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How the draft killed baseball in Puerto Rico

Jan 16, 2012, 5:12 PM EDT

Baseball had been king in Puerto Rico for the better part of a century. But now the Puerto Rico Winter League is all but dead.  There were only 20 players from Puerto Rico on major league rosters last Opening Day. What happened? According to the sources for this New York Times article it was the imposition of the draft to Puerto Rico in 1990:

No one here disputes the diminished stature of baseball in Puerto Rico, and most agree on the culprit: the decision by Major League Baseball, in 1990, to include Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, in its First-Year Player Draft. This means Puerto Rican players must wait until they turn 18 to enter the major leagues, and then they are going up against players from the United States and Canada in the draft. Also, perhaps more important, major league teams have less incentive to cultivate talent in Puerto Rico since those players may end up with another team through the draft.

Major League Baseball — specifically Sandy Alderson, who is quoted in the article — notes that Puerto Rico’s socioeconomic situation has a lot to do with it too.  It’s not as poor a place as Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, so there is less of an incentive for hungry young kids to play their way off the island. At the same time, it’s not so well off that it can support an amateur talent development structure like you see in the baseball hotbeds of the United States like in California, Texas and Florida.

Of course, it’s not like Puerto Rico’s economy suddenly burst out and minimized the importance of baseball in 1990. And 1990 seems to be a pretty clear demarcation between the time when the island was bursting with young baseball players and now, when it is clearly not.

  1. danrizzle - Jan 16, 2012 at 5:29 PM

    I wonder what Alderson means by “a lot to do with it.” How much could Puerto Rico’s socioeconomic situation possibly have to do with the decline in production of talented baseball players, if baseball teams simply don’t invest much there any more.

    • paperlions - Jan 16, 2012 at 5:53 PM

      It had nothing to do with the decline in baseball. PR was never as poor as those other countries when it was producing great baseball talent. Most teams/scouts are well aware of the effect including PR in the draft had on baseball there; it will be interesting to see if the baseball leaders ignore that precedent and decide to include all amateur talent in the draft….if they do, good by to most of the latin american talent coming to baseball….I guess we’ll find out what is most important to them: talented players or a few million dollars.

      • Kevin S. - Jan 16, 2012 at 7:23 PM

        Catering to overt racists like ‘bicepts is always a plus.

      • Old Gator - Jan 16, 2012 at 7:55 PM

        Bicepts and I definitely had our dustups, one or two of them pretty ugly, but to be fair I don’t ever recall an instance of his being “overtly racist.” He was openly contemptuous of cultures with built-in defeatist attitudes and made clear that it had to do with established habits of behavior, ingrained cultural deficiencies that lead to violence and self-subverting conduct, not skin color, heredity, bloodlines or anything else of that sort. If I remember aright he also came back with pretty unimpeachable statistics about domestic violence in the Dominican and all that did was piss everyone off even more at him. If you want to attack his logic and, especially, his negativity about those situations, fine…but “racist”? That’s neither a fair nor accurate description of him.

  2. jwbiii - Jan 16, 2012 at 6:19 PM

    Venezuela’s per capita GDP is not that much lower than Puerto Rico’s: $16,300 Puerto Rico, $12,700 Venezuela. Unfortunately, the CIA World Factbook does not list income distribution information for Puerto Rico.

    • sfs1 - Jan 16, 2012 at 8:24 PM

      You do realize that going from $12,700 to $16,300 represents around a 25% jump, right?

      • jwbiii - Jan 16, 2012 at 9:23 PM

        About the same as the difference between Canada and the U.S., yes.

      • sfs1 - Jan 16, 2012 at 11:04 PM

        And a jump from $40K to $48K is incomparable to a jump from $12K to $16K.

  3. surly1n1nd1anapol1s - Jan 16, 2012 at 6:41 PM

    Venezuela’s inflation rates would widen that income gap. Good article Craig.

    • jwbiii - Jan 16, 2012 at 7:01 PM

      Yes, it’s dropped $1,100 over the last few years.

    • jwbiii - Jan 16, 2012 at 7:03 PM

      Over the same period, Puerto Rico’s has dropped $1,800.

  4. JBerardi - Jan 16, 2012 at 9:27 PM

    …And baseball just installed severe caps on draft and international bonuses in the new CBA. Wonderful.

  5. cyanocittacristata - Jan 16, 2012 at 11:44 PM

    This whole situation with the impending “world draft” that MLB wants to implement is maddening. The owners want absolute control to cut costs and snuff out the sometimes dubious handlers and middle men agents.

    What they don’t acknowledge is the lack of investment in training and facilities in many of these countries, along with promoting the sport through active involvement . Either you’re going to end up with a vacuum in development in a place like the Dominican Rep. or you could end up only with some elite level league like P.R. ,Mexico, Venezuela, and potentially little else.

    MLB owners are busy gazing at their navels while soccer can easily grab the best international talent and athletes with some extra cash. Baseball isn’t protecting itself from potential competition with other sports in the new CBA.

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