Baseball91's Weblog

August 16, 2008

Getting In Scoring Position

 

Corruption.  Baseball corruption.  What good is a scoop if no one hears the news you helped to break? 

 

Pay per view was coming to the news media.   

 

The headline available on Baseball America’s website was “Yankees fire two scouts.”  A story yesterday involved their director of Latin America operations who along with scout Ramon Valdivia were accused of skimming six figures from deals involving young Domincan ballplayers.  Normally Baseball America does not give away news except to subscribers. 

 

There was a time when Congress had hearing, at the incarnation of cable television, on the concept of pay-per-view and the availability of things like the Super Bowl.  Those were the days when Frazier fought Ali on pay-per view in theaters and auditoriums. 

 

Pay per view was coming to the news media.  When the print media was dead in two years.  Congress had yet to address hearings.  Pay per view would have an affect on the democratic process, on the airing of ideas.  On human rights, on “American” ideals.    

 

On the issue of baseball and the American ideal, if your local paper had missed it, Pablo Lantigua was fired in July by the Boston Red Sox, according to a story in the Boston Herald.  Pablo Lantigua was the Red Sox’s Dominican scouting supervisor.  In May, the Chicago White Sox had fired  David Wilder, their director of player personnel, according to the Chicago Tribune. 

 

The two stories are related, and apparently involve more than just dirty sox.   A lot of the story is based upon what happens when American kids no longer play the game. 

According to a statement, the Chicago White Sox asked MLB to investigate once they turned up internal questions about the Dominican Republic.  Findings from that major league baseball’s investigation were then turned over to federal authorities.  The Boston Herald quotes an unnamed baseball source as saying Lantigua was fired last month for receiving a kickback of an unspecified amount on a player he recommended. 

So who was David Wilder?  According to a Google search, in 2005, Wilder interviewed for Boston’s general manager job when Theo Epstein was still in a power struggle with Larry Luchiano, before Epstein returned to the Red Sox.  Wilder had a seven-year minor league career as an outfielder in the Oakland and Chicago Cubs systems.  In 1990, he got his first job in player development with Oakland.  He must have been hired by Walt Jocketty.  In 1991, he headed to Atlanta as assistant director of scouting and player development for Braves.  Called a John Schuerholz disciple for his years there, he was schooled from 1991-95 under some of the best in baseball tutelage, including Paul Snyder.  In 1996 through 1999 he went to work for the Chicago Cubs as farm director and assistant general manager under Ed Lynch.  In 2000, he headed up the interstate to Milwaukee as vice president of player personnel and special assignment scout with the Milwaukee Brewers from 2000-03.  He was a member of the United States Olympic Baseball team’s selection committee in 2000 for a team that won the gold medal.  In 2004, he joined the White Sox. 

At this point, all of his career moves would seem to mark Wilder as an ambitious man.  When the White Sox fired Wilder, he was the director of player personnel overseeing their entire minor league department and player development staff as well as the club’s Latin American operations.  Victor Mateo and Domingo Toribio also were terminated with Wilder after a two-month investigation by Major League Baseball’s Department of Investigations, according to a copy-writed story with the Associated Press.

The FBI was investigating the scouting practices of Washington Nationals in Latin America as it relates to the 2006 signing of shortstop Esmailyn González, according to a SI.com.

“Incoming president Stan Kasten considers the Gonzalez signing the equivalent to the Braves signing outfielder Andruw Jones and shortstop Rafael Furcal in 1993 and 1996, respectively. Jones and Furcal are now stars in the big leagues.  ‘This is an important signing,’ Kasten said via telephone. ‘We can now compete for the best talent in Latin America. We will have a presence there.’”  

 “After midnight on Sunday morning, Bowden, Rijo, Brown, Kasten and principal owner Mark Lerner met with Gonzalez and Vizcaino at the Capital Grille and put together a deal two hours later.”   MLB July 2, 2006

Long before this investigation into the signing off Gonzales, Jim Bowden (general manager) and Kasten were quoted as saying opposing teams tried to sabotage them from signing Gonzalez. They would not name the organizations in question.  So how much of the recent probe is cloak and dagger bad blood from another organization interested in this kid, getting a pound of flesh with the help of the FBI?  The Twins, Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers were all after Gonzalez’s services.   Sour grapes?  Where does Wilder fit into the story?  (If you did not live in Washington or Cincinnati maybe you did not know that Jose Rijo was an assistant to Jim Bowden.  Both joined the new organization in Washington when major league baseball sold the franchise to the Lerner Group.  His predecessor took a job running the New York Mets.) 

On July 13, 2008, the Washington Post’s Chico Harlan had reported that the Washington Nationals in 2006 decided to fortify their scouting efforts in the Dominican Republic.  Recognizing the rewards of a central effort to rebuild, “team officials offered support but knew of the dangers.”  At the time, the Nationals had just hired a new president, Stan Kasten, with the Lerners as the fresh owners.  Kasten, a long-time baseball guy coming from the Braves, had inherited an organization with no top Dominican prospects. He spoke to his assistant general manager Jose Rijo who oversaw the team’s Dominican academy about how to change that, and why to be careful.

According to Chico Harlan’s July 2008 article, with the help of Rijo, the Nationals had made the search for Latin American talent “a linchpin of their organizational plan.”  The Nationals had set up an academy in San Cristobal, with seven ballfields, dorms, and a cafeteria for their prospects, with about 100 players currently there, Rijo said.  These young men have been signed with bonuses from $8,000 to $200,000.  Harlan might not have discovered that the Rijo’s Academy was a “sprawling mountaintop academy” that Jose Rijo developed  serving the Nationals, the Detroit Tigers and the San Diego Padres. According to a January 2007 article in the Washington Post by Barry Svrluga, Jose Rijo indicated that he had put “close to $10 million” of his own money into developing the site develop clearing away the jungle just up the hill from his home town to build the baseball academy that bears his name, with tenants paying Rijo $30,000 to $50,000 per month in rent.

In July 2006, the Nationals signed shortstop Esmailyn González, awarding him with a $1.4 million bonus.  The baseball environment in the Domincan Republic was different than in most places.  Great players had been found there, first only shortstops, for close to 30 years.  Poor kids.  I suspect they are getting chances that the Jose Rijos of the world never got, to develop under professional instruction. 

For years, street agents called “buscones” had brokered deals between prospects and players, demanding like a lawyer a large percentage of  the signing bonus money.  I have not been to the Domincan but I suspect few of the people, players, buscones, Domincan scouts, had much formal education.  I suspect the concept of right and wrong was developed on the street.  Buscones typically arrange tryouts, often helping develop the talent.  Their compensation is 10 percent to 40 percent of a player’s bonus. 

For Rijo, according to the Washington Post article, the buscones are a necessary unavoidable part of the system who can be handled without leading teams to illegal signing practices. “They go rescue the kids,” Rijo said. “If you don’t have the buscones in the Dominican Republic, you have nothing.”

In July 2006, when the Nationals signed Esmailyn González with a $1.4 million bonus, the $1.4 million bonus drew attention.  According to SI.com, citing sources close to the investigation, the offer was double the next-highest bidder.

According to Chico Harlan’s article, The FBI was now looking at a possibility that teams, “tempted perhaps by ballooning bonus figures,” were complicit in keeping money from young Domicans free agents.

Federal investigators have interviewed Nationals’ general manager Jim Bowden by July and planned to interview Jose Rijo, examining the skimming of signing bonuses.  Bowden and Rijo repeatedly have denied any wrongdoing.  Rijo, per a request, was to meet with investigators when he returned from the Dominican Republic after around August 1st.  Published reports indicated all 30 MLB teams were involved in the investigation.

In July 2008, President Kasten declined to say the team has committed no wrongdoing.

According to Chico Harlan’s article, “I couldn’t be more supportive of the effort to make sure that everybody is living by the rules,” Kasten said. “Whatever is found, wherever it is found, across baseball, it’s a good thing. We want things found out. We want things on the up and up. That’s of the utmost of importance to us.”

Bowden called the team’s presence in the Dominican “extremely important. International talent as well as the draft are the two areas where we get amateur players. You have to have both. So you need to be active down there, and we’ve been active.”

“We’ve done a good job of signing players in the Dominican,” he said.  There was no discussion in the Washington Post about the amounts that the current ownership had paid for the team when Kasten was hired.  The pressure on Kasten, on Bowden, on Rijo, in this franchise bubble, in the new era of bubbles has not been addressed in the media. 

The New York Times reported in July 2008:  “Rafi Reyes, a 16-year-old Dominican whom the White Sox signed for a $525,000 bonus last summer, according to official major league documents. A major league club official said last week that Reyes was one of the White Sox players whose payment had been improperly handled — that he received a small fraction of his bonus, perhaps as little as $75,000, with the rest being divvied up among Reyes’s buscon and White Sox scouts. A high-level White Sox official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter, confirmed that Reyes was one of four or five players in the organization whose signing was under investigation.” 

“Reyes, a fast center fielder with large hands and a ready smile, said that he had received $525,000 from the White Sox — the full bonus agreed to by David Wilder himself. Reyes said that he owed no portion to a buscon because his father, Rafael Reyes Sierra, ran a baseball program in his hometown, Baharona, and handled the negotiations for him.”

ESPN reported yesterday that Rios and Valdivia of the Yankees were at this point on administrative leave. 

Recent reports, I heard at a local tavern last week, suggest that David Wilder was wearing a white hat and was fired before all the facts were known.   

Like much of life, it was all who you knew.  It certainly seeemed to be in the Domincan Republic.  If you were connected and were poor, you wanted compensation for your connections. 

If you ever traveled in the 3rd world, you saw the same temptation of beautiful women who wanted to sleep with you.  Professional ballplayers who made it to the big league would have to learn to deal with these issues too. 

In the Washington Post story, there was one fact that shouts out at a baseball guy.  It was the seven ballfields for about 100 players.  With only 4 ball fields you needed 8 teams.  You needed pitchers on each team.  The math did not add up in the story even if the 100 were divided between the Nationals, the Detroit Tigers and the San Diego Padres.  I smell a rat. 

One critic suggested MLB was attempting to enforce US norms, white gloves, in a place with dirt floors like in the Domincan.  A businessman who conducted business in Latin America between 2002 and 2006 noted graft was everywhere.  “It is the way it is.  Good people will get the shaft because of MLB’s misunderstanding how business is conducted in that part of the world.” 

Ah, when poverty meets wealth.  Valuation and ethics, in good times, in a changing world. 

The newspapers were starting to get a better understanding of all this that media companies never though they would.  Of 3rd world countries.  Of the poor.  Of ethics. Small market teams.  Darwin’s Theory. 

Pay per view was coming to the news media.  Contact your local internet provider.  This was all just a 5-year preview, a lot like the premium channels that Comcast would provide for a weekend in the 1980s.  Soon the Comcasts would be the only one left to gather the news.

“I wanted to play ball — I didn’t bother with the money and that kind of stuff,” young Reyes of the White Sox had told the New York Times.  He was a lot like most guys. 

POST SCRIPT

http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20060702&content_id=1534629&vkey=news_was&fext=.jsp&c_id=was

There was this January 2007 background piece. 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/18/AR2007011802089.html

This article that appeared in the Washington Post serves as quite a background piece to baseball’s investigation into the signing of young ballplayers in the Domincan  Republic.

Jose Rijo was the MVP of the 1990 World Series with the Cincinnati, where Jim Bowden served as general manager for 10 1/2 seasons. In 1987, Rigo established the Jose Rijo Foundation.  Rijo was said to live in the Domincan, and was seen zipping around in his fire engine-red Mercedes convertible, sitting outside the bar he owns in Santo Domingo.  “Everyone who passes seems to know him, yelling and waving. Asked if he would have signed with the Nationals had Rijo not been with the team, Frank Cruz, a 17-year-old infielder, replied swiftly and surely: No.”

And why did everyone who pass, seems to know him?  Because he funneled kids into his youth league. Now Jose Rijo Foundation sponsors the best of those kids at the academy, where they train with weights and take classes.

Washington had hired Manny Acta, a personable, outgoing Dominican, as its field manager last year after firing Frank Robinson. “He has caused our profile down there to explode,” Kasten said, “and that’s a good thing for the future.”

The Nationals had placed a lot of eggs in one basket.  A poor nation was a fragile place, where people took a lot of nuturing.  You had to like an ownership group like the Lerners for taking the chance.  I was pulling for them, for Jose Rijo.  

Maybe an American in the north, in a place like North Dakota where they had no organized hockey in 1975, would identify with Jose Rijo.  Only in the Domincan, no one had money to play baseball. 

 

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1 Comment »

  1. In the PLAYER TO BE NAMED LATER DEPT:  

    Esmailyn Gonzales, the next Andruw Jones, is now known as Carlos Alvares. The Washington Post did an update this past summer concerning a million dollar bonus baby who never quite made it.
     

    According to Wikipedia, Gonzales was later known as Carlos Alvarez (Lugo). On the day that Sports Illustrated broke the item about a fake ID and a fake age, the new Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten, reportedly “visibly angry,” confirmed that Gonzalez’s real name was Carlos Alvarez Lugo. Kasten asked for a further inquiry on top of the Chicago White Sox revelation about bonuses being signing skimmed in the Dominican Republic, promising legal recourse to recover the money paid. In what was called “a deliberate, premeditated fraud” involving a raft of falsified records as well as several people, The Federal Bureau of Investigation was soon investigating Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, suspecting that he had skimmed bonus money from international signees since 1994, when he was with Cincinnati.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/former-nats-prospect-whose-deception-brought-down-the-teams-dominican-operation-is-still-chasing-his-dream/2015/01/01/655c19a4-9069-11e4-a412-4b735edc7175_story.html

    Comment by baseball91 — October 31, 2015 @ 3:30 PM | Reply


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