Baseball has warts. Imperfect people create a flawed baseball system. We love the game, but some things need to change. Many of the warts are off the field and behind the scenes. They often impact vulnerable players progressing through the Minor Leagues. Some warts become public with dramatic headlines and scandals, but they often exist out of sight to most fans. Removing the warts is painful, but necessary. People like Eddie Dominguez work to clean up baseball every day.
In the aftermath of the Mitchell Report, Major League Baseball created the Department of Investigations (DOI). Baseball’s own investigators assigned to root out problems surrounding the game. Eddie Dominguez was an original member of the DOI. He previously worked with MLB and the Red Sox while with the Boston Police Department. Dominguez recounts his work with the DOI in Baseball Cop: The Dark Side of America’s National Pastime.
Eddie Dominguez’s work with MLB and the DOI is a gripping story. Multiple scandals played out in public, while others stayed in the shadows. Dominguez translates the DOI’s work, steering away from a police story designed only for those well versed in law enforcement. There is a need to police baseball and the world revolving around the game. When money can be made, people can show their worst side. The most vulnerable within the game need protecting.
Baseball Cop is an engaging book that follows baseball’s recent dark history. Baseball Cop: The Dark Side of America’s National Pastime by Eddie Dominguez hits a solid Triple (7) in our score book.
Spoilers if you continue reading beyond this point. You have been warned.
Baseball Cop is worth your time to learn about the ugly side of baseball. (Hachette Books)
Baseball produces many positives, however there are negatives. The DOI is tasked with investigating and stopping those harming people and the game. Human traffickers control the futures of players, particularly those defecting from Cuba. The traffickers harass, intimidate, and extort players after they arrive in the United States and sign professional contracts. Living their baseball dreams can turn a player’s life into a nightmare.
The abuse of players can start the moment their professional career begins. Coaches and advisers skim part or all of a player’s signing bonus. Signing a professional contract changes the lives of many players and their family, especially those from Latin America. Skimming the signing bonus perpetuates the poverty players are trying to escape.
Beyond the abuse of players, baseball’s concern focuses on what players put in their bodies. The Mitchell Report was an embarrassment, and MLB has sought, at least publicly, to clean itself up. Cracking down on Performance-Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) was top priority for then Commissioner Bud Selig. Baseball instituted harsher penalties for failed drug tests and began investigating the sources of the PEDs. The DOI focused on a Florida health clinic, Biogenesis, run by Tony Bosch. Their investigation connected several players to the clinic and its PEDs. The most prominent player associated with Biogenesis, and Bosch, was Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez eventually received the longest suspension in baseball history for his involvement.
The investigation into Biogenesis exposed cracks between the DOI and MLB. The investigation included the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Baseball did not want another public embarrassment like the Mitchell Report. MLB wanted the Biogenesis case handled in house. The clash between the DOI and MLB played out alongside the investigation.
There are limits to baseball’s willingness to clean itself up. Baseball Cop exposes the good and the bad within baseball. Hopefully the good has a winning record.
Teams with large payrolls are not guaranteed to win championships. In sports the more talented the player, the more expensive their services become once they reach free agency, thus teams with large payrolls are filled with players who are, or at one time were, extremely talented at their chosen profession. The road to a championship requires a commitment to excellence, and for the 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers that journey was just beginning.
The Best Team Money Can Buy by Molly Knight explores the transition of the Dodgers from the disastrous ownership tenure of Frank McCourt to the new ownership of Mark Walter. Knight explores the team on the field, in the front office, and the world around them. Major League Baseball understood the value of ensuring the transition from McCourt to Walter went smoothly and acted in the best interest of baseball.
*Spoilers beyond this point.*
Knight does an excellent job of examining the players on and off the field. The Dodgers to securing their ace, Clayton Kershaw, for the long term was critical to the health of the team. If Kershaw was able to walk away from the Dodgers, like Zack Greinke eventually did, the immediate future for the team would have been about building towards division not World Series titles. Los Angeles’ front office knew their fans would turn on the team if Kershaw was allowed to walk. Resigning Kershaw was as much a baseball move as it was a public relations move. Contrasting the focus and dominance of Kershaw was the explosion of Yasiel Puig. The willingness to sign a relatively unknown talent was a risk, however the excitement Puig brought with him to the Dodgers out weighed the risk in the eyes of the fans. Puig’s experience with his teammates and the insight Knight provides shows the difficulty many Latin American players have in adjusting to life in the United States, especially Cuban players. Puig’s near instant success meant he found some of the pitfalls that caused other superstars stumble. While electrifying on the field, Puig’s antics off the field and in the clubhouse rubbed many of his teammates the wrong way. This left manager Don Mattingly with the delicate job of keeping Puig happy while not alienating the rest of the team. This challenge was made even more difficult as the Dodgers showed little faith in Mattingly, who never felt secure in his job while in Los Angeles. This constant balancing act in the clubhouse made performing on the field more difficult than normal. The internal drama was overshadowed as the ownership regime of Frank McCourt came crashing down all around Dodger Stadium.
The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse (Simon & Schuster)
Prior to owning the Dodgers, Frank McCourt owned a parking lot in south Boston. He attempted to buy the Red Sox and move them to a new stadium that he would construct on his parking lot. When this plan failed he turned his attention to the Dodgers. McCourt had bigger dreams than bank accounts, but was able to purchase the Dodgers with loans he secured by putting the parking lot up as collateral. Eventually the loans went unpaid and the parking lot was seized. Ultimately the Dodgers were sold to McCourt for a parking lot in south Boston.
McCourt ran the Dodgers into the ground. He had little interest in the team beyond how they could make him richer. As his personal life went up in flames he attempted to hold onto the Dodgers through a television deal that would pay him enough to remain owner after his divorce was finalized. Major League Baseball was forced to step in to prevent the deal. His divorce turning nasty and dragging on, McCourt was ordered to sell the team. The Dodger fan base was skeptical of new owner Mark Walter. However, Walter was only interested in winning. Signing fan favorite Andre Ethier to an over priced contract was more of a public relations deal than a smart baseball deal. Walter understood he had to win back the fans after many had rightly walked away under McCourt. Winning was the most important thing, money would solve some problems but not everything.
The early building blocks of the perennial contender the Dodgers have become were laid in 2013. Molly Knight examines the circumstances surround the team during this critical time, yet she also helps the reader understand why the rebirth of the Dodgers is so important to baseball. She does an excellent job of exposing the personalities on the team that made the team successful and struggle. Sports teams are often not seen as being made up of people, but Knight makes you see the quirks and craziness that each player brings to the Dodger clubhouse. Molly Knight’s work in The Best Team Money Can Buy is as critical to the understanding of baseball’s current state as Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. Money does not guarantee championships, as baseball cannot be bought and sold, but it does not hurt.
Jose Fernandez’s tragic death has left much of the baseball and Cuban community feeling numb. How else do you describe the feeling when a young man loses his life? It does not matter if you loved the flair and passion he played with, you could not question Fernandez’s heart. His love for life and the game of baseball was on full display any time you saw Fernandez. He wanted to win and have a good time doing it. This led to some confrontations after watching his homeruns or being thrown at. You might not like his style of play, personally I loved it, but I doubt many people would not want him on their team.
Just because you play in the Majors doesn’t mean you can’t watch the fireworks like you still play little league. (Fish@Bat)
The measure of a baseball player’s greatness often resides in the numbers. Four numbers are all you need to know about Jose Fernandez.
24 Jose Fernandez’s age at the time of his tragic death. No parent or grandparent should ever have to bury a child. It is an unspeakable pain that has no equal.
4 The number of times Jose Fernandez attempted to defect from Cuba to the United States. America is far from perfect; we as a nation have many flaws that need addressing. Despite our collective shortcomings, people from all over the world risks their lives to come here for the chance at a better life. Not every one of them has the athletic talent of Jose Fernandez, but they are willing to risk their lives to find freedom and opportunity. The boats that many Cubans have used in their attempts to escape Castro Cuba have not always been seaworthy. Thousands of Cubans have drowned attempting to make it to south Florida and Mexico. Jose Fernandez was one of the lucky ones to have survived the dangers four times. The bravery required in a single attempt to defect via boat is greater than many people require in a lifetime. Fernandez’s fourth, and successful, attempt to defect occurred when he was just 15 years old. What was your greatest challenge at 15? Not many people can say escaping from oppression by boat.
3 The number of times Jose Fernandez was unsuccessful in making it to America. Each failure and return to Cuba meant a prison sentence and greater government scrutiny upon release for himself and his family and close friends. How many of us are willing to continue trying to achieve a goal if we have failed three times, even if the risks of injury or a long prison sentence are not high? Now amplify that to include the very real possibility of dying. I doubt there would be many willing to try.
1 Jose Fernandez was going to be a Dad. His child and girlfriend will miss him every day.
Jose Fernandez loved baseball and life, and it was easy to see. (Steve Mitchell)
While what Jose Fernandez did on the baseball field was not unimportant, it does not compare to what he did and was off. Much the way the death of Oscar Taveras was shocking and sad, the sudden death of Jose Fernandez is a somber reminder that baseball is just a game. We have lost a great pitcher, but the Fernandez family has lost a son, grandson, and a soon to be Dad. This is the real tragedy.
Rest in Peace Jose. Thank you for sharing your love for life and baseball with us. You will be missed.
The Tampa Bay Rays and a host of dignitaries from Major League Baseball were part of the thawing of tensions between the United States and Cuba on Tuesday. President Obama became the first American President to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge when he visited the island in an attempt to build relations between to two nations. Baseball provides some distraction from the real events taking place. The embargo on Cuba is receding and for the first time under either Fidel or Raul Castro’s rule, Cuba is slowly opening itself to the United States and the rest of the world. Sports, especially baseball, have played an integral part in the process and the game between the Rays and the Cuban National team was as much ceremonial as it was competition.
It was a packed house in Cuba to watch the Cuban National Team face the Tampa Bay Rays. (Yamil Lage/ AFP/ Getty Images)
Sports can act as a bridge when traditional diplomacy runs into a wall. The past is littered with examples of how sports have overcome seemingly impassable obstacles in domestic and international relations. The thawing of the relationship between the United States and Cuba is just the latest chapter. The embargo on Cuba has meant increased isolation for Cubans, who were left to live their lives under a repressive regime that concerns itself with control over everything else. This repression has led thousands of Cubans, if not more, to risk their lives to leave the island through any means possible. As Dan Le Batard, the son of Cuban exiles, of the Miami Herald wrote,
“The ocean between our countries is filled with the Cuban bodies that tell the story, lives literally thrown to the wind in desperation, hoping to reach America’s possibility-soaked shores on boats made of old tires and wood and poverty’s debris.”
The pain and anger for Cubans, both in and out of Cuba, is real. Families have been indefinitely separated through no fault of their own. Countless lives have been lost when boats and rafts, ill suited for crossing the Straits of Florida, sink or capsize. Their human cargo like flotsam in the water floating miles away from land. Cubans have gone to desperate lengths to escape their homeland. Le Batard makes it crystal clear that the pain Cubans who have made it out is not self inflicted. They are not immigrants, rather they are exiles. The difference between willingly leaving your home and being forced to leave. Cubans want to reunite with their families, but the Castro regime continues to prevent this.
Hope remains, no matter how long it takes, that some day all Cubans can be reunited. The politics of Cuba and between Cuba and the United States begin at the foul lines during the Rays game. The game on the field is only a piece of the larger diplomatic puzzle. Normalizing relations between the two countries does not bring back the lives lost in the Straits of Florida, nor do they replace the years of separation between families. Yasiel Puig, Orlando and Livan Hernandez, and numerous other prospective baseball players endured harrowing trips in pursuit of freedom using human smugglers. Jose Abreu took a boat with other members of his family to the Dominican Republic. Aroldis Chapman defected while in the Netherlands for a baseball tournament. Every story of defection is about starting a new life, but it is also about the life the players leave behind.
Cubans have used everything they can to escape to freedom. (AP Photo/ Hans Deryk)
Several Cuban players were reunited with their families this week. Jose Abreu was reunited with his five year old son this week after a three year separation. Do you think that weighs on his mind more than striking out? Imagine having to leave your family when your child is two years old and not seeing them again until they are five. What about leaving on a boat in the middle of the night and not knowing if you will ever see your parents again? The dangers are real for Cubans fleeing oppression both for personal safety, but also losing part of who you are.
There is no easy, plausible solution to the the situation. Cuban exiles want the Castros out of power and the Castros want to remain in power. The oppression in Cuba is real. If it was not, it is doubtful that so many would risk their lives to find freedom. The American presidential campaign season has brought xenophobia to the dinner table. However, at our core, I believe, America remains the refuge for the oppressed. The Cuban Adjustment Act, or Wet Feet, Dry Feet Policy, remains in place only for Cubans. The Cuban embargo is a remnant of the Cold War, but the United States remains a safe haven for those who seek peace and justice. President Obama is using Major League Baseball in an attempt to invite Cuba to play nice in other political dealings.. Baseball is a tool that can be used given the passion for the sport in both nations. While this excursion in Havana may not bring down the Castro regime and create a free and open Cuba, at least the United States has changed its stance and is probing for an opening to help end the suffering of all Cubans.
How long will Cuban baseball players have to risk it all to reach freedom to play the game they love? (Lisa Shires, Your Shot, National Geographic)
Cuba, its politics, and its love of baseball are alive and well in south Florida. The Miami Marlins may not set records with their attendance, the good ones at least, but there is a reason Marlins Park is situated in the middle of Little Havana. Ownership hopes to draw more fans, especially Cuban fans. The stadium rises high above the working class homes that surround it. The big apartment buildings, shops, and restaurants have not followed the team just yet. The neighborhood is still its own. Last September during a trip to Miami and the Florida Keys, my girlfriend and I dutifully stopped by just to see Marlins Park. The Marlins were out of town, so there was only so much we could see.
On the advice of one of the men working inside the team gift shop we went to lunch at Morro Castle. It is a non-descript building with bars on the windows of the dining room instead of glass. The open air cafe sits about a mile down the street from the stadium. Everything inside is in Spanish, but distinctly Cuban. Not reading or understanding Spanish, I ordered through pointing and hand gestures. The food was as amazing as you would hope. The authentic feel of being the visitor to not only Morro Castle, but also Little Havana, transported us the roughly 100 miles south to Cuba.
Little Havana feels and tastes like Cuba, but the exiles living there know they are not home. (The Winning Run)
No matter how much the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami feels like Cuba, it is not Cuba. The neighborhood is full of exiles, not immigrants. People who want to go home, who want to be reunited with family and friends, people who want the Castro regime to live only in the history books. The politics of Cuba exists in Little Havana and throughout south Florida. Jose Fernandez is a fan favorite, he is a phenom on the mound, and a Cuban exile like so many in Little Havana. Fidel and Raul Castro, and their regime, are the devil incarnate for these Cuban exiles. Understandably, they do not have time or sympathy for anyone who disagrees with the experiences they have personally lived through. Ozzie Guillen’s tenure as the Marlins Manager was not destined to last long when in 2012 he spoke of his respect for Fidel Castro. Regardless of the point that Guillen, a Venezuelan, was trying to make, invoking Castro in a positive light meant he was a supporter in the eyes of the Cuban exiles. Guillen was suspended five games for his comments by the Marlins and was fired at the end of the 2012 season. A solid manager, but his comments on his respect for Fidel Castro has meant he has talked his way out of American baseball. No Major League team has been willing to hire him with this sort of baggage, among other reasons. The Cuban community, especially in south Florida, does not waver in its collective hatred for the Castros nor their desire for the regime to become a painful memory of the past.
Baseball may be the tool necessary to create better relations between the United States and Cuba. The dialogue between President Obama and Raul Castro could lead to a breakthrough decades in the making. Baseball diplomacy could also fail to change anything in Cuba, and simply provide a brief glimpse into life of the island. Only time will tell if the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team helped to change policies designed to isolate the communist regime. Baseball, and all sports, allow political battles to be fought on the athletic field instead of the battlefield. The passion for baseball remains strong in both countries. The personal toll on the Cuban community both on the island and in exile continues to mount as more Cubans are dying trying to reach freedom and families continue to be separated from one another due to politics. Sports can work to unite people, let’s hope that baseball can start the path towards reunifying the Cuban people and ending the suffering of so many.
Rudolf Anderson, Jr. was born in Spartanburg, SC in September of 1927, the same year that the infamous Murderers’ Row proved to be its most effective, posting a .714 winning percentage for the regular season, and defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates in four games to win the World Series. That same year Joseph Jefferson Jackson was living in south Georgia operating a dry cleaners, the Savannah Valet Service, after having managed the Waycross Coastliners to a state championship two years prior. The same season he played center field for the Coastliners batting .577, even occasionally switching sides to bat for both teams.
Years earlier, in 1919, the man who owned the Savannah Valet Service, had been know as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. He had been one of the most dramatic offensive weapons in Major League Baseball. He batted .351 for the season, fourth best in the Majors, behind Ty Cobb, Bobby Veach, and George Sisler, had 181 hits, behind only Cobb and Veach (both had 191), and led the majors in at bats per strikeout, striking out on average only once per 51.6 AB. By comparison, the 2013 leader, Nori Aoki, had one strikeout for every 14.9 AB. Putting that into math terms, Aoki struck out 3.46 times more often last season than Jackson did in 1919.
Four years after the 1919 Black Sox scandal had rocked Major League Baseball, Jackson was still playing baseball, albeit in the minor leagues in Georgia and South Carolina. During this time he was still pleading with Kennesaw Mountain Landis, named baseball’s first commissioner in 1920 in attempts to repair baseballs image, to reinstate him into the game. In 1921 a jury in Chicago found the eight men accused not guilty of any wrongdoing in relation to the series. Despite this, Landis continued his refusal to reinstate of any of the players associated with the scandal.
In 1933 Jackson moved back to his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina and played for a few minor league teams. At the same time he opened up a short lived BBQ restaurant, and later a liquor store on Pendleton Street in Greenville. Jackson operated the liquor store until his death on December 5, 1951.
In 1944, and the aforementioned Rudolf Anderson, Jr. had moved with his family to Greenville, South Carolina and he enrolled at Clemson University studying textile manufacturing. During his time at school he was involved across campus, from intramural football, basketball, swimming, and softball. Most importantly to his life and his place in history though, he was involved with the Air Force ROTC program.
Anderson did not possess the ability to catch things as well as Jackson. In his senior year Anderson was on the third floor of the campus barracks when a pigeon flew into the hall. Anderson chased the bird down the hall and failed to stop before he fell out of the window, hitting the eaves over the door on the way down. He suffered a completely dislocated wrist, fractured pelvis, and lacerations to the head.
After graduation, Anderson joined the Air Force. He served time in Korea earning two Distinguished Flying Crosses for reconnaissance missions flown over Korea in his RF-86 Sabre. Four years after the ceasefire in Korea, he qualified on the U-2 and joined the 4088th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. There he logged over 1,000 hours making him the top U-2 pilot the wing had to offer.
In 1962 a large influx of people and supplies from the USSR to Cuba, then President John F. Kennedy directed Strategic Air Command to fly reconnaissance over Cuba to investigate the nature of the shipments. The 4088th was tasked with the assignment, and after flyovers by Major Richard Heyser and Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr, photographic proof of ballistic missile sites on Cuba became available. On October 22 the President addressed the United States for nearly 18 minutes detailing the gravity of the situation.
October 14-28, better known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, saw the two superpowers, the US and USSR play a game of brinksmanship that has never been matched. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was discussed as a realistic option, whereby both parties would destroy the other with their entire nuclear arsenal, effectively ending all life. Not unlikely, was the start of World War III.
It was during this time that Major Anderson met his fate. On October 27th, Anderson was flying yet another reconnaissance mission over Cuba in a U-2 when he was shot down. It was expected that shrapnel from the explosion punctured his suit and caused it to decompress at an operating altitude of 70,000 (13.25 miles). Major Anderson would become the only combat death of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The surface to air missile that shot him down was fired without permission from the Kremlin. Both Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev quickly realized that nuclear war was rapidly becoming a reality and would likely be caused not by the leaders, but a panicky soldier or commander on the ground. The two sides quickly realized their inevitable loss of control and reeled back the hostilities, and on October 28th, the Crisis was averted. The Soviets publicly agreeing to dismantle all missile bases in Cuba, and the US publicly agreeing to not invade Cuba. Privately, the US also agreed to remove its Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy.
Major Rudolf Anderson may have been the most important death of the 20th century. His death highlighted the uncontrollable state of affairs that was unfolding and started the serious communication between the White House and the Kremlin that led to the end of the standoff. Without this dialogue, the reality of a worldwide nuclear holocaust was very real.
President Kennedy posthumously awarded Anderson the Air Force Cross. In 1963, the City of Greenville erected a memorial in honor of the downed pilot. Renovated, the monument, made from an F86-Sabre similar to the one he had flown in Korea, was unveiled again in October 2012 in Cleveland Park in Greenville, South Carolina.
Shoeless Joe has been more recently memorialized in the City of Greenville as well with a statue It can be located near Fluor Field, home of the Greenville Drive, Boston’s single A affiliate. Across the street from the stadium is Jackson’s house. It was moved from its original location to 356 Field Street in Greenville. The home has been transformed into the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum which is free to tour. The house was give street number 356 in recognition of his lifetime batting average, which remains the third highest all time behind Cobb(.366) and Hornsby (.359) .
Ultimately these men have only have a few things in common. Both men were able to achieve their dream, Maj. Anderson in the Air Force, and Shoeless Joe in Major League Baseball. Both men’s dreams ended abruptly, in ways that neither likely expected. The other thing that they share is Greenville. They both grew up there, and it is now where they are each buried. In fact, they are both buried in the same cemetery, Woodlawn Memorial Park. The cemetery is located across from Bob Jones University in Greenville and is open to the public.
Shoeless Joe’s place in baseball history will always be one of contention, whether he was a hero, a villain, or someone stuck in a no win situation. Maj. Anderson’s place in history, sadly, is a largely forgotten one despite his overall importance. In the words of Art LaFluer in The Sandlot “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” In their hometown of Greenville, each man is regarded as both.
Yasiel Puig‘s bat flip in Game 3 of the NLCS, and his celebration when he was standing on third base with a stand up triple, has led to discussions of where he was trying to show up the St. Louis Cardinals and whether he fully understands how to play the game. I do not think he was trying to show anyone up, I think it was his natural reaction to getting a big hit in a big situation. He has gone from defecting from Cuba to playing in the NLCS in less than a year and a half. Caribbean baseball has its own flair, while in the United States it tends to be less of a party. Neither style of play is correct, both reflect the players and fans who attend the games. So forgive Puig if he has not mastered the intricacies of American baseball culture in the last 16 months.
The discussion which should be had is that Puig’s bat flip and lack of hustle out of the box could have cost himself an extra base and the Dodgers a potential run. Yes, Puig got to third base standing up, but what if it is not Carlos Beltran in right field. What if it is Vladimir Guerrero out there and the ball does not bounce as far away from him. The bat flip and watching the ball could put Puig somewhere in between second and third when the ball gets to David Freese. That could be the third out of the inning. I understand people do not like to deal with what ifs, but Puig has to learn when he can celebrate and when he has to put on the speed.
The three team battle this season for the National League Central crown was decided in part because of who was able to take the extra base and who ran into outs. The Dodgers won the NL West by 11 games, but it will not be so easy every year. Understanding when to celebrate and have fun, and when to put your head down and run can alter whether you are remembered as a legend or as a goat. Yasiel Puig has all the talent in the world to play baseball, he just he to learn when to party and when to work.