I was saddened but not surprised when Major League Baseball suspended 13 Latino players, including eight Dominicans, for use of performance enhancing drugs. They included Alex Rodriguez, the highest paid player in the league, whose parents are Dominican.
Besides the Dominicans, a Nicaraguan and three Venezuelans were suspended in the clearest signal to date that MLB is serious about addressing the issue of steroids use, unafraid to penalize some of the game’s top stars. I was not surprised because the issue has been boiling to a head for some time. I am saddened because the scandal blemishes all Latino baseball players, in particular Dominicans, threatening their legacy on the game of baseball.Besides Rodriguez, the list of suspended players includes the Dominicans Nelson Cruz (Texas), Jhonny Peralta (Detroit), Antonio Bastardo (Philadelphia), Jordany Valdespin (Mets), Faustino De Los Santos (San Diego), Cesar Puello (Mets), Fernando Martinez (Yankees) and free agent Jordan Norberto.
Also suspended were Nicaraguan Everth Cabrera (San Diego), and Venezuelans Francisco Cervelli (Yankees), Jesus Montero (Mariners) and Sergio Escalona (Astros).
Only Rodriguez appealed his suspension and is playing for the Yankees until the appeal is resolved.
Not long after the mass suspensions, another Dominican, Miguel Tejada of the Kansas City Royals, was suspended after testing positive for amphetamines.
In addition to the Major Leaguers suspended, 15 of the 44 players suspended for steroid use in 2013 in the minors are Dominican.
Much of the blame for the use of steroids among Dominicans is being placed on buscones, the trainers who prepare young prospects for potential careers in baseball. But while buscones – or at least the corrupt and unethical ones – are part of the issue, it is far more complex than that, as I have been pointing out for years.
It has a lot to do with the Dominican passion for baseball and the poverty that fuels the dream. Baseball in the Dominican Republic depends on that passion, that lure, that pursuit of the game so intoxicating that people will take steroids to become bigger, faster and stronger; will lie about their age and identity; will abandon school for a chance at stardom, for a chance to escape poverty. But in reality, only a precious few will ever achieve the stardom the dream merchants peddle.
While I would never put myself in a position to appear to dictate to Major League Baseball or the Dominican government what they should do to address reform in Dominican baseball, I have made several suggestions over the years on what I think could be solutions to many of the issues. Some of those suggestions have actually been implemented, such as fingerprinting prospects to uncover age and identity fraud.
Major League Baseball has also taken important steps towards establishing education programs at all of its Dominican academies; currently only the Pittsburgh Pirates have a mandatory comprehensive education program.
Three years ago the Dominican government reportedly considered licensing buscones, a move that would presumably regulate their actions and at least address some of the corruption currently associated with them.
Why that hasn’t taken place, I don’t know. But I think Major League Baseball and the Dominican government need to take into account not only the safety of these children that play baseball but also the negative impact the scandals are having on the reputation of the game – and the players – in the Dominican Republic. The credibility of Dominican baseball is suffering and will continue to suffer if strong measures aren’t taken on both sides to address all the issues plaguing the game on this island.
I already hear the whispers when a Dominican player demonstrates strong play, whispers that he must being doing some sort of drug. This devalues great performances and undermines the integrity of baseball in general.
I personally think that buscones are an invaluable part of the game in the Dominican Republic; they find and deliver the talent that Major League Baseball and its teams spend millions each year to develop. But buscones are like used car salesmen; a few bad apples give the whole barrel a rotten reputation.
If indeed buscones are such a major problem as MLB and others have said, it is time, in my opinion, for the Dominican government and MLB to come up with some logical resolution before the image of Dominican baseball and the credibility of baseball are further tarnished.
It would be a simple process for the government to license buscones, just as it licenses other industries. A part of the licensing process should be that buscones would agree to adhere to the laws of the country which include penalties for falsifying someone’s age and identity, as well as providing minors with certain drugs. The laws are there; they just need to be enforced.
On Major League Baseball’s side, it could then certify licensed buscones, again stipulating in the certification process that age and identity fraud and steroid use by a buscone’s pupil would be dealt with harshly, such as not allowing teams to deal with that buscón again. Part of the issue has been that teams are fearful that if they confront buscones they could lose out on access to top talent. Someone’s got to bite the bullet on this and if all teams operate on a level playing field and deal only with licensed and certified buscones – and agree not to work with those who violate certain fundamental rules, it will go a long way toward curbing the abuses attributed to them.
Several trainers I know endorse licensing and certifying buscones, saying it would help to legitimize their stigmatized occupation. One told me, “The only (buscones) who would be against it are those who are dishonest and want to continue with that. But something needs to be done or no one will trust any of us.”
I still think education is the ultimate weapon in reform in Dominican baseball. The game is being sold as the only chance out of poverty, the only chance for success for thousands of Dominican kids when only two out of 100 top prospects will ever succeed, and those who fail to make it simply don’t have other opportunities to succeed in life, most often because they don’t have a good education.
We have to change this mentality in poor, young Dominican players that baseball is their only means to success. If there were better educated kids, they would make better decisions. Currently, if they don’t make it to the major leagues they think they are a failure. That’s a very sad state of mind for a kid to have.
And it is time to take measures so that kids aren’t in a position where they think they have to improve their chances of success in baseball with a pill or needle.
I don’t feel sorry for the dozen or so suspended from baseball, but the system that produces them, that makes winning at all costs part of career planning, needs to be addressed sooner as opposed to later – for the sake of thousands of Dominican children chasing the dream, for the sake of the game itself.