David Ortiz speaks out on Dominican youth steroids use


Good for David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox for speaking out on the record in a piece earlier this week by Gordon Edes in the Boston Globe on the abuse of steroids by Dominican kids desperate to get ahead in baseball. This issue recevied some attention last summer when Steve Fainaru of the Washington Post highlighted the deaths of several Dominican youth who died after injecting themselves with animal steroids, but it is important for the Dominican players who have made it to the Major Leagues to take the lead on this issue. The hypocrisy and confusion in the Majors over the issue of steroids is bad enough with the controversy surrounding big league players, but where the impact of drug use is most tragic is in places like the Dominican Republic, where desperation combined with ignorance produce at best unhealthy kids and at worst, a contuing wave of overdoses and deaths.

Edes refers to new effots by Major League Baseball to begin steroids testing of Dominican signees who play in the Dominican Summer League. While this seems to be an improvement over the decidely ignorant and heartless reaction of MLB officials last summer who were confronted with this growing problem in the DR (to paraphrase an MLB official — “it’s not our problem”), let’s hope that there is also some consistency across the different levels of professional baseball as well as in the different recruiting venues for the majors. It would be good to know that the same rules are being applied to the high priced signees out of the Cape League as well as the bargain basement recruits from the Dominican Summer League, even if the same economic principles are not.

Great Resources on Dominican Baseball


As interest has grown on the growing numbers of Latin Americans, especially Dominicans, in the Major Leagues, I am often asked what the best resources are for finding out about the link between baseball and the DR.

There are a number of books that deal with Dominican baseball, but the best of the lot that I have come across is Rob Ruck’s The Tropic of Baseball. Unlike other books that exaggerate or demonize certain elements of the Dominican pastime, sports historian Professor Ruck provides a well-written and well-researched take on Dominican baseball that also provides a good background on Dominican history and culture.

I have been fortunate to have been tangentially involved in another production underway by Professor Ruck, who together with Daniel Manatt, Jose Mota and Christia Alou has been producing The Republic of Baseball: Dominican Giants of the American Game, a documentary dealing with the first big wave of Dominican talent to hit Major League Baseball in the late 1950s and early 1960s (Juan Marichal, Manny Mota, and Felipe Alou and his brothers Matty and Jesus…). The film has a great feel to it, and along with newly-rediscovered footage of Marichal’s legkick and other highlights of the past, it includes interviews with not only past-greats but current Dominican players that include Alex Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez, Alfonso Soriano and Miguel Tejada. They are in the final stages of production and are seeking distribution of the film. Hopefully we will see this great piece soon either on the air or in theaters!

A major step forward in the liberal arts


Because of the important contribution that an international experience can play in the
education of Harvard College students, we recommend there be an expectation that all
Harvard College students pursue a significant international experience during their time in
the College, and that completion of such an experience be noted on the transcript.”

Of all the recommendations made earlier this week in the Harvard College Curricular Review, the one that caught my attention most was this movement toward exposing all Harvard College students to study abroad. While the recommendation stops short of requiring that all students study abroad (one could imagine that international students may not want or need to spend a semester abroad, since Harvard Square itself qualifies as a foreign country for them), I have long thought that all true liberal arts graduates, especially in such an increasingly complex and international world, be exposed to other cultures.

As Harvard College’s Dean Kirby remarked in a radio interview yesterday: “From now on Harvard students had better arrive on campus with their passports.”

Well said, and hopefully a standard that other universities will follow.

A true melting pot — it’s not just America’s pastime anymore


Nationality numbers in minor league baseball are striking, and provide a large sample of how top baseball talent breaks down by national origin. Dominicans (1,442) represent 49 percent of all minor league rosters, and radically dwarf the numbers from all other points of origin, including the closest rival, Venezuela (803). The number of non-US players hovers around half the total overall.

There are almost no Japanese (only 7) in the minor leagues, in spite of the popularity of baseball in Japan — most Japanese big leaguers come to the US as established transplanted players from the Japanese major leagues. The lone representatives of China, the Bahamas, Italy, Guam, New Zealand, St. Martin, the United Kingdom, Vietnam, etc. remain nothing more than novelties.

The trendline of non-US representation in the minor leagues will be one of the most important elements to watch in terms of how baseball changes in the years to come.

Big questions on the table such as the worldwide draft, the possibility of the international expansion of MLB franchises, the challenge of how to build larger and more diverse fanbases and the rumored World Cup of Baseball all depend on these shifting demographics.

It is curious that Major League Baseball has dropped hints about opening franchises in Europe — if minor league numbers are any indication of potential popularity of the sport, then MLB is barking up the wrong tree. Latin America and to a lesser extent, some parts of Asia, are much more potent potential markets. The argument made against this direction of internationalization of the sport is that low incomes cannot possibly provide revenues that can support Major League quality franchises. Creativity and some flexibility will be required. The stranglehold of the big market team ownership groups in the US against significant and positive change in the game will have to change if the exporting of the MLB model is ever to succeed.

In any event, the success and popularity of Dominican, Panamanian, Venezuelan, Japanese, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Taiwanese, Mexican and other national variations of baseball within these countries are apparent yet not very well understood by those in this country. While true baseball fans in those countries follow US MLB, this is driven mostly by the large followings of their own compatriots in the United States (the Dominican attention to Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Miguel Tejada, David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero et al, Panamanian attention to Mariano Rivera, Ramiro Mendoza, Carlos Lee…) and the fascination with the wealth and domination of the gringos by their countrymen, rather than any true affinity with the US way of playing the sport. At the same time, by the mere virtue of tracking their countrymen’s successes and failures in MLB, millions of people outside the US understand the nuances of baseball in the US. The rampant devotion to these stars means that there is a huge fanbase across a number of countries that remains unexploited by MLB.

The growth of non-US players is bringing new challenges to minor league franchises, as well, perhaps even more so than in the Major Leagues, where players are generally more polished and prepared to deal with a wider range of difficult situations. While clubhouses all over baseball are split along gringo-latino lines, with all the various variations on more complex frictions such as Dominican vs. Puerto Rican vs. Venezuelan vs. Mexican or Korean vs. Japanese or Southern vs. Northern vs. Super-religious vs. super-irreverant vs. partiers vs. family-types, these cleavages are even more apparent in the minor leagues. Fights in the clubhouse are more common in farm clubs among these different factions, and the management challenges of mediating differences among groups who sometimes do not even speak the same language are tremendous.

No doubt, the growing internationalization of the sport leaves baseball scrambling for creativity, management skills and vision, not to mention language training. How this complex saga unfolds will be essential for the future of baseball as we know it in the US.

Minor League Players Born Outside the 50 United States (as of April 4, 2004, according to Major League Baseball)

Country		   Total Players
Argentina	   1
Aruba		   7
Australia	   76
Bahamas		   1
Brazil		   7
Canada		   106
China		   1
Colombia	   44
Costa Rica	   1
Cuba		   22
Curacao		   16
Dominican Republic 1,442
Ecuador		   3
El Salvador	   4
Germany		   3
Guam		   1
Honduras	   3
Italy		   1
Japan		   7
Korea		   11
Mexico		   102
Nicaragua	   34
Netherlands	   9
New Zealand	   1
Panama		   64
Puerto Rico	   127
South Africa	   3
St. Martin	   1
Taiwan		   10
United Kingdom	   1
Venezuela	   803
Vietnam		   1
Virgin Islands	   1
Total		   2,914

Opening Day 2004 Non-US born Players in Major League Baseball


In a recent press release that was picked up by some news outlets, Major League Baseball called attention to its swelling ranks of international players. As in past years, in the major leagues Dominicans (79) represent by far the greatest number of non-US born players, followed by Venezuela (45) and the US-born-but-not-on-the-mainland case of Puerto Rico (36). These numbers only consider the 25-man roster, not the 40-man roster, so I suspect that they under-represent the numbers of non-US born players on overall major league rosters. These numbers also clearly do not reflect ethnicity, merely place of birth. MLB today is a much more international, and especially latino, environment than these official numbers indicate.

As follows are the non-US born players on Opening Day 2004, listed by place of origin with team affiliation as of April 2004 (courtesy of Major League Baseball):

Aruba (1)
Sidney Ponson, Baltimore
Australia (4)
Grant Balfour, Minnesota
Trent Durrington, Milwaukee
Damian Moss, Tampa Bay
Brad Thomas, Minnesota
Canada (11)
Jason Bay, Pittsburgh
Rheal Cormier, Philadelphia
Ryan Dempster, Chicago (NL)
Eric Gagne, Los Angeles
Aaron Guiel, Kansas City
Corey Koskie, Minnesota
Simon Pond, Toronto
Paul Quantrill, New York (AL)
Matt Stairs, Kansas City
Larry Walker, Colorado
Jeff Zimmerman, Texas
Colombia (3)
Jolbert Cabrera, Seattle
Orlando Cabrera, Montreal
Edgar Renteria, St. Louis
Cuba (9)
Danys Baez, Tampa Bay
Jose Contreras, New York (AL)
Adrian Hernandez, Milwaukee
Livan Hernandez, Montreal
Orlando Hernandez, New York (AL)
Eli Marrero, Atlanta
Vladimir Nunez, Colorado
Rafael Palmeiro, Baltimore
Alex Sanchez, Detroit
Curacao (2)
Andruw Jones, Atlanta
Randall Simon, Pittsburgh
Dominican Republic (79)
Jose Acevedo, Cincinnati
Antonio Alfonseca, Atlanta
Carlos Almanzar, Texas
Miguel Asencio, Kansas City
Miguel Batista, Toronto
Tony Batista, Montreal
Danny Bautista, Arizona
Jose Bautista, Baltimore
Adrian Beltre, Los Angeles
Armando Benitez, Florida
Joaquin Benoit, Texas
Angel Berroa, Kansas City
Luis Castillo, Florida
Bartolo Colon, Anaheim
Francisco Cordero, Texas
Juan Cruz, Atlanta
Valerio De Los Santos, Toronto
Jorge De Paula, New York (AL)
Octavio Dotel, Houston
Juan Encarnacion, Los Angeles
Leo Estrella, San Francisco
Pedro Feliz, San Francisco
Julio Franco, Atlanta
Rafael Furcal, Atlanta
Reynaldo Garcia, Boston
Esteban German, Oakland
Vladimir Guerrero, Anaheim
Jose Guillen, Anaheim
Cristian Guzman, Minnesota
Felix Heredia, New York (AL)
Runelvys Hernandez, Kansas City
D’Angelo Jimenez, Cincinnati
Jose Jimenez, Cleveland
Jose Lima, Los Angeles
Aquilino Lopez, Toronto
Mendy Lopez, Kansas City
Julio Lugo, Tampa Bay
Hector Luna, St. Louis
Damaso Marte, Chicago (AL)
Pedro Martinez, Boston
Julio Mateo, Seattle
Jose Mesa, Pittsburgh
Raul Mondesi, Pittsburgh
Guillermo Mota, Los Angeles
Ramon Nivar, Texas
Abraham Nunez, Florida
Abraham Nunez, Pittsburgh
Jose Offerman, Minnesota
Miguel Olivo, Chicago (AL)
David Ortiz, Boston
Ramon Ortiz, Anaheim
Carlos Pena, Detroit
Wily Mo Pena, Cincinnati
Neifi Perez, San Francisco
Odalis Perez, Los Angeles
Timo Perez, Chicago (AL)
Placido Polanco, Philadelphia
Albert Pujols, St. Louis
Aramis Ramirez, Chicago (NL)
Manny Ramirez, Boston
Jose Reyes, New York (NL)
Fernando Rodney, Detroit
Felix Rodriguez, San Francisco
Duaner Sanchez, Los Angeles
Alfonso Soriano, Texas
Rafael Soriano, Seattle
Jorge Sosa, Tampa Bay
Sammy Sosa, Chicago (NL)
Julian Tavarez, St. Louis
Miguel Tejada, Baltimore
Amaury Telemaco, Philadelphia
Salomon Torres, Pittsburgh
Juan Uribe, Chicago (AL)
Jose Valverde, Arizona
Claudio Vargas, Montreal
Jose Vizcaino, Houston
Luis Vizcaino, Milwaukee
Enrique Wilson, New York (AL)
Esteban Yan, Detroit
Japan (10)
Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Seattle
Kazuhisa Ishii, Los Angeles
Hideki Matsui, New York (AL)
Kazuo Matsui, New York (NL)
Hideo Nomo, Los Angeles
Tomo Ohka, Montreal
Akinori Otsuka, San Diego
Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle
So Taguchi, St. Louis
Shingo Takatsu, Chicago (AL)
Korea (4)
Hee Seop Choi, Florida
Byung-Hyun Kim, Boston
Sun Woo Kim, Montreal
Chan Ho Park, Texas
Mexico (16)
Luis Ayala, Montreal
Vinny Castilla, Colorado
Juan Castro, Cincinnati
Humberto Cota, Pittsburgh
Elmer Dessens, Arizona
Erubiel Durazo, Oakland
Karim Garcia, New York (NL)
Esteban Loaiza, Chicago (AL)
Rodrigo Lopez, Baltimore
Miguel Ojeda, San Diego
Antonio Osuna, San Diego
Oliver Perez, Pittsburgh
Dennys Reyes, Kansas City
Ricardo Rincon, Oakland
Ismael Valdes, San Diego
Oscar Villarreal, Arizona
Nicaragua (1)
Vicente Padilla, Philadelphia
Panama (6)
Einar Diaz, Montreal
Carlos Lee, Chicago (AL)
Jose Macias, Chicago (NL)
Ramiro Mendoza, Boston
Mariano Rivera, New York (AL)
Olmedo Saenz, Los Angeles
Puerto Rico (36)
Roberto Alomar, Arizona
Sandy Alomar, Jr., Chicago (AL)
Carlos Baerga, Arizona
Carlos Beltran, Kansas City
Enrique Calero, St. Louis
Ramon Castro, Florida
Alex Cintron, Arizona
Alex Cora, Los Angeles
Wil Cordero, Florida
Cesar Crespo, Boston
Jose Cruz, Jr., Tampa Bay
Carlos Delgado, Toronto
Juan Gonzalez, Kansas City
Jose Hernandez, Los Angeles
Roberto Hernandez, Philadelphia
Ricky Ledee, Philadelphia
Javier Lopez, Colorado
Javy Lopez, Baltimore
Luis Lopez, Baltimore
Mike Lowell, Florida
Luis Matos, Baltimore
Bengie Molina, Anaheim
Jose Molina, Anaheim
Joel Pineiro, Seattle
Jorge Posada, New York (AL)
Ivan Rodriguez, Detroit
J.C. Romero, Minnesota
Rey Sanchez, Tampa Bay
Benito Santiago, Kansas City
Ruben Sierra, New York (AL)
Javier Valentin, Cincinnati
Jose Valentin, Chicago (AL)
Javier Vazquez, New York (AL)
Ramon Vazquez, San Diego
Jose Vidro, Montreal
Bernie Williams, New York (AL)
Venezuela (45)
Bobby Abreu, Philadelphia
Edgardo Alfonzo, San Francisco
Wilson Alvarez, Los Angeles
Tony Armas, Jr., Montreal
Rafael Betancourt, Cleveland
Henry Blanco, Minnesota
Miguel Cairo, New York (AL)
Miguel Cabrera, Florida
Jose Castillo, Pittsburgh
Roger Cedeno, St. Louis
Raul Chavez, Houston
Omar Daal, Baltimore
Alexander Escobar, Cleveland
Kelvim Escobar, Anaheim
Freddy Garcia, Seattle
Alex Gonzalez, Florida
Jeremi Gonzalez, Tampa Bay
Luis Gonzalez, Colorado
Carlos Guillen, Detroit
Ramon Hernandez, San Diego
Richard Hidalgo, Houston
Omar Infante, Detroit
Cesar Izturis, Los Angeles
Jorge Julio, Baltimore
Anderson Machado, Philadelphia
Victor Martinez, Cleveland
Melvin Mora, Baltimore
Ober Moreno, New York (NL)
Ray Olmedo, Cincinnati
Magglio Ordonez, Chicago (AL)
Eddie Perez, Atlanta
Tomas Perez, Philadelphia
Rene Reyes, Colorado
Juan Rincon, Minnesota
Luis Rivas, Minnesota
Juan Rivera, Montreal
Francisco Rodriguez, Anaheim
Johan Santana, Minnesota
Marco Scutaro, Oakland
Carlos Silva, Minnesota
Yorvit Torrealba, San Francisco
Lino Urdaneta, Detroit
Omar Vizquel, Cleveland
Carlos Zambrano, Chicago (NL)
Victor Zambrano, Tampa Bay

Engaging the US public in international affairs


I was struck the other day while listening to the BBC by a comment by a US political strategist regarding whether the Democratic or Republican party now holds the mantle of the “party of big government.” The general conclusion of the overall discussion, which was centered on the growing federal budget deficit, was that both parties are supporters of big government, and that the only difference between them was a sense of where to focus those big government efforts (on the military, on education, on environmental protection, etc.).

The remark that really hit home for me was something that I have known for a long time, but has been troublingly reinforced in the current political climate — that the only places for spending cuts are those that have no natural domestic constituency — namely, foreign aid and other international areas.

One challenge before all of us who spend our days thinking about international issues is daunting and there is no good answer — how can we raise levels of awareness of and more nuanced engagement with international issues within an inwardly focused US population? Even now, in a time period in which international themes such as war, post-conflict resolution, humanitarian assistance dominate the headlines and election debate, the average American’s understanding of the details of international happenings remains facile and superficial.

More germane to how to effect positive change in the public’s understanding of the complexities of the international policymaking environment is the dependence on big media and on soundbite driven news and infotainment. This has become especially dangerous, as it seems that general international ignorance extends upwards to the highest levels of government and business. The miscues and mistakes that major public and private figures make on a daily basis are staggering.

For example, despite the fundamental common sense of addressing the root causes of global terrorism through increased international development and foreign aid efforts, mere lip-service is being paid to credible, sound thinkers. I was amazed the other day by the absurd doltishness of a commentator from a group called “Republicans Abroad” who on the BBC insisted that “We understand what causes terrorism. Terrorism is caused by terrorists. If we get rid of the terrorists we will get rid of terrorism.” An awfully tautological argument that I’m sure bowled over the BBC’s listeners. And we wonder why the US is so easily and often mocked by the rest of the world for its caveman approaches to difficult policy issues.

So how can this be remedied? How can we raise both general and specific awareness of international affairs in a population that seems to increasingly pride itself on its parochialness and independence? That is made up of many individuals who dump fine French wine down the drain because of the unwillingness to support the Iraq war? And how can we break the stranglehold of homogeneous big media on the limited attention span of our citizenry?

Technology is certainly part of the answer, in the form of blogs, independent radio and hard hitting video and creative use of multimedia. My colleagues at the Berkman Center are pioneering the use of the Internet to create new, alternative media outlets such as Chris Lydon with his streaming audio interviews or Ben Walker and Mary Bridges with AudioBerkman. And other colleagues like James Der Derian and his InfoTechWarPeace project at the Watson Institute for International Studies are creating powerful video messages like his newly finished documentary “Post 9/11.”

These uses of technology are essential, but even more importantly, we need effective forms of outreach and education that make inroads in broad awareness raising. We need better linkages betwween academia and the media, and better interlocutors who can translate complex concepts responsibly. We also need patience. And money.

But if we do not make more headway in doing a better job at making a human connection between international issues and the US public, we will not get far.

Nomar Garciaparra’s Nationality


Since a good number of visitors to this blog actually get here trying to find out what Nomar Garciaparra’s nationality is, it seems appropriate to just give people what they want, just this once. Though I guess Google and other search engines send people here because of this piece I wrote earlier this year on Latin America and baseball.

Nomar is an uncommon name. Certainly a lot less common than Ramon, which is Nomar backwards. Nomar Garciaparra may be the only Nomar around. Nomar is actually his middle name — his first name is Anthony.

Nomar was born in Whittier, California and grew up in Southern California. He is of Mexican-American descent. He attended Georgia Tech where he excelled in baseball. Here is Nomar’s official Red Sox bio.

With the Red Sox in the playoffs and on national television, the number of Google entries for Nomar + Garciaparra + Nationality have gone through the roof. Fascinating to see how many baseball viewers are interested in Nomar’s origins.

The Software Behind the Headlines


In a recent conversation with a friend who is a public health expert in sexually transmitted diseases and antibiotic resistance, her eyes lit up about Berkeley Madonna, the software program that she uses to calculate transmission rates and disease vectors. In her work, which focuses on AIDS and gonorrhea transmission among professional sex workers in the Phillippines, the software has made the task of modeling and analyzing dynamic systems much faster and easier.

Differential equations have existed long before computers, but thanks to fast processors and clever software, never before has it been so easy to quickly crank through tough math problems. In the area of public health, this has been particularly important as interventions can be planned more rapidly and more efficiently.

In the current SARS epidemic (which apparently is for real and not just a bunch of hype) it is mathematical modeling of transmission rates that has led to the WHO warning about Toronto, Singapore, China and elsewhere.

It was just an important reminder of the many ways in which ICTs have changed our collective ability to deal with certain global crises, and the software behind the headlines.

Is the “New Economy” about IT jobs or jobs that use IT?


An interesting seminar today with Dr. Sanjaasuren Oyun, a progressive parliamentarian from Mongolia, got me thinking again about one of the major questions about ICTs and development — are we trying to jumpstart an ICT industry or are we trying to help out existing industries through the use of ICTs?

I have only dabbled in research into Mongolia, and much of it stems from 5+ years ago, but the short answer about ICTs and Mongolia’s post-Soviet and isolated problems seems to be to continue to nurture the nascent yet thriving ICT industry (software, offshore information processing…) but also look to apply ICTs to Mongolia’s existing strengths. There isn’t much going on in Mongolia except copper mining and cashmere, and mining doesn’t offer much in the way of diversifying and bettering the country’s competitive/comparative advantage. But the cashmere industry suggests something else – since most cashmere is sold to China, Japan, Europe and the US to make into high-end garments sold by fancy fashion houses, why shouldn’t Mongolia reap the rewards of nice sweaters, peacoats and suits instead of raw cashmere wool?

Textiles are one of the most competitive, ICT-intensive industries out there today. Every top-of-the-line garment assembly outfit has state-of-the-art, just-in-time information systems that gives it the latest order from whichever designer needs an order within 72 hours. Mongolia, with its stranglehold on cashmere, one of the highest-end natural resources that makes value-added clothes anywhere in the world, needs to ramp up its textiles industry.

By now it is a no-brainer (in spite of the ridiculous claims to the contrary about how Iraq’s oil will take care of everything and the current state of Venezuela with its oil “riches”) that natural resources alone don’t cut it in today’s globalized, competitive economy. So Mongolia, with all of its land-lockedness, post-Soviet problems and issues of the rural people flocking to Ulan Bator, needs to figure out how to create value-added industries that will give it some leg up. But Mongolia by no means is the only game in town.

There are certainly lots of stories out there. There are countries that are trying to recreate Silicon Valley from scratch. There are countries that are trying to develop an offshore programming industry like Bangalore. There are countries that want to beat out Mauritius, Sri Lanka and the Dominican Republic to win just-in-time textile contracts with European, Japanese and US fashion houses. And many many reasons why everyone wants computers and the Internet.

But what is the answer?

The answer is that every country is different, and that there is no one solution in today’s globalized and competitive economy. Every country needs to examine how ICTs might help existing industries, but also create new ones.

This is a terrible answer, and so insufficient, to one of the most common questions.

But the answer is true. Each country has terrible problems and fantastic assets. ICTs do not represent the cure nor the help for everything. But it is possible for every country to recognize the areas where technology will help.

It is harder to recognize where technology will not help — this is the reason for so many wasted funds and projects. Again and again, it is not just the technology, but everything else that matters.

I hope that Mongolia figures it out – it is by all accounts a beautiful country with wonderful people, fly-fishing, mountain climbing, horseback riding and hospitality galore. High-end tourism would not be a terrible industry to specialize in…and technology doesn’t hurt there either…

Latin American baseball — the future of the Major Leagues


In Sunday’s New York Times (13 April 2003), Rafael Hermoso describes how former Texas Rangers’ pitcher Edwin Correa is trying to “salvage Puerto Rican baseball” and create a challenging yet nurturing environment for budding young Puerto Rican baseball players in the new Puerto Rico Baseball Academy. Apart from documenting Correa’s valiant and interesting initiative to teach kids discipline in a combined baseball-academic environment, most of Hermoso’s article focuses on the perceived decline of Puerto Rican baseball in the face of stiff competition from the Dominican Republic, in particular.

I applaud Correa’s efforts and Hermoso for giving a short yet rich account of the new Academy and some of the issues, but I do not think that Puerto Rico is in fact in a baseball decline, and I think that the impact of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia will only continue to grow, and the power and prestige of Latin American players within the major leagues will only become more enhanced with time. If anything, Correa’s efforts should not be seen as a reaction to failure, but a visionary effort to up the ante in terms of Latin American baseball. I believe that time will show that Correa is ahead of the curve in terms of understanding the future of Major League Baseball.

There are some fascinating threads that Hermoso’s story touches upon that I wanted to chat about — mostly stemming from the fact that the Latin American presence within MLB is one of the most obvious yet most generally under-noticed factors in baseball today. And there are important linkages between what is going in baseball and general patterns of economic development, demographics and culture in the Americas. Here are some things that occur to me as relevant and worth further thought and exploration:

First, it is important to point out the general disparity in formal education that exists among Major League Baseball players. While virtually all major league players from the U.S. have graduated from high school, and many have gone to university, these players sit side-by-side with incredible success stories and national heroes in their Latin American colleagues, but heroes and successes who more likely than not do not have very much formal education. There are plenty of anecdotes about MLB players from Latin America who are illiterate in spite of their millions. This in itself is meaningless, but taken more broadly is a strong indicator that education levels are not strong among Latin American players. But here is the true advantage of Puerto Rico over its Latin American counterparts/comrades — many players from Puerto Rico have indeed attended college in the U.S. (see Jorge Posada for example, born in Santurce and attended Calhoun Community College in Alabama) and most come from a more priveleged background than players from the DR, Venezuela, Panama and elsewhere. Informally, baseball insiders say that if Latin American baseball players were arranged hierarchically in order of their level of education, Puerto Rico would be at the top and the Dominican Republic at the bottom, with Mexico, Panama, Venezuela and the others in between. From the point of view of trying to build and manage a team, it is no small feat to meld a group of players made up of graduates of leading U.S. colleges, high school standouts who have forgone college to play ball and talented foreigners who speak little English and have in some cases not progressed beyond the fourth grade.

Most statistics about players’ nationality (or place of origin in the case of Puerto Rico) belie another demographic change in baseball that mirrors the increase in Latinos as a significant population in the U.S. There are more and more U.S. players of Latin descent in the big leagues. Nomar Garciaparra, Luis Gonzalez, Eric Chavez…the list is quite long. But things are not even always as clear cut as that — Manny Ramirez, for example, was born in the Dominican Republic but grew up in New York. Alex Rodriguez was born in New York, but his family moved back to the Dominican Republic for four years as a child before they settled in Miami. This is the bi-national culture that so many U.S. Latinos (especially Dominicans) experience. And as Latino-Americanism grows, and more and more U.S. Latinos who defy simple categorization enter baseball, we will only see more and more superstars with incredibly strong childhood and adolescent ties to both the U.S. and their home countries or parents/grandparents’ home countries. This is not dissimilar to the same sentiments that first and second generation Irish, Polish, German and Italian U.S. citizens felt as they grew up, but the difference is that never has one new immigrant, general ethnic group become such a dominant force within any professional U.S. sport. Latin America (at least the 7 countries who make significant contributions to the major leagues), with its incredible talent, emotional fan base and attachment to the sport, will bring many new elements and an injection of enthusiasm, into “America’s pastime.” The dual allegiance that so many Latino players have will play out in philanthropy, business development, and cross-cultural exchange and awareness (like the multitudes of Dominican flag-waving gringos apparent at Fenway Park). But it also brings with it difficult challenges, like the educational gulf among baseball players.

Second, I wanted to touch upon some financial issues. Using numbers from the 2002 All Star Break, the overall players’ payroll in MLB hovered just over US$2 billion (to be more precise, the 25 man rosters totalled $2,024,677,522). Of the 849 players listed on 25 man rosters at that time, there were 74 Dominicans, 36 Venezuelans, 36 Puerto Ricans, 16 Mexicans, 11 Cubans and 6 Panamanians (and 33 from the U.S. of Latino heritage). All in all, there were 221 players from Latin America and the Caribbean or of Latino descent (or 26% of the the big leagues). Of the $2 billion total payroll, Dominicans earned $193 million, Puerto Ricans took home $122 million, and Venezuelans earned $69 million. It seems the Puerto Rican players are getting the best deal of the three largest Latin American groups — a per capita analysis shows that Dominicans earned $2.6 million per player, Venezuelans $1.9 million and Puerto Ricans more than $3.3 million per player.

So Puerto Ricans are considerably better off in terms of salaries –what about Hermoso’s point that there are many fewer Puerto Ricans than Dominicans in the majors? He points out that there are 38 Puerto Ricans on 2003 opening day rosters while 78 come from the Dominican Republic. Yes, there are twice as many Dominicans in MLB than Puerto Ricans, but the population of the Dominican Republic is also twice as big as that of Puerto Rico (~7.5 million to ~3.8 million). So the numbers of players are pretty representative, even if the salaries are not.

Third, Hermoso talks a bit about the relative states of economic development between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, as well as the relative advantages/disadvantages that Puerto Ricans and Dominicans have vis-a-vis baseball. Interestingly enough, Hermoso seem to insinuate that better economic development is a disincentive to the formation of good baseball players (through comments by players such as these by Montreal Expos’ Javier Vazquez: “I think the kids in Puerto Rico have a lot of comforts,” said Vazquez, one of the handful of Puerto Rican stars to come out of the draft. “They have computers, PlayStations, all types of things like that. A kid has a life outside of sports.”)

The extension of this argument would be that poverty and the hunger for U.S. immigrant/citizen status are important motivations for Dominican youth to make it to the Bigs. This is a tricky and dangerous argument to make — on the one hand, it certainly is a boost to Major League teams to reap the benefits of Dominican shortstops with soft fielding hands due to years of catching erratic and unpredictable bounces in less than ideal conditions, of pitchers like Pedro Martinez who originally honed his delivery with his sisters’ doll’s heads for lack of a ball, and of hitters to whom a baseball looks like a grapefruit because they are used to hitting a rock with a broom handle (think Pele and his skills learned playing with layers of balled-up socks made into a soccer ball). I guess the real question here in balancing economic development concerns with good baseball is how to make sure that future baseball youth keep the “eye of the tiger” while improving their lives with better education, and more creature comforts and “distractions.” (Of course, some pundits lament the “softness” of U.S. youth and the growing inclination to stay inside and eschew sports, but this seems to be a more general problem of globalization, bad diets and video games.)

But the best argument against the one that says that harsh conditions and good baseball go hand-in-hand may come from the overall numbers of U.S. players in MLB — most major league players were born and raised in the U.S., and the vast majority of them attended at least high school, if not college as well. This in itself would be a fine testament to Edwin Correa’s goal to combine solid academics with solid baseball in one positive package for the development of young Puerto Ricans, and one that should be lauded.

Correa’s actions should make MLB and its franchises stand up and take notice to monitor the success of the Puerto Rico Academy (and it is a good sign that Sandy Alderson has offered some support after an initial reluctance) for the future of baseball academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela — these academies’ current non-baseball offerings of rudimentary English, basic etiquette and how to be a team player that the most advanced of MLB clubs like the Oakland Athletics have implemented are a far cry from the kind of system that Correa seems to be implementing.

Finally, Hermoso’s highlights from an interview with Tony Bernazard, now special assistant to Players Union chief Donald Fehr, really point to some of the big issues on the table for MLB as it considers internationalization of the draft, possible expansion of the League abroad, the growing dominance of Latin American players and the need to reach out to the U.S. Latino fan base. The institution of an international draft will have huge repurcussions for the way that non-U.S. citizens end up in the major leagues. It should have a hugely positive impact on the system of buscones (scouts) that plagues current Latin American recruitment. And it will mean a lot more investment into the Latin American baseball academies. But how will it impact the Dominican summer leagues, in which Latin American prospects compete with one another for a coveted spot in the U.S. minors. Some of this is linked to U.S. immigration policy, which limits the number of Visas that each team can request — what is certain is that there is a whole series of issues to be unravelled here.

The question of why Major League clubs don’t do more to tap into the Latino fan base in their cities is one that I have wondered about for some time. It is good to see that Peter Gammons picks up this theme in his April 14 column. Given the real passion and baseball knowledge that lies at the core of much of the U.S. Latino population, maybe MLB should take a page out of Major League Soccer’s success at bringing in the Latino community to games across the U.S.

With the extremely positive reception (and results) of the Montreal Expos’ first homestand in San Juan, I think we will see more and more attention paid to Puerto Rican, and Latin American, baseball in the near future. Which is only appropriate, because Latin America is the key to much of the future of Major League Baseball in the longer term.

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