By Joe Guzzardi
August 7, 2013
As a lifelong baseball fan, I’m numb to the news that 14 major league players have been suspended for periods from 50 to, in Alex Rodriguez’s case, 211 games. The ban had long been anticipated and was a tedious continuation of MLB penalties imposed on dirty, performance enhancing drug using players since 2005 when the Seattle Mariners’ Alex Sanchez received the first suspension. The MLB initiated its drug policy in 2004.
During his six-year career Sanchez, a Cuban, was an above average hitter, poor defender and relatively obscure outfielder whose difficult personality resulted in his being traded an average of once a year. But during the following 8 years, baseball also banned probable Hall of Famers Rafael Palmiero and Manny Ramirez. Other high profile players destined for the Hall like Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa have been either admitted that PED reliance or have been strongly linked to prohibited substances.
Although the percentage players with Hispanic surnames is rarely mentioned in the media uproar, the connection is undeniable. Of the 14 players announced Monday, 13 are Hispanic. Since Sanchez’s ban Hispanics, mostly from the Dominican Republic, have received more than 80 percent of the suspensions.
To blame, at least in part, federal immigration policy for baseball’s PED abuse sounds farfetched…but it’s not. In 2006, Congress passed and President George Bush signed the Compete Act which created the P visa that in turn opened the door for an unlimited number of professional athletes and so called exceptionally talented individuals to come to the U.S. Little time is needed to process a P visa request. Before he was president, Bush was a partial owner of the Texas Rangers.
Before the Compete Act, athletes or others with special skills entered on an H-2B visa, capped at 65,000. Baseball immediately moved to take advantage of the P by signing thousands of players, mostly from the Caribbean, and building special facilities in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela to train them under the direction of the parent MLB team. Players, eager to earn the $450,000 minimum annual salary and to hopefully score multimillion dollar long-term contracts, sign for little money.
Very quickly, unscrupulous agents prey on the young men and in search of bigger commissions, encourage them to take every possible advantage including PEDs to improve their performance. Players’ willingness to gamble on being caught versus the tens of millions they might make if they put up eye-popping statistics is understandable since most of the players come from acute poverty.
The P visa has other deleterious effects beyond baseball. Spouses and unmarried children under age 21 came obtain a P-4 visa and join the main P visa holder. Since less than 10 percent of minor league players reach the major league,an entire family may be stranded in the U.S when their visas expire. Few elect to return home. Instead they stay and, because they have little education and speak limited English, work at low paying jobs.
PEDs have compromised the game’s history. Home run titles, Most Valuable Player awards and championships have been unjustly won. Fifty game suspensions are too light. Testing should be stepped up with lifetime bans imposed for first time offenders.
Players know before they dope up that they’re breaking the rules. Giving them slaps on the wrist only encourages others to follow.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Contact him at [email protected]