The 2012 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers was very entertaining, even though the dominant four-game sweep by the Giants sucked some of the on-field drama from the games. However, this drama was supplanted by a political context that has not been discussed very much.
This baseball season and World Series showcased the level of talent from Venezuela.
Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers became the 12th player and first Latin American to win the Triple Crown by leading the league in batting average (.330), home runs (44) and runs batted in (139.) He was joined by fellow teammates and compatriots Aníbal Sánchez, Avisail García and Omar Infante in representing Venezuela in the World Series. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants fielded multiple Venezuelans who excelled in their play including José Mijares, Marco Scutaro, Gregor Blanco and Héctor Sánchez. Most notable for the Giants was third baseman and World Series Most Valuable Player Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval had a .500 batting average during the Series and became the fourth player in Major League Baseball history to hit three home runs in a World Series game.
This level of elite talent from Venezuela in Major League Baseball is a testament not only to their ball-playing abilities but to the increasing presence and opportunity for Venezuelans to showcase their skills in Major League Baseball. As baseball historian Rob Ruck stated, “We’ve had any number of exceptional Venezuelan baseball players come on in the last decade and I think that in general Venezuelan baseball has really over the last 20 years become a much more significant part of the game.”
For years, many of Major League Baseball’s Latino players have come from the Dominican Republic. This is no surprise since it is incredibly easy for baseball teams to set up academies there and sign a multitude of players for bonuses that are a fraction of what American prospects would receive. Prospects often are pulled out of school to train full time with their “buscones” and the “buscones” also receive a large percentage of the prospect’s signing bonus if a team negotiates a deal with that player. This system has been fraught with abuse, age/identification fraud by players and exploitation as MLB teams prey on financial desperation and precarity to ensure a massive supply of labor on the cheap. Epy Guerrero, an elite Dominican baseball scout, noted : “[MLB] came here, and I think they took advantage of a community, a republic, which they subjected to their influence… Because this is an exceedingly poor country. The way I see it, they crushed our country.”
The system became such a liability that Major League Baseball has worked in the last few years to curb some of the worst abuses and to ensure basic rights for the prospects.
It was in the realities of this plunder that Hugo Chavez’s government in Venezuela began ensuring that there were basic protections for his nation’s baseball prospects. Instead of “buscones” profiting,10% of a signing bonus would be paid to the government. Chavez’s government has passed regulations ensuring that all contracts for players aged 16-18 will have to be approved by the government, that prospects will receive a proper education even as they continue their baseball training, and that prospects will receive compensation if they are injured.
These basic protections have only added fuel to the anti-Chavez fires that burn in much of the U.S. mainstream media. For refusing to let his country be used as a natural resource to enrich U.S. corporate entities, he has been vilified by the millionaires and billionaires who run the front offices of Major League Baseball and its teams.
It is all too common that western media and the wealthy attack Chavez for a number of his reforms. While criticisms are rightful (i.e., the spate of kidnappings that included Washington Nationals catcher and fellow Venezuelan Wilson Ramos), much of it is the whining of the privileged and those who benefit from a status quo that has its basis in inequality.
Yet, while baseball may become one more space for anti-Venezuela, especially anti-Chavez, rhetoric amongst the government elites, their media outlets and the MLB ownership, a relationship must be maintained with Venezuela by these baseball teams in order to keep access to outstanding players. Baseball has also become a space that allows for the development of internationalized communities – where fans in the United States have the opportunity to cheer for players coming out of Chavez’s Venezuela despite the political animosity between the nations. Ultimately, people should, can and do care about good baseball while simultaneously wanting to ensure that the basic fundamental human dignity of the players being signed is protected whether or not they ever make it to the big leagues and regardless of their home nation’s political relationship with the United States and wealthy elites.