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What can Major League Baseball do about ballplayer security in Venezuela?

Nov 10, 2011, 12:51 PM EDT

Florida Marlins v Washington Nationals Getty Images

Major League Baseball and the Washington Nationals have issued a joint statement regarding the Wilson Ramos kidnapping:

“Our foremost concern is with Wilson Ramos and his family and our thoughts are with them at this time. Major League Baseball’s Department of Investigations is working with the appropriate authorities on this matter. Both Major League Baseball and the Washington Nationals have been instructed to make no further comment.”

I assume those instructions came from law enforcement. When someone is being held, it’s probably best to keep mum for fear of inspiring rash action by the kidnappers. This is all so horrifying.

Going beyond the specifics a bit, it’s inescapable that Major League Baseball is going to have to reevaluate its relationship with the Venezuelan baseball establishment.  As ESPN’s Jorge Arangure tweeted a while ago, MLB has a say in the playing conditions of the Venezuelan Winter League — things like turf and infield dirt and locker rooms and stuff — to ensure player safety.  What is unclear, however, is what level of involvement MLB has with respect to security, whether they should have such involvement, how much, how should it be effected and that sort of thing. Personal bodyguards?

Or, heck,  maybe we’re at a point where MLB should strongly consider or outright ban its players from playing in Venezuela altogether.  I don’t know. That’s probably a kneejerk reaction. Ramos is a Venezuelan native, after all, and while he was playing in the winter league, it’s just as likely that he could have been taken from his home even if he was merely resting all offseason. Any player in Venezuela is a potential target, whether he’s playing there or simply living in the town in which he was born.

But as Arangure notes, things are getting bad down there: players threatened, scouts mugged in the airport, etc. This was probably inevitable.  And, absent something being done, will certainly happen again.

  1. drmonkeyarmy - Nov 10, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    I honestly don’t think that MLB can do anything to prevent such things as happening….unless they are willing to shell out for a team of armed guards 24/7 for any player going home to/visiting/playing in Venezuela. Seeing as to how that is unlikely to happen, I don’t see a MLB solution to the problem.

    • paperlions - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:14 PM

      In addition, ensuring player safety will just protect the players, not their families. Kidnappers could just as easily (or perhaps, even more easily) have targeted a family member to demand a ransom payment from Ramos, rather than kidnapping Ramos himself.

      As with most problems, if the proximate cause is not addressed, there is little that can be done to effect change….as other actions will be cost prohibitive, ineffective, or both.

      • drmonkeyarmy - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:29 PM

        Yeah, good point. With the current worldwide economic climate, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of this kind of stuff happening….not necessarily to athletes but in general to the more affluent.

    • The Common Man - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:32 PM

      I don’t think we really know much about what Major League Baseball and its teams are doing, or are capable of doing, to protect their players outside of the United States. I would submit, however, that a franchise may be smart to look into ways to improve the security of its younger players, who don’t have the money to permanently relocate their families and may not have the money to provide adequate security for themselves. Maybe this means providing subsidies to help pay for additional security. Maybe it means better education for the players affected. But I don’t think it’s responsible for a club to sit back and do nothing.

      • drmonkeyarmy - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:37 PM

        I could see some type of educational program but I think it is completely unreasonable for a team to subsidize a security team for the affected individuals. The cost for such a thing would be astronomical and as Paper Lions points out, what about the families?

      • The Common Man - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:55 PM

        I don’t think any of us is entirely clear about how much it would cost to hire additional security in Venezuela. But I imagine the price would be less than it is here to hire a few bodyguards, and the number of players affected is not that high. There are 81 active MLBers from Venezuela, roughly 30 of whom definitely make enough money to provide adequate security for themselves, and their families, if they choose. Again, I don’t have all the facts, and am just spitballing. But it would seem to me that a club could afford a quarter to a half million bucks or so to protect its young Venezuelan players, if they wanted to.

      • drmonkeyarmy - Nov 10, 2011 at 2:03 PM

        The problem is, it wouldn’t and couldn’t be limited to just Venezuela. The program would have to encompass pretty much all players from Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Mexico, and African countries (if a MLB player where ever to be from Africa). Furthermore, I would assume the security force would be of the professional variety employed by the team. I’m thinking that getting random men (or women) from the affected areas would not be such a good idea. So here is what I am thinking and am just hypothesizing as you were: a minimum security team would have to be 24/7, a minimum of 2 armed people on duty at all times…so probably 4 people total in 12 hour shifts. That would be 48 billable hours in the day. I’m imagining armed security forces are not cheap to come by particularly seeing as how there is a very real possibility of death or significant injury. So, let’s say it would be a minimum of 50$ per hour. Hence, for a month long stay in the problem area would cost roughly 75,000$ per player.

      • The Common Man - Nov 10, 2011 at 2:27 PM

        It’s entirely possible that you’re right, MonkeyArmy. Clearly you earned that doctorate (or is it an M.D.)? Either way, I stipulate that what I’m discussing might not be plausible.

      • drmonkeyarmy - Nov 10, 2011 at 2:33 PM

        Pharm D….Doctor of Pharmacy and PhD in biochemistry. I’m just spouting out numbers. Like you, I don’t really know what an effective security force would be and the cost of it. It just seems to be (probably from watching too many movies) that commando style security teams would be expensive.

      • Jonny 5 - Nov 10, 2011 at 4:00 PM

        Actually an effective security force is pretty easily obtained and maintained. You can get a good one for around $2,500.00 US dollars, a real good one.

      • drmonkeyarmy - Nov 10, 2011 at 5:12 PM

        I was thinking more along the line of something like this:

    • fouldwimmerlaik - Nov 11, 2011 at 4:28 PM

      Seriously, what is MLB supposed to do about this? What can they do about it? Nothing. If a player wants to live in a shit-hole country where there are known to be kidnappings, that is there choice. I know it is where they are from, but it is the player’s own responsibility to ensure their own safety at home. MLB has nothing to do with it and they shouldn’t try to have anything to do with it.

  2. skids003 - Nov 10, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    Out thoughts are with him and his family, but I don’t see how MLB could be responsible for their safety in another country. The only answer is to not go there.

  3. Bill - Nov 10, 2011 at 12:59 PM

    MLB has a “Department of Investigations”? Where do I apply?

  4. amaninwhite - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    Unfortunately, this is probably an issue that can only be resolved through political change in the country. Unless MLB is willing to become involved in regime change, there is likely little to nothing they can do about this.

    • visnovsky - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:17 PM

      I am all for this. Unfortunately, MLB may have to disappear Sean Penn. But, I don’t think anyone will miss him.

      • El Bravo - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:28 PM

        If Sean Pean disappears, no one will get “Sean Penn” jokes anymore. That would be a travesty in itself.

  5. marshmallowsnake - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    I do not think they should do anything. My employer does not do anything to secure where I live…because I chose to live there. It is not their issue.

    • Jonny 5 - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:21 PM

      Winter ball is played there. It just so happened that they did target a native, but many non natives play winter ball in Venezuela.

    • The Common Man - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:57 PM

      Your employer doesn’t pay you hundreds of thousands of dollars and rely on you to do a job for which the alternatives tend to be so much worse. As little as I like the term in this case, teams would be wise to protect their investments in players like Ramos.

      • marshmallowsnake - Nov 10, 2011 at 2:40 PM

        Oh, so this makes me less important? That is a BS excuse.

      • The Common Man - Nov 10, 2011 at 2:55 PM

        No, but it makes you less valuable to your employer than Ramos is to his.

  6. 78mu - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:16 PM

    Even if the player stays in the U.S. they most likely have many relatives living in Venezuela. Kidnappers know a brother or cousin makes big bucks playing baseball. It’s just not the players that are targets of the criminals

    • drmonkeyarmy - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:20 PM

      It’s not just in Venezuela either….a couple months ago a soccer player had his grandmother kidnapped in an African country. Point taken though…it really is a problem that MLB cannot solve and cannot be expected to solve.

  7. Jonny 5 - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    Staying in resorts where there is security is usually the best option. I assume since the man is from Venezuela he wasn’t staying in a resort. What a sad situation…

  8. bleedgreen - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    Nothing. And they shouldn’t do anything. People choose to live where they do after they are in the MLB. They make WAY more than enough money to move their families to the USA.

    • The Common Man - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:28 PM

      I wouldn’t put this entirely on the players. A player who has just finished his first season at the Major League level has not made enough money to move his family, nor does he have a guarantee that he’ll make the millions of dollars required to continue supporting them in a country that is much more expensive than his homeland, especially if he gets injured or his performance falls off.

      A smart franchise (and I’m sorry for how this sounds) looking to protect their investment, might invest in helping players pay for additional security in their early years in the league, or consulting with younger players about how best to protect themselves and their families when they return home.

    • drmonkeyarmy - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:32 PM

      Wilson Ramos isn’t exactly making tremendous amounts of money. I have no idea of he got a significant signing bonus when he first signed with the Twins (I believe the Twins, somebody correct me if I am wrong) but he “only” made somewhere around 400,000 last season. Raising a family in DC would be significantly more expensive than having his family in Venezuela. Furthermore, maybe he has some type of emotional bond to the country of his birth.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:44 PM

        Trying to put this as nicely as possible, but not everyone wants to live in the US. As others have mentioned, players have family in Venezuela, Columbia, PR, DR, Panama, etc and those family members may not want to move.

      • cur68 - Nov 10, 2011 at 1:51 PM

        Some even have family in Canada. True! People actually live here…in ice houses and surviving on whale blubber, I confess…we used to traffic in beaver pelts, too but now we just want them for the tail…why would anyone want leave all this?

      • paperlions - Nov 10, 2011 at 2:18 PM

        Plus, you have the Terrence and Phillip show.

      • Francisco (FC) - Nov 10, 2011 at 3:19 PM

        we used to traffic in beaver pelts, too but now we just want them for the tail…why would anyone want leave all this?

        I swear you’re 1/4 Beaver Cur, how else to explain your affinity for beaver tail?

      • badmamainphilliesjamas - Nov 10, 2011 at 3:30 PM

        Wait, seriously, not everyone wants to live in the US?? Don’t tell Bicepts.

  9. CJ - Nov 10, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    Truth is, there’s not much that can be done. However, at the very least they need to find another country to host Winter Ball, or even just threaten to do some and publicly leak such “negotiation” (real or contrived) to the media. Winter ball pulling out of the country would cost the some much needed $$$ and force them to do something about it to keep them around.

    It seems $ is the only thing that will get their attention.

    • Francisco (FC) - Nov 10, 2011 at 3:22 PM

      However, at the very least they need to find another country to host Winter Ball

      Er… what? You do realize Winter Ball is a generic term for the professional baseball leagues of those countries in the Caribbean that play baseball during the northern hemisphere’s winter? That these are local leagues? MLB never created them in the first place and hence has no say in when or how they play Baseball?

      • Francisco (FC) - Nov 10, 2011 at 3:23 PM

        No, no, you must be pulling my leg and you actually mean something else…

      • CJ - Nov 10, 2011 at 3:45 PM

        They didn’t create them, but maybe in light of this, they need to? The mere threat ofmoving the pros from Venezuelan winter leagues should get the nation’s attention and compel them to act. If that came to reality they would lose tons of money.

      • CJ - Nov 10, 2011 at 3:47 PM

        the PA and owners are currently negotiating a CBA. They could easily put something in that once MLB has a winter ball/offseason development league of its own in place (even though it would presumably be several years away, if ever), players are barred from participating in a competing league or something.

    • seattlej - Nov 10, 2011 at 3:31 PM

      It’s not really that easy. Winter ball exists in Venezuela because Venezuelans are crazy about baseball. If another country could feasibly host a winter league, they would probably already have one (like DR, PR, Mexico…). You don’t want a winter league in a country where no one really cares about baseball and people don’t show up to the games — that doesn’t work.

      Besides, I don’t really think it’s MLB’s choice. Barring clauses in player contracts that forbid them from playing there, players are free to return to Venezuela and play there whether the league is supported by MLB or not. It would probably be a stupid move by MLB to do this… I think the answer instead is to work with the players to try to keep them safe.

  10. cintiphil - Nov 10, 2011 at 2:28 PM

    Easily repaired. Just stop supporting baseball in Venezuela, and stop playing summer leagues there. If the locals want to participate in baseball for instruction or MLB, go to another country to try out or to practice for moving up to the bigs.

    • cintiphil - Nov 10, 2011 at 2:29 PM

      I meant the Winter Leagues.

      • paperlions - Nov 10, 2011 at 2:59 PM

        These leagues would happen whether MLB lends it’s tiny bit of support to them or not…and a lot of players (especially minor leaguers) will still want to play in them…and will play in them if not contractually barred from doing so.

    • seattlej - Nov 10, 2011 at 3:33 PM

      Teams have much more to gain monetarily by continuing to find relatively cheap talent in places like Venezuela. I’m not really sure why they would stop just because of one incident (which isn’t even the first one).

  11. cowhawkfan - Nov 10, 2011 at 6:38 PM

    This is a common occurence in Venezuela. Although it may be a good business move for young players not making much money, it is not MLB’s responsiblity to protect these guys. This guy made enough money to get his on security. Its a good possiblity someone he knew set him up, possibly even a family member.

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