The Dominican Republic’s Greatest Export

July 31st, 2020

By Monty South

Podcast Summary

Hello everyone! Today we will be looking at the first ever “When the Lights Go Out” Podcast. This episode was hosted by Mufaddal, with Monty and Eli on as the co-hosts. In this episode we explored the complex relationship between the MLB and the Dominican Republic, and why they represent such a large portion of the MLB’s player pool.

In this edition of “When the Lights Go Out” we initially focused on how the relationship between the MLB and the Dominican Republic was established. In quick terms, baseball was brought from Cuba to Spain when Cubans fled their country to escape their war for independence with Spain. Then a century later, when Fidel Castro banned immigration from Cuba into the United States, the MLB found an alternative to Cuban recruits in the Dominican Republic with an already existing baseball infrastructure. The sub-optimal economic conditions in the Dominican Republic also appealed to the MLB since this would allow the league to acquire many talents for a much lower cost than their American counterparts.

Fast forwarding to modern day, because of the system that the US built in the Dominican Republic, high potential baseball players are now recruited by “Buscones” (shady pseudo-agent figures) in middle school who help them sign with local MLB academies before they develop to the point where they are called up to the Minor Leagues in the United States. On the surface this may not seem like a terrible situation for the Dominican Republic, but when you look deeper you can see this system exploits the individual players and deskills the entire economy of the Dominican Republic.

The MLB specifically targets younger players from the Dominican Republic not only because they have more time to develop as players, but also because they aren’t old enough to look out for themselves and their families are typically desperate for whatever money they can get. However, even this isn’t enough for the MLB who frequently use tactics to reduce players’ values further by increasing the time it takes for the players to sign on signing day. This system also hurts the country as a whole in that it has now forced the Dominican Republic’s economy to be almost completely centered on Baseball since their players are now their biggest export. As a whole this podcast focuses on the many ways in which the MLB exploits the Dominican Republic and how they set up the system to do so.

My Thoughts

The MLB, like all sports leagues, is a business at the end of the day. Like many businesses, the MLB tries to find every way they can save on costs to help their bottom line. Unfortunately, when you have an organization as large and influential as the MLB, the decisions they make to cut costs can have large impacts even on those not directly a part of the company. As a result of this, I truly believe that companies like the MLB really need to consider the ethical implications of every decision they make; a thought process that it appears the MLB has not gone through in regards to their impact on the Dominican Republic.

As we discussed in the podcast, there are many ways in which the current system is detrimental to the players in the Dominican Republic and the entire country as a whole. It’s because of this that I really think the league needs to adjust how they operate within the Dominican Republic to share some of the fruits of the current exploitative system with those they are currently taking advantage of. Specifically, as a company that made 10.7 BILLION dollars in 2019, the MLB should really consider investing a good amount of this profit into the Dominican Republic. To elaborate, I think the MLB should begin requiring teams to provide the opportunity for all of their Dominican recruits to finish their educations through the high school level. While this will require a significant immediate contribution on the MLB’s part it could wind up helping the MLB in the long term as well. As Eli mentioned, investing into the Dominican Republic, a nation that already loves the game of baseball, could help improve the economy to the point where many individuals would then be able to spend their free money on merchandise, streaming of MLB games, and many other ways that would directly benefit the MLB.

EDIT August 6th, 2020:

In order to give more in-depth background information to specific content in the podcast, Monty has decided to add in the following note:

In the podcast, we discussed the ability of MLB teams to question the age of a prospect from the Dominican Republic and not allow them to sign their contracts until this issue had been resolved. This delay leads to the players not being able to sign at their maximum values to franchises. The MLB has a good reason for this rule however with it being common practice, especially before this rule change, for agents/scouts to encourage their players from the Dominican Republic to lie about their ages to increase their values to MLB teams. As a result of this, the MLB had to make the changes that now sometimes hurt the players from the Dominican Republic.

Post and Podcast Sources

  1. https://www.citylab.com/life/2019/10/world-series-where-mlb-baseball-players-from-dominican/600439/
  2. https://www.mlb.com/news/mlb-rosters-feature-251-international-players
  3. https://sabr.org/research/path-sugar-mill-or-path-millions-mlb-baseball-academies-effect-dominican-republic
  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/aliciajessop/2013/03/19/the-secrets-behind-the-dominican-republics-success-in-the-world-baseball-classic-and-mlb/#114fd5d8285f
  5. Spagnuolo, “Swinging for the Fence,” 271.
  6. Spagnuolo, “Swinging for the Fence,” 273.
  7. https://www.minorleagueball.com/2013/4/9/4203922/baseball-academies-in-the-dominican-republic-from-sweatshops-to-big
  8. https://sabr.org/research/path-sugar-mill-or-path-millions-mlb-baseball-academies-effect-dominican-republic#sdfootnote39sym
  9. https://www.forbes.com/sites/maurybrown/2019/12/21/mlb-sees-record-107-billion-in-revenues-for-2019/#60685edc5d78

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