I sat down with Former Mets General Manager and current Padres Senior Vice President, Omar Minaya, to conduct an interview pertaining to Dominican and Latin American development and the importance of baseball in developing countries such as the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
I asked Omar, who I know as an expert, and who was at the forefront of our major assets in Latin America during his tenure, his thoughts on how baseball was affecting those countries. We also discussed the process of how players are signed.
One Keyword before we start, Buscon: A scout who finds and gathers talented players on the Dominican landscape. They house, feed, and train the players, and act as agents from time to time. @dplbaseball has advised me that many prefer being called “trainers”.
Enjoy my interview with Omar Minaya.
TK: To you, is baseball good for Latin America In terms of growth? What does it do?
Omar: Baseball is not only part of the Social Fabric of Latin America, but it’s also part of the Economical fabric of Latin America. It creates heroes, it creates domestic heroes, and it creates international heroes. It creates an Identity for the different Latin American Countries. It’s a good business for both American and Latin American sides. With the American side, it expands the games and opportunities, but it also makes players heroes to younger generations of those players. So baseball definitely does that, those are the things that Latin American Baseball does.
TK: Do the players who do well for the sport, help their communities afterwards?
Omar: Most players do give back in their communities. It’s not well publicized though the media, we most times hear about when the players do something bad, like testing positive for steroids, but that’s a part of it. The other part is how players contribute to their local communities, their whole towns. A lot of players give back.
TK: Sammy Sosa was said to have given back during hurricane relief, though a lot said they didn’t see anything for it, I guess they were expecting more?
Omar: Well, there’s always going to be people who said they didn’t see a dime, but I do believe that there were a few people who were affected by it. There will always be naysayers about people doing good. But there were a lot of people who were affected, a lot of people that good things happened for them. Not only Sammy Sosa gave back, but Armando Benitez, with a town that he pretty much provided for. He had a community forum and there was hundreds of workers there. Yes, these players do give back. That being said, are there going to be naysayers? Mostly because somebody didn’t get something. But that’s the way it is.
TK: How do baseball signings in general help communities? Does it help them develop?
Omar: Like how?
TK: Players automatically giving back after getting a…
Omar: Bonus? Well what happens is a lot of the players who get their bonuses is that they give back to their own families. Usually they give back to their immediate families, getting their mother a house or a car, his uncles, and a lot of the people who coach him. But the money does not stop being given when they get the bonus, they still give money in the minor leagues. They constantly give to the family no matter what team they are playing for. What I look at it is as a family unity, they work together as a family. Sometimes too many family members are provided for. A lot of ways it could be a bad thing.
TK: How So?
Omar: Too many people can be hanging around. It’s like the famous story of Mike Tyson, who had too many people to provide for. That’s why you see sometimes professional players have a driver, and a posse of people. Some people have too many in a posse.
TK: What’s usually the process for these players coming into the pros?
Omar: The process, now, is different than what it used to be, players go through trainers, or as we call buscones. Buscones are always there, they’re basically agents, but not certified. You really use buscones to be coaches. Unfortunately in the Dominican, there aren’t many organized leagues, so teams are really dependent on these independent contractors, or trainers, or buscones.
And what happens is that you sign the player through them who are the ones showing them to you. You then follow up and decide if you are signing the player or agreeing to a contract. Whatever it is – maybe a large deal – the buscon gets a percentage of it. That’s really worked out through the player and the buscon, but we don’t know the real transaction. Major League Baseball is doing their best to regulate that, making sure that the checks go to a central bank and the players are informed of what their responsibilities are through the buscon.
But it’s an individual relationship between the player and the buscon. The signing part of it is – – we see the player, we look for his tools, we agree on the price, and we sign the player.
But the part the team does not get involved with is the buscon, and their share of the money, or any type of exchange between him and the player. In the old days, that used to happen a lot more. You meet with the player, but you negotiate with the buscon, so they can ensure that they get a kickback.
TK: Didn’t that happen with the White Sox where the scouts worked with buscones to convince the player to get a lower bonus so that the buscone and scout get a better fee?
Omar: I don’t know exactly how that happened, it might have been that the scout said to the organization that they were worth higher, as in the player was worth 10,000, but they said they were worth 50,000, and the buscon and scout split the difference. But I don’t know enough about it.
TK: What do you think of Buscones (whether they are good or not), versus regular scouts, agents, and how are they versus MLB Team’s academies?
Omar: I think they’re like scouts, there’s good ones and there’s bad ones. I think they’re part of the fabric of baseball right now. They are the ones training the players right now. There’s something about it, positive in doing it. In the ideal world, it should be like here (America) the kids should be going to school. But that’s not realistic. But there is a part of them that’s really good.
TK: Did you ever promote Buscones, and their version of academies?
Omar: You had to, you had to deal with them, they’re part of the process now. It’s like one time people said they didn’t like dealing with agents in America. Well, if you don’t like agents then how do you sign players from Scott Boras. Buscones are like agents. You want to be able to have a relationship with them, but you gotta be careful and keep a distance with the relationship, so they don’t take advantage.
TK: Is there any resentment from the community? How did scouts relate to the community?
Omar: Each Scout is different. There are going to be good and bad scouts. There are scouts that are going to be crooked, and some that will be providers. There are scouts who are going to partake and give back to the community. Each case is different. You’ve got 30 teams, each with different personalities. Some are more responsible than others, and they represent the organization and the industry. In most cases, most scouts are good, and they do give back.
TK: Are there greater changes to be made to the system such as signing at 18 (to get their diploma) instead of 16 or is an international draft the way to go? Or neither?
Omar: I am open to an international draft it if it’s done right. I really care about these kids getting their diploma. You can’t really wait for the kids to get a diploma because unfortunately the school system doesn’t work for them to get a diploma. A lot of times they can’t even afford school. I am a big believer-one of the ideas I had with the Mets was that any kid that we sign, we would guarantee that kid an education, so if we released them, we would pay for their education.
What I would like to see baseball do is make a player not be able to leave the Island until he gets a diploma. Major League Baseball, or at least the team should be able to give that kid a diploma. That said, if a kid is 20 years old, you don’t want to hold a kid back. But if a kid is signed at 16, before he comes to the states, he should get a diploma. Something I encouraged with the Mets, and something I encourage wherever we are.
TK: Did you ever feel guilty in a position of power over the treatment of some players that were cut and then disappeared?
Omar: Like how?
TK: A lot of players when they are cut are given a ticket to Santo Domingo and Caracas, or wherever else, and were never heard from again, after no reason why and no second chance.
Omar: I felt with a Latino kid and an American kid, I felt that they were kids. My organizational spirit was that while baseball players messed up twice or three times, they were still kids. Don’t get me wrong, there are small mistakes and big mistakes, but I was always under the belief that kids deserved second, third, and fourth chances sometimes. And when we signed these kids, we’d treat them as our kids. I have two boys, and sometimes kids would make mistakes, but I’d want them to be given opportunities and a chance.
Our policy when we let a kid go, it wasn’t because the kid wasn’t given a chance. You cannot let a kid go with my director because he made a few stupid mistakes, like having beers in the room, or breaking curfew, or smoking marijuana, whatever it was. Kids are kids, and I always believed in an organization that gave kids opportunities, and letting kids make mistakes. And that was for every kid, not just a latin kid, but an American kid.
But I thought it was important too to send coaches to Latin America to see their conditions, to see their culture, to see the big step they had to take from Latin America to here. I felt that when American coaches went to Latin America, they went in there thinking “We’re going to teach them a lot.” But I thought, “No no no, I’m not concerned about teaching the kids, I’m concerned about teaching you.”
I could have anybody teaching ground balls and proper stepping, but this was more for the coach’s education than it was for the player’s education. To me the important thing about scouting in Latin America was that one time it was mostly scouting, but now with these academies, it’s really going to be that we can teach kids, and teach our US coaches. If we can do that, teach both of them, and learn from both sides, we’re all better off. Learning from one side isn’t enough, learning from both is more important. And these academies are huge now and they can help out a lot.
TK: Does the wealth of player’s families ever come into reasoning of whether or not they are signed?
Omar: Like how?
TK: Because some players in poverty didn’t have access to food, equipment, other things that would really assist them.
Omar: No, We just looked at players. As far as their background was concerned, we really just looked at their education. If they had some form of education, that came into the equation. Material things as far as how poor they were, never came into the equation at all.
If they came from a very poor environment, some compassion as far as helping them out, you want to sign them to something ideal, but you wanted to be fair with them. But the main thing that came into the Equation was education, understanding of cultures, proper etiquette, those kinds of things. A lot of times poorer players were educated, and were able to speak for themselves. There was something internally in them. You became concerned with wealth when they came from too wealthy of a background, you were really concerned at how much he really wanted it. But as a whole, it was more what kind of education that person had.
TK: Did you feel in your tenures in Montreal and Mets as general manager that you did well in terms of helping in the development of Latin America?
Omar: Yes, no doubt about it. My sense was that though we were getting good players, we were creating an environment for not only the Mets, but other baseball teams, to understand that education is huge. That we’re not only going to teach baseball, such as run, or hit, but we’re going to use it as a social environment to make better players, better citizens. And I think we’re seeing that more and more as a credit to Major League Baseball.
I think academies; especially the Mets Academy, intend to be at the forefront of education. I hope that’s what we did, and I think the current Mets Staff with Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta are committed to doing that as well. With the Mets, and what we’re trying to do with other teams, we can look back and say “we made players better citizens.” And if we can be better citizens as an industry, we can be a better organization.
There can be challenges. One of the new challenges is going to be Cuba. I think Cuba is going to be fantastic, I think Cuba is going to have a great system. If we can create a way for Cuba to be like the Dominican Republic, then baseball is going to be better off. I’m excited about the future of Latin America, and how Major League Baseball leads in this. I believe that as general manager, we were going to lead with the Mets, and now with the Padres we plan on leading. If we lead, other teams will follow.
* * * * * * * * * *
I would like to thank Omar Minaya for allowing me to interview him and post this on MetsMinors.net. I would also like to thank Joe D., David, Roger and other writers for their support, as well as my Father.
(Photos: USA Today, MLB.com)