- Dominican Baseball: New Pride, Old Prejudice by Alan Klein
Aside from the United States, the Dominican Republic (DR) has produced more major-league baseball players than any other nation. A roster of notable Dominican players would include Robinson Cano, Juan Marichal, Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Manny Ramirez, and Sammy Sosa. A nation with a population of approximately ten million, the DR remarkably accounted for ninety-nine players on opening day MLB rosters in 2007. Dominican Baseball, however, eschews the MLB exploits of Dominicans. Instead, author Alan Klein focuses on the process that brings Dominicans to the minor and major leagues of organized baseball. Dominican Baseball examines amateur play, buscones (player developers), and academies. Klein presents a chronicle of exploitation by the U.S. and the MLB in its dealings with the DR, as well as the resolve of Dominicans to shape their own lives.
Dominican Baseball reflects both personal passion and rigorous scholarship. The volume represents the culmination of twenty-five years of research by Klein. Drawing upon the relevant secondary literature from the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, economics, political science, and history, Klein also makes extensive use of his on-site field notes and interviews. Making his sympathies clear, he views the neoliberal commodity chain that appropriates cheap Dominican baseball labor as part of the same trajectory of U.S. control as the 1904 Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine and Marine occupations of the DR (1916–24 and 1965–66).
An impoverished land with inequities that exacerbate poverty, the DR offers few alternatives to the drudgery of the sugar fields and refineries other than baseball. Professional baseball nurtures the hope of escape from want. Klein emphasizes that success on the playing field impacts entire families. With the money from their first contract, players often buy a house for their parents and siblings.
All thirty MLB teams maintain academies in the DR. The academies domicile newly signed sixteen-to-eighteen-year-old players for the purpose of molding athletic and social skills prior to selection of the best for minor-league assignment. With clean rooms and unlimited food, the academies represent the better life that baseball may bring. Endemic [End Page 259] insecurity, according to Klein, envelops Dominican players. Endless tryouts, evaluations, and winnowing mean that prospects face the constant specter of returning to lives of deprivation.
To reach the academy level, a young player must first confront daunting obstacles. Without a strong infrastructure of formal youth leagues, disorganization marks amateur baseball in the DR. While almost all boys play baseball, they do so outside organized leagues. Buscones (player developers) fill the void. The buscones, themselves Dominicans, locate thirteen-year-old prospects. Providing housing, food, coaching, and socialization, the buscones will negotiate contracts with academies affiliated with MLB on behalf of the most promising players when they reach the professional signing age of sixteen and a half. In return, buscones take up to 35 percent of players’ signing bonuses.
The MLB regards buscones with contempt, employing language that conjures up images of predatory Fagins and even pedophiles. Klein counters with a vigorous defense of the buscones. He argues that the MLB’s real grievance with the buscones stems from Dominican player developers driving up the cost of the MLB signing a player. Klein also claims that the MLB’s denigration of buscones constitutes a component of a more pervasive attack on all indigenous aspects of Dominican baseball. In retort to MLB and U.S. media allegations of Dominican players with altered birth certificates or falsified identity documents for purposes of appearing younger and, thus, more valuable as a prospect, Klein asserts that these practices are legitimate responses to an unjust system. He terms reports of rampant Dominican steroid use as part of the MLB’s campaign to demonize the DR as a baseball province in need of outside management.
In 2010, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig sent his then executive vice president of baseball operations, Sandy Alderson, to the DR to address concerns about Dominican baseball. Noting that Alderson...