By Joe Guzzardi
August 12, 2011
San Francisco Giants’ fans are having a rough summer. The 2010 World Series champions lost catcher Buster Posey, a key player, early in the season. And the rest of the squad which performed so heroically last year has lost its way. This week, during an unforgivably inept 3-10 home stand, the Giants bumbled and stumbled out of first place.
The week also presented an interesting side bar story about talk show radio host Tony Bruno’s Twitter post that Giants pitcher Ramon Ramirez is an “illegal alien”. During the August 5 Giants-Philadelphia Phillies game, Ramirez threw at and hit outfielder Shane Victorino which resulted in a bench clearing brawl. Bruno blamed Giants’ manager Bruce Boche. Here’s the offending portion of Bruno’s Tweet which he immediately took down: “…gutless #[email protected]%*# Giants, Boche is a coward for having his illegal alien pitcher [Ramirez] hit a guy…”
For the record, Boche is an American citizen born in France; Bruno, in Philadelphia; Victorino, in Maui and Ramirez, in the Dominican Republic.
The fallout was immediate. Bruno, despite apologizing on air and on his website, was suspended. Boche called Bruno a “racist” while Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition said: “This guy is a pig.”
Baseball arouses intense passion among it fans. This is not the first time that San Francisco has been the focal point of controversy about broadcasters who talk before thinking. In 2005, KNBR, the Giants flagship station, fired long time talk-show host Larry Krueger and two other employees after Kruger criticized the team’s "brain-dead Caribbean hitters hacking at slop nightly."
But there’s more. Ramirez, in a Spanish language interview, asked: “How would I be able to work here if I were an illegal?” Even though Ramirez travels in baseball’s rarified air and may give little thought to federal immigration policy, he’s probably aware that millions of foreign-born people work in the United States illegally.
Ramirez is, in fact, a legal resident working under the terms of a temporary P visa, given to athletes, entertainers and artists.
Bruno is technically wrong—Ramirez is not an illegal alien. But Ramirez could become one if he decides to overstay his visa when his baseball career ends, something fairly common.
I’m not privy to Ramirez’s long-term intentions. Ramirez earns $1.6 million annually so he could return to the Dominican Republic and live royally. But hundreds of major and minor league baseball players remain in the United States after their visas expire. Foreign-born players make up about 35 percent of major league rosters; in the minor leagues, the total is nearly 50 percent. Not everyone goes home—especially those who don’t make the majors and therefore don’t qualify for the fat $415,000 minimum salary.
Once visa overstayers stay behind, they enter the netherworld of fake social security cards, minimum wage jobs for under the table wages and can eventually become society’s responsibility. For Dominicans, blending in is easy. Several years ago Ron Plaza, former Oakland A’s manager and now a roving scout, said that of every ten Dominicans released, 9 stay illegally. According to Plaza, they prefer the worst areas of New York where nearly a million of their countrymen live to home. As Plaza summed up: “You can’t handcuff them to the plane.”
Bruno spoke too fast about Ramirez. But he was right about many hundreds of players whose names he doesn’t know.
Joe Guzzardi has written editorial columns—mostly about immigration and related social issues-since 1986. He is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) and his columns are syndicated in various U.S. newspapers and websites. Contact him at [email protected]