Barefoot boys play ball in the cane fields at Batey 59. Photo by Rob Ruck
In the first four months of 2011, the 188 boys signed by major league organizations received bonuses averaging almost $131,000. Multi-million dollar signing bonuses had become commonplace.By then, Latinos did not only better understand the system, they had figured out how to take advantage of it. MLB never intended it to be that way.
There are win-win reforms, especially ones that could better equip the overwhelming majority of signees who never reach the majors and find the best years of their lives over before they turn twenty-one. MLB could set aside some of its lucre to better prepare boys vocationally and academically. They could give something back to the region that defines the game today with its impassioned virtuosity. Baseball has become the pan-Caribbean pastime; it’s where the game has retained much of it dwindling soul. But that soul is endangered by the dynamics of baseball as business. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Rob Ruck, a member of the Department of History at the University of Pittsburgh, is the author of Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game and The Tropic of Baseball. He and Dan Manatt made the documentary “The Republic of Baseball: Dominican Giants of the American Game,” which aired on PBS.