the details), are going to have to pay back their debts back more publicly and more broadly. It could get ugly for a lot of players.

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