A Whole Different Ballgame

Baseball, steroids, and MLB's Latin plantations

CP: Lately there's been a great fuss in this country about steroids in major league baseball. Has that been accompanied by any efforts to get more serious about enforcement in Latin America?

Marcano: If you ask MLB, they will say they are doing a great job in Latin America. But if you go there, you don't see it. You don't see any kind of educational materials. Major league baseball should be implementing the drug-testing program in the Venezuelan Summer League and the Dominican Summer League, which are considered rookie leagues, the same as the ones in Florida. But as far as I know, they aren't. They only do the drug testing when players get to the United States.

CP: There's been a controversy in the American media over why the Latino players have been disproportionately represented among players testing positive for steroids. Some say it's a language issue in part, and others that it's a reflection of the system they came out of, in which there's a lot of desperation and a will to do anything to get ahead. What do you think?

Author Arturo Marcano is also a legal adviser to Venezuelan players
Courtesy of Indiana University Press
Author Arturo Marcano is also a legal adviser to Venezuelan players

Marcano: I think it's a combination of both. I think many of these players have been through a lot in the process of getting to the major leagues, or even the minor leagues, and basically their motivation is to make it. Many of these players are using steroids knowingly; they're willing to take chances. That has to be a factor with some of the players.

In other instances the language is a big problem. Many people in the media really have no idea how uneducated these players are. These players, especially the ones from the Dominican Republic, have never even gone to high school. They have no education at all. The way baseball works in Latin America, these players need to be playing baseball full-time from the time they are 12 or 13. They have no chance to go to school even if they want to go to school, and even if their families have the money to send them to school. They have to give up everything for baseball.

Honestly, many of these players have trouble speaking Spanish. I've had numerous conversations with major league baseball players in which it was difficult for me to understand what they were saying, even though I was speaking Spanish with them. When people talk about language being a problem with these players, they assume the players have an education similar to that of players in the US, but in reality that's not the case. Many have no education and have never gone to school. They are left dependent on other people. They have to trust other people. I can also clearly see players just taking things that are given to them without knowing anything about baseball rules or steroid policies, because they will do anything for a chance and they don't know better.

CP: Have the governments in Venezuela or the Dominican Republic tried to regulate baseball's activities there?

Marcano: They try from time to time. In the Dominican Republic, they passed a regulation to prohibit MLB from operating its baseball academies during school hours, so that players could go to school. But teams just didn't follow the rules. In the Dominican Republic, the government's not going to do anything to hurt the possibility of players making it to the major leagues, even though it means they have to accept abuses. It's ironic, but it's the way the system works.

In Venezuela, the Congress has been analyzing for the past two years a baseball law. What this law would do is to regulate some of the activities of the academies, and the scouts. As far as I know, MLB is not willing to follow the proposed rules. There have been discussions with the Venezuelan Congress. I don't know which politician would take the chance of doing something to scare major league baseball teams. I don't know anybody right now who's really willing to do that. In the DR, baseball is so powerful in the culture that I don't know how they can regulate it. In the end, major league baseball has all the power in that relationship.

CP: Have you received any attention or offers of support from the players' association in major league baseball, or are they on the same page with the owners?

Marcano: They're completely on the same page with the owners. Their main argument is that they do not represent minor league players. That's the official reason the players' association is not involved in these issues. Every time we have raised these problems to the MLBPA, including Donald Fehr, their only answer is, We cannot do anything. They would have to invest money in Latin America to do something, and I don't think they're willing to do that.

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