In Detroit and San Francisco, euphoria abounded when the Tigers and Giants made it to the World Series. And in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, fans were joyous, too. The Giants’ and Tigers’ playoff rosters have a combined 18 players from those two countries — nine from each.
A record 36 percent of players in baseball’s premier showcase are foreign-born, an average consistent with the numbers of overseas players on the 30 major league baseball teams. In the minor leagues, from which major league rosters evolve, more than 50 percent are foreign-born. Some come from India, Latvia and a New Zealand Maori tribe, none of which have any traditional association with baseball.
Once lovingly referred to as the national pastime and America’s game, baseball now reflects the globalism that dominates the corporate world. Make no mistake about it. Baseball is big business, driven exclusively by profit considerations. Owners sign players from Latin America cheaper than they could from college campuses like the University of Texas or the University of South Carolina, two schools that traditionally dominate the NCAA College World Series. Longhorns’ coach Augie Garrido says that for his young players, the last NCAA game they play is the final organized baseball game they ever participate in. When it comes to signing MLB contracts, college kids lose out to cheaper foreign-born players. MLB operates camps to coach its young signees in the Dominican and, until the political climate got too hot, in Venezuela also.
What triggered the shift away from American ball players was an under the radar legislative change that eliminated visa caps for minor league players. The COMPETE Act, signed by former President George W. Bush in 2006 without congressional debate or a roll call vote, created the new “P” visa which could be issued in unlimited numbers to baseball prospects. The “P” represents not only an opportunity for players to legally migrate to and work in the United States but might also eventually lead to permanent residency. Bush owned the Texas Rangers from 1989 to 1994.
Before COMPETE, players had to come on an H-2B visa that was strictly limited. Since all types of seasonal workers could use the H-2B, applicants quickly filled up the 66,000 ceiling. The visa changes present serious challenges to American teens hoping to make the big leagues. Instead of signing hundreds of U.S. amateurs out of high school — the traditional business model for stocking minor-league rosters — teams draft fewer U.S. kids and sign more so-called non-draft free agents, the vast majority of them Latin American teenagers.
Many fans argue that Dominican and Venezuelan players are among the best. I counter that Americans are just as good and assuming you believe that when it comes to jobs, the United States should get the first opportunity. Even the most ardent fan forgets that playing baseball is America’s best job. Only 750 positions are available; the starting MLB salary is $450,000 and the average, $3.5 million. Mediocre players easily earn $6-8 million annually. Twenty make more than $20 million; the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez tops the salary chart at an astronomical $30 million.
Given the current and likely irreversible trend toward signing more foreign-born players, the day is not too far off when your favorite team’s line up will have fewer Americans than players from all over the globe. That’s a shame because as fewer Americans play, the nation’s longstanding, rich historic ties to baseball may gradually come undone.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior writing fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1986. Guzzardi is also a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association and the Society for American Baseball Research. Contact him at [email protected].