Baseball's skimming scam

The Yankees are the latest team involved in the growing scandal involving scouts taking kickbacks from Dominican prospects' signing bonuses.

Published August 5, 2008 8:15PM (EDT)

The growing scandal around baseball scouts and other officials skimming money from signing bonuses paid to prospects in the Dominican Republic has reached the New York Yankees, who placed several employees on leave pending the results of Major League Baseball's investigation, the New York Times reports.

Those implicated so far in the probe, which first made the news in spring training, have worked for the Washington Nationals, Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox. ESPN quotes a source familiar with the MLB probe saying that "less than a half-dozen" teams would be implicated, including the Yankees, White Sox, Red Sox and Nationals.

In May the White Sox fired director of player personnel David Wilder -- whose bio was still up on as of Tuesday morning -- and two scouts after an MLB investigation found they skimmed money from signing bonuses paid to Dominican prospects. Wilder, thought to be a rising front-office star, has not been charged with any crime.

Nationals general manager Jim Bowden and special assistant Jose Rijo, a former big-league pitcher, are reportedly under FBI investigation over similar charges, and last week the Red Sox fired Pablo Lantigua, a scout in the Dominican Republic, after baseball investigators accused him of skimming funds.

ESPN quotes a source saying the scouts have been inflating the value of prospects, then pocketing the difference between what the signing bonus should be and what it is. "The families went along with it because they were still getting the money," the source said, adding that the scouts "were really stealing money from the clubs."

It would be a little bit nice, at least, if the dirty scouts were ripping off teams rather than poor teenage ballplayers in the Third World. But why would they?

If you're going to rip someone off, you go for the deep pockets because that's where the money is. But if you can get the same money without taking on the power that goes with those deep pockets, you do that.

The New York Yankees are rich and powerful and know the rules and have access to good lawyers and law enforcement. They also presumably keep track of their scouts, and after a while ought to notice if a particular scout's $100,000 bonus babies look more like $75,000 players.

A typical Dominican prospect is a teenager, is poor, doesn't know the rules, doesn't have much education, has little or no access to lawyers or law enforcement, doesn't speak English and would likely be happy to have whatever money's left over after the skimming's done.

Why would a scout tell the Yankees, for example, that a kid's worth a $100,000 bonus and then give the kid $75,000 when he could just tell the kid, "You're getting a $75,000 signing bonus, and my commission is $25,000"? Conscience? These are exploiters and thieves with a heart? How sweet.

Meanwhile, I keep coming back to comments made last summer in GQ magazine by Detroit Tigers slugger Gary Sheffield. Talking about why there are so few African-Americans in professional baseball now, Sheffield, who is African-American, said it was because Latin players are easier to control. He said being talked to with respect, as a man, "these are the things my race demands."

He was raked over the coals, of course, variously accused of being insulting to blacks and to Latinos -- though Venezuelan teammate Carlos Guillen said he was glad somebody said what Sheffield said.

He clarified his comments in the face of the blowback, saying that what he meant was that Latin players "have more to lose than we do ... You can send them back across the island. You can't send us back. We're already here. So there are a lot of factors involved you look at. I'm not saying you can tell them what to do and it'll be 'yes sir' and 'no sir.' I'm just saying from a grand scheme of things."

In light of the growing scandal around baseball scouts and other officials skimming money from signing bonuses paid to prospects in the Dominican Republic, explain to me again what was wrong with what Sheffield said.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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