Sanchez: Alderson spearheads DR efforts
Longtime baseball exec reforming development on island
Sandy Alderson's newest gig might be his most challenging. It might also be the most rewarding.
His task: fix baseball in the Dominican Republic.
In March, Commissioner Bud Selig hired Alderson as a consultant to reform the league's Dominican Republic office and an island in chaos.
The move made sense. It was Alderson, a longtime baseball man who once served as vice president of baseball operations for MLB and later the CEO of the Padres, who helped establish the league's Dominican office years ago. He created the current procedures used to determine the age and identity of Latin players.
Alderson was first introduced to the sports scene in the Dominican Republic in the early 1980s while working in Oakland's front office. Back then, talent in the D.R. was booming and clubs invested in the island. In the years that followed, the D.R. developed into the island of baseball, producing some of the game's top prospects and biggest stars.
But times have changed.
Baseball in the Dominican Republic is marred with scandals involving identity and age fraud, the use of performance-enhancing drugs and skimming by club officials.
That's where Alderson has stepped in.
"The situation in the Dominican Republic is different from when I came 20 to 25 years ago," he said. "It's a much more sophisticated and organized country than it was that long ago. And just along with everything else, the baseball and environment Major League clubs operate has also evolved. It's now to a point where much more money is being spent and it becomes a temptation for some people to break the rules. We have a number of problems that need to be corrected."
In a recent one-on-one interview with MLB.com, Alderson discussed the state of baseball in the Dominican Republic, including the challenges the country faces, the solutions and why he took the job.
MLB.com: You have a long history in baseball and are now teaching at UC-Berkeley. How did your latest job in baseball develop and why did you accept the position?
Alderson: I was appointed to a committee by the Commissioner last spring to look at numerous issues that have arisen over time in the D.R. and elsewhere in Latin America, primarily related to identity fraud and performance-enhancing drug use. I was to chair it. I had recently left the Padres, I was available and able to do it. In the fall, I made a report and made several recommendations. In the meantime, I started teaching at UC-Berkeley. Later, I was asked to drive the second phase, which was the implementation of the report. I was familiar with D.R. from numerous trips there over the last 25 years. I don't claim to be an expert in D.R. baseball or culture, for that matter, but I am familiar with it, so I agreed to do it.
MLB.com: What do you hope to achieve in your newest role?
Alderson: My goal, as I told various groups in the D.R., is to preserve the game there, its popularity and the level of investment by MLB in the D.R. The only way that level of baseball activity, which is ultimately business activity, will continue is if we are able to address some of the issues that make it less desirable to invest in players, the infrastructure and so forth.
MLB.com: What are your plans? How do you plan on "preserving" the game in the D.R.?
Alderson: We are approaching this on several levels. First of all, we are tightening up the administration of the office there and the services we previously provided to clubs. We are looking for a higher level of operations. We are introducing new initiatives related to identity fraud and drug abuse.
In respect to the drugs, we have started a program of educating players, not only at academies of MLB teams, but also for independent players yet to sign. We hope to have an impact on players at a younger age.
We are initiating a registration program that will help us better ID players and track players in the period leading up to their eligibility to sign, so we can ensure all clubs have the opportunity to see those players. In connection, we have instituted an MLB Scouting Bureau in an effort to ensure that all of the teams get access to as many prospects as possible.
It also helps us ID situations where there may be illegal activity between the trainers and club employees. I must emphasize that it's not only a problem with just independent trainers. It also involves the conduct of club employees and that's also a focus of ours.
MLB.com: How have your initiatives been received on the island?
Alderson: The reception is as one might expect. Initially, there was hostility among those that might be affected by a more transparent process. The reception with the government has been positive because they understand the risks posed to baseball in the D.R. The press, generally, has been receptive.
Some of the independent trainers have raised the specter of a Draft to divert the attention away from issues that we really face. But I address those with a consistent message and some of that initial concern has been alleviated. Among a certain constituency, this involves a change that may adversely affect their ability to make money or generate revenue. We are just trying to make sure the process is fair and honest. That's it -- fair and honest.
MLB.com: Specifically, how has the institution of a Major League Scouting Bureau been received?
Alderson: There has been public resistance to the (MLB Scouting) Bureau and private acceptance to the Bureau. The same people that oppose it have used it in independent training camps for players. This is an area that I believe club employees have offered more resistance than trainers and that's something that won't be acceptable long term. The Bureau is there, as with other things we are doing, on an introductory basis. It's not the first time the Bureau has been used internationally. It has been used elsewhere in Europe in connection with international competition.
MLB.com: Why are some club employees showing resistance to the Bureau?
Alderson: There are relationships that exist between club employees and trainers that are not completely transparent. It is possible that at least some club employees will be displaced, but that won't be the case overall. It's not the case in the U.S., and won't be case in the D.R. to a great extent, if any. From my standpoint, the biggest factor is that there exists relationships between some clubs and trainers that are not completely above board and the Bureau can shed light or force them to change. In my view, that would be a good thing.
MLB.com: It is the common practice for trainers, known as "buscones" on the island, to receive a percentage of a signing bonus when a player they train signs with a Major League club. Some of these trainers have shown some resistance to your initiatives. How do you envision their role and how do you address their concerns?
Alderson: The independent trainers are a very important part of the baseball ecosystem in the D.R. They train players from a young age to sign and they do provide an opportunity for player to develop. However, there are problems.
Age and identity fraud have been used to increase the size of a bonus a player receives and using performance-enhancing drugs for a bigger bonus. My approach has been to work with those groups. I met with these trainers and representatives. There are about 300 or 400 trainers in the country and a handful of leading trainers. We met on two occasions and made progress. In conversations with me, they understand that problems have to be addressed because ultimately these problems affect their role and jeopardize their role. The whole system is going to have to change radically and they certainly don't want to see that happening.
MLB.com: You met with baseball officials at a hotel on the island last month while protesters marched outside the building. What were their concerns and how do you address those concerns?
Alderson: I wasn't surprised by it. We had some advance information that it would occur. They tried to use the media as an ally. It was another example of kids being manipulated and victimized. These kids didn't know why they were protesting or why they were there. They were bused in by trainers. It's a sad example of how kids are victimized. The media coverage in the D.R. was extensive. The media is interested in baseball.
One thing from my standpoint that I realized is that it was as much a public relations issue problem to be addressed as any of the others and that's what I've done. I've done press conferences and television. The media there, as opposed to a month ago, fully understands what I'm trying to do and is behind it. The responsible media understand and supports it as they did when I first got there. I think what happens is that other forces marshaled their public relations efforts and tried to obscure the real issues.
MLB.com: The Dominican Prospect League, a league that showcases prospects in games for MLB clubs, is among the groups that have expressed concern about recent events in the D.R. Can you describe the relationship with the DPL?
Alderson: MLB has no relation to the DPL, the D.R. league. It's run by several trainers and independent trainers who are training players and running the league on a for-profit basis. It's another aspect of money-making ingenuity of some of these independent trainers. In the past, they have used MLB facilities, but for the time being, they have not wanted the Bureau to attend games. My response is: 'Fine. But if you do not allow all representatives of MLB to attend games, you are not playing on MLB facilities.'
Ultimately, those games will be open to all clubs in the MLB Scouting Bureau or no more clubs will attend those games. The DPL does provide a useful service with players in playing in games. On the other hand, it's a for-profit business. They are making money off prospects and we want to make sure there is reasonable access for all teams. To the extent that the Bureau is excluded, that excludes a large number of clubs who are entitled to information about those players.
That's where we stand currently and at some point the Bureau will see them. I think at some point, they have responded to the pressure they received from clubs, going back to special relationships that exist between some clubs and some teams.
MLB.com: The worldwide Draft has been a hot topic, especially in the D.R. What is your opinion of a worldwide Draft and will countries like the D.R. and Venezuela be subjected to a worldwide Draft in the future?
Alderson: My personal opinion is not relevant. That's an issue that the Commissioner will decide in the collective bargaining agreement. But what I have said, is that if we can eliminate these fraud and drug use issues, it will be less likely that we have an international Draft. If we don't address problems and just throw our hands ups and go home, it's more likely that we have an international Draft.
MLB.com: Venezuela is second behind the Dominican Republic in terms of foreign-born players on Major League rosters. How much work will your office do in the country and can we expect a similar approach to issues in Venezuela?
Alderson: We are focused on all of Latin America. Venezuela is obviously a place with a lot of talent, not just the D.R. But the D.R. is the place where the most talent exists and where problems need to be addressed most immediately. All teams have academies there. That's where we are now.
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.