Chavez Challenges Baseball

Chavez Challenges Baseball


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Lou Meléndez, MLB’s vice president for international operations, was more than miffed

to receive documents that called for instituting employee and player protections and requiring

teams to pay out 10 percent of players’ signing bonuses to the government.



Books By Dave Zirin

Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports (2007)

What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States  (2005) / Muhammad-Ali-Handbook (2007)

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Can’t Knock the Hassle: Chavez Challenges Baseball By Dave Zirin

Marines shouldered bats next to their rifles when they imposed imperial order in a region by blood and fire. Baseball then became for the people of the Caribbean what baseball is to us. – Eduardo Galeano

When Hugo Chávez struck out in his December referendum aimed at overhauling the Venezuelan political system, a small group of overfed men raised their glasses in triumph: the assorted owners of Major League Baseball. Edward Bennett Williams once called them a “Den of Idiots,” and for the last decade, the idiots have descended in vulpine fashion on both the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, marauding like free marketers on steroids in their quest for baseball talent on the cheap. Currently, 30 percent of all minor league players are from the DR alone. Owners love Latin America for the same reason Disney can’t get enough of Haiti: they can sign children for pennies, treat them like trash when they’re finished, and face contact lens-thin regulations for their troubles. The impact on the athletes can be devastating. “Super Mario” Encarnación, once the most prized prospect of the Oakland As, was found dead in a Taipei motel room in October 2006, after an apparent drug overdose. He had been playing at the margins of the semi-pro baseball circuit desperate to not return home a failure to the DR. He returned, only when his friend former AL MVP Miguel Tejada, paid to have his body shipped back to their village from Japan.

Encarnación did do better than Lino Ortiz. The nineteen-year-old pitcher was about to be called up to the Majors when he died from taking an animal steroid in the DR looking for an edge. Steroids are actually legal and available over the counter, but their cost makes them prohibitive. Lino bought his from the pet store and met an all-too-early-death.

After the DR, the country that supplies the most talent in Latin America is Venezuela. There are now more than fifty players from Venezuela in Major League Baseball, including superstars like Johan Santana, Magglio Ordoñez and Miguel Cabrera. In the last twenty years, 200 Venezuelans have played in the Major Leagues with more than 1,000 in the minors. And yet despite this bounty of talent, the idiots are starting to scamper from Venezuela because Hugo Chávez is demanding that owners pay for the privilege of their pillage. Lou Meléndez, MLB’s vice president for international operations, was more than miffed to receive documents that called for instituting employee and player protections and requiring teams to pay out 10 percent of players’ signing bonuses to the government. Chávez wants to tax MLB for what they take from the country.

“We don’t pay federations money for signing players anywhere in the world, and we don’t expect to do so. It’s certainly not a way to conduct business,” huffed Meléndez. “When you see certain industries that are being nationalized, you begin to wonder if they are going to nationalize the baseball industry in Venezuela.”

As ESPN wrote, “There has been speculation, more internal than public so far, that Chávez, a socialist and self-proclaimed revolutionary who took office in 1999, will turn Venezuela into the next Cuba. In other words, some worry that baseball in Venezuela will serve to illustrate (once again) how politics spills over into sport.”

The hypocrisy is stunning. Heaven forefend, there is nothing “political” about a multibillion-dollar business running roughshod over an entire nation with no accountability for the dashed dreams of the 99 percent who don’t make it stateside. And there is surely nothing political about shutting down your baseball academy for fear that the natives might demand business practices that might approximate the humane. Already, the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, and San Diego Padres have cut and run. “We just figured we might as well do it [then] to avoid some of the hassle of having to deal with some of the legislation that Chávez passes down there in hiring coaches, worrying about severance pay, and just getting in and out of the country,” Juan Lara of the Padres told the media. 

This tension exposes the rot at the heart of this relationship. Chávez dares demand regulation and the first instinct of the owners is to flee toward more exploitable ground. Not only is Chávez right to pressure baseball to actually give something back, other countries – the Dominican Republic, in particular – should follow his lead.

Every year, millions of Latin American children are shredded as they reach to escape poverty with a bat and a ball. It’s long past time MLB gave something back to the nations they so blithely upend.

Even an idiot can see that.

Dave Zirin is the author of “Welcome to the Terrordome:” (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by emailing ]]> ]]>This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ]]>Contact him at ]]> ]]>This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ]]>Comment on this article at

Source: Black Agenda Report

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Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock  market. True wealth has more to do with what’s in your heart than what’s in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America’s shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, “Happy can make you money, but money can’t make you happy.”

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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posted 13 March 2008



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