This week in “Last Week in BizBall“, the Ramos kidnapping shines a light on MLB’s problems in Venezuela, plus tidbits.
MLB’s PROBLEMS IN VENEZUELA
You already know that LWIB, Nationals C Wilson Ramos was both kidnapped and rescued within a span of two days. You also know that these events occurred in Ramos’ native country of Venezuela. The Ramos kidnapping is the first of a Venezuelan on an MLB roster, but in recent years, several former and current Venezuelan major leaguers have had close relatives kidnapped. Victims include the mothers of former pitchers Ugueth Urbina and Victor Zambrano, a son of C Yorvit Torrealba and a brother of C Henry Blanco (ending in murder). These kidnappings involving MLB players constitute a tiny percentage of the annual total in Venezuela. LWIB, the WSJ was amongst the media outlets reporting the following numbers: “…Venezuela's government doesn't publish kidnapping statistics, but a leaked government study that Caracas hasn't denied, based on a survey of the public, estimated there were more than 16,700 kidnappings from July 2008 to July 2009. Abductions grew 40-60% in 2009 from the previous year, the U.S. State Department estimates.” The press reports surrounding the Ramos kidnapping depict an increasingly violent and corrupt Venezuela. (Evidently most citizens believe the police are often involved in kidnappings) Not to trivialize the state of affairs in Venezuela, but this is a baseball blog, and so, the Ramos kidnapping naturally brings attention to the state of baseball in that country.
MLB clubs are increasingly employing a greater percentage of foreign players at both the big league and minor league levels. Venezuela is the third largest producer of players outside the US, behind the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. But while Puerto Rico has been producing fewer players (many believe due to the implementation of the Rule 4 there), Venezuela has been producing more players. According to The Economist’s Game Theory blog, “VENEZUELA has been Major League Baseball’s (MLB) great international success story over the last two decades. In 1994 just 19 Venezuelans appeared in an MLB game; by 2010 90 did.”
Despite their increasing reliance on countries outside the US to produce baseball talent and the success they have had in recruiting players from Venezuela, concerns over the safety of their employees and the clubs’ relationship with the government, have led many MLB teams to abandon their player development infrastructures there. From the aforementioned WSJ piece:
The St. Louis Cardinals suffered four security incidents, a club official said. The landlord of the baseball academy was kidnapped and held at gunpoint for ransom before being released. The academy administrator's husband was also kidnapped and released. One minor league player was in the U.S .when gunmen entered his family home in Venezuela and opened fire, killing several of his relatives. Finally, one of the Cardinals' senior scouts was held up at gunpoint in his home.” And from the aforementioned Game Theory post:
“…Exchange controls and other restrictive laws can make doing business a headache. Government officials have murmured about taxing signing bonuses. And earlier this year, the parliament passed a new sports law that many see as threatening the very existence of a local professional baseball league. It requires that private sponsorship revenues—which make up almost three-quarters of the winter league’s income—be allocated according to guidelines laid down by the government-run National Sports Institute. The debate over the law made it clear that the government aspires to control sports bodies just as it does other areas of national life.
As a result, MLB clubs have been packing their bags. In contrast to the Dominican Republic, where all 30 MLB teams operate baseball academies to capture local talent, just five will remain open next year, down from 21 in 2002. The pioneering Houston Astros left in 2008 after 20 years.
Although no MLB team can afford to ignore the Venezuelan talent market, most are looking for other ways to sign up future stars, such as joint ventures with local teams. Upon signing, usually at age 16, players for teams without local academies are now quickly whisked off to the safer Dominican Republic…”
SELECT READ MORE TO SEE THIS WEEK'S TIDBITS
- The Boston Globe published an investigative piece which concluded that, “Over the last nine years, the Boston Red Sox have increased their revenue by an estimated $45 million through the use of two streets that city officials handed over for a relative pittance: an average of $186,000 a year in lease fees.” Specifically, the reporters are referencing the Red Sox’ exclusive rights to commercial activity on Yawkey Way during game days and the “air rights” over Lansdowne Street, where the club constructed some very lucrative seats and standing-room spots atop the Green Monster (an obviously brilliant concept). The article is extensive and well researched. In tone, it is in keeping with the “sweetheart public deals for grotesquely wealthy pro sports owners” theme. The one dissenting voice is noted sports economist Andrew Zimbalist who “believes the city made the best deal it could at the time, since it created an incentive for the team to remain at Fenway.” The Yawkey Way/Lansdowne lease expires in 13 and according to the piece it is likely the city will obtain a greater share of the revenues when it is renegotiated. If you want a caustic take on the situation, we know we can always count on Neal deMause.
- The Cubs lowered prices on some of their ticket inventory. In particular, “Season tickets for bleacher seats will decline by an average of 14.3% per game; individual games will fall by an average of 10.3%.” Read Ed Sherman.
- “The A's took another incremental step in their quest for a stadium in San Jose on Tuesday when the San Jose City Council voted 10-1 to approve extending a land-purchase option to the team.” Susan Slusser has more details. Does anybody outside northern California care at this point? I don’t (no offence to Susan) and I don’t think Neal deMause does either
- At the end of the 10 season, the Triple A Portland Beavers were left homeless because their ballpark was converted into a soccer-only stadium. Padres owner Jeff Moorad purchased the franchise, currently playing in Tucson, with a plan that he would eventually locate it in the San Diego suburb of Escondido. Of course, all this is predicated on the city of Escondido constructing a new ballpark. As is typical, the city is searching for state redevelopment money….which is tied up in a lawsuit….and Moorad is publicly musing about selling the franchise and….just read Ballpark Digest.
- Any “ballpark grass” (no, not a particular strain of marijuana ideal for baseball viewing) aficionados out there? The Nationals are replacing their grass after four seasons. Is this a typical cycle, or did somebody screw it up four years ago? Dan Steinberg has a photo. (HT Joel Hammond)
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Pete Toms is senior writer for the Business of Sports Network, most notably, The Biz of Baseball. He looks forward to your comments and can be contacted through The Biz of Baseball.
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