The Canadian sports media, by individualizing player “no shows” as the “reason” for the first round exit of Team Canada from the Classic, deliberately overlooks the peculiar and self-serving rules dictated by the U.S. sports empire. This is how the U.S. organizes fair play, writes TONY SEED* in the second article of a two-part series. Part I is here.
HALIFAX (March 15, 2009) – BASEBALL CANADA, which extensively collaborates with the Toronto Blue Jays, capitulated to the U.S. baton in the preparatory meetings of the baseball federations to organize the Classic and became one of its first casualties.
In the wake of Canada’s elimination from the World Baseball Classic (WBC), the sports media in Canada nevertheless spread the news that it was in part due to the bad “attitude” of Canadian professional players such as pitcher Ryan Dempster, whom it alleges had chosen not to participate on Team Canada. The same refrain is struck to “explain” the absence of this and that professional basketball player from the Canadian national team competing for the Olympics. The news is presented in a decontextualized manner so that the weakness of the national teams in different sports is individualized. The players are presented as “selfish,” “me-first” “rogues,” who are completely devoid of “Canadian values” and thus deserve recrimination, scorn and ostracism. The real selfishness of a U.S. sports empire, which owns the contracts of the athletes and makes the decision as to their participation, is rendered obscure.
When Team Canada played Team USA at the Rogers Centre, photos of such outstanding Canadian baseball players were shown on the Jumbotron as Fergie Jenkins, John Hiller, Ron Taylor, Terry Puhl and others. When a picture of Ryan Dempster was shown, spectators, incited by the media, booed. Coach Larry Walker sent Dempster a tasteless text to the effect that “45,000 people booed your picture this afternoon.”
The sports media deliberately leaves in the shade of the spectacle the little-known facts of this particular tournament; how U.S. Major League Baseball (MLB) deliberately vets and manipulates the selection of professional players to participating national teams on contract to the U.S. baseball monopolies.
The WBC is based on the outlook of subordinating all national baseball associations to MLB and the annexation of their assets, including those of Canada. The tournament was concocted by MLB in July, 2005 three days after the International Olympic Committee kicked baseball out of the Summer Olympics. The IOC publicly cited two reasons: the arrogant refusal of MLB to allow the best players to put their contract aside to compete for their national teams, and its refusal to agree to modern anti-drug protocols for testing competitors. While professionals played in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, only players not on 40-man major league rosters were eligible.
MLB then presented its tournament as the alternative – together with self-serving rules of play, the offer of $25 million in “development” funds and world television – to the members of the International Baseball Federation with the imperial dictate “it’s our way or the highway.”
Further, MLB decreed that the tournament was to held at a time of year favourable to it, that all games of the final two rounds were to played on U.S. territory, and that two thirds of the officials would be American umpires. It also laid down peculiar rules of play, such as bizarre pitch counts. It rigged the schedule so that Team USA would not only have the most days off between games but also the weakest schedule, avoiding all the powerful Latin American teams. In 2006 the two finalists were Cuba and Japan, the eventual champion. This year it has placed Cuba with Japan and Korea in the Asian Group, from which only two teams can advance. This is how the USA organizes fair play.
Specifically, the Classic facilitates monopoly right, where athletes are bought and sold as if some kind of merchandise, to the extent that the members of the MLB cartel are openly allowed to tamper with national team selection by withholding athletes under their contract from this competition as well.
Manipulation of player selection: what the facts show
Participation of professional athletes in the World Baseball Classic requires the authorization of the private companies that have acquired property rights over those athletes.
According to the agreed-upon rules laid down by the U.S. MLB as a condition of participation in the World Baseball Classic, each major-league franchise is liable only to grant seven athletes to participating national teams, franchises can apply for exemptions, and franchises can stipulate conditions of performance on players who do participate (what position they must play, the number of pitches they will be allowed, how often they can play, etc.); franchises also use overt forms of covert pressures such as mysterious “injury concerns” or excuses of the necessity to “make the big league roster” to pressure the youngest athletes or rookies to stay away. Property right reigns supreme.
It is worth keeping in mind that MLB now recruits thirty per cent of its talent from outside the USA, up from twenty per cent ten years ago; a multinational labour force placed at the service of an overwhelmingly dominant American sports cartel. (Dominicans are the biggest group, followed by Venezuelans. In the minor leagues the proportion is even higher: close to half.) In other words, not only does the United States and Canada not produce enough players to stock the professional league but the capitalists also prohibit players under their contract from competing for their national teams.
Let us stick to the facts.
The outstanding Venezuelan pitcher Johan Santana, the best opener, could not attend due to a demand of one million dollars by the insurance company to take part in the tournament, an argument that was taken as a pretext by the New York Mets to deny his participation in the Classic. The desertion of Santana and others led the President of the Federation of Amateur Baseball of Venezuela, Edwin Zerpa, to demand new rules that compel those hired by Major League teams to attend the calling of their national team. Similar statements are being made by the Dominican Republic.
In 2006, the New York Yankees cynically played “the role of the requisite Ugly Americans,” wrote Murray Chase in the New York Times. They kept Robinson Cano (Dominican Republic), Jorge Posada (Puerto Rico), Mariano Rivera (Panama), Hideki Matsui (Japan, and its premier hitter), Chien-Ming Wang (Chinese Republic) along with several American players from signing up.
“If the Yankees were to be believed,” Mr Chase observed, “all their candidates for the tournament were injured.”[i]
A report on EPSN.com provided additional details regarding catcher Jorge Posada:
The Yankees blocked Posada from participating, telling Major League Baseball that Posada was indispensable and was concerned the heavy workload he incurs during the season would be added to and might cause injury, The New York Post reported.
“As a courtesy I called the Yankees to advise them that Jorge wanted to participate in the World Baseball Classic,” agent Seth Levinson told the paper. “The Yankees filed an objection that was accepted and Jorge was not eligible despite his desire to play.”
Posada felt an urge to represent Puerto Rico in the tournament, wanting to make his family proud.
“I wanted to play since my family is from Puerto Rico, it’s where I am from and I was excited,” Posada told The Post. “I was the first one to ask for the documents. I can’t do anything about it. The Yankees have the last word. I respect that and I will prepare for spring training like I always do.” 2
Of the five Dominica players in the 2005 All-Star game, three – Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero – never turned up.
The Boston Red Sox made Mr Ramirez pledge not to play for Dominica in exchange for some days off spring training. Mr Guerrero lost three cousins in a tragic auto accident.
The most prominent and telling but by no means unique example was third baseman Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees and 2005 MVP of the American League, who held dual citizenship.
“I want to say it out loud; I am Dominican,” he declared on 14 July during the All-Star game to EPSNDeportes.com. “I am going to play for the Dominican Republic, and I am going to make the Dominicans feel proud. We will have a great team, and we will try to win the title so that all the Dominican people will feel proud of their ballplayers and of their own nationality.”
Dominica included Mr Rodriquez in its provisional 60-man roster, as did the USA. Mr Rodriquez ultimately announced, following extreme pressure for lack of loyalty to the USA that, well, he would play neither for Dominica nor the USA. His confusion was revealing: he then asked the Major League Baseball Players” Association (MLBPA), a corporate partner with MBL in the WBC, if he could play for one nation and, if it lost in the opening round, switch to another nation. The MLBPA, citing the possibility of increased merchandise sales, pressured the player to declare for the USA. Following “regular phone calls from the player’s union which has been pressuring Rodriguez and other players”, the player declared on 17 January, the day before the deadline to submit the 30-man roster, that he was a Yank. 
Fourteen U.S.-based professionals declined to compete for Japan, one explaining that he had to work on his English.
Norman Garciaparra, former star shortstop for Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, was the first to urge Mexicans to represent their homeland. He then withdrew on February 5th under pressure from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ace closer Mr Rivera insulted Panama, Mr Chase reported, saying he wouldn’t play because it didn’t have a chance to win the tournament. Panama’s manager, Roberto Kelly of the San Francisco Giants, had to be replaced at the last minute.
Despite this scandalous pattern, no U.S. sports reporter investigated the real possibility of collusion amongst the individual, self-serving MLB owners.
Parenthetically, for basketball, it is to worth recalling that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban of the U.S. National Basketball Association prohibited superstars Dirk Nowitski of Germany and Steve Nash of Canada from playing with their respective national teams.
Team Canada: Space for doubt
Many of the Canadian athletes are serious people who love their nation. Justin Morneau openly advocates the restoration of baseball in the Olympics. But are they allowed to make their own decisions about participating on this country’s national team – or is that decision made for them down South?
Let us take the “fact” of Ryan Dempster and other unnamed players “not showing up,” who are blamed by the media for Canada’s elimination from the 2009 Classic. An atmosphere of secrecy surrounds their cases, leaving space for doubt. This from the same media that passed over without nary a comment the decision of all-star Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Doc Halliday to turn down the invitation to play for Team U.S.A and which presents to the marketplace glowing reports from Florida of his excellent form in spring training in preparing for another meaningless season for the Rogers franchise.
According to a Google search, I could not find one single example of any reporter who in fact questioned Mr Dempster or his employer, the Chicago Cubs, as to the real reason for the no show. There may have been, but I did not find it.
Nor could I find a single instance of any reporter questioning the extent of the mysterious injuries that allegedly kept starting pitchers Erik Bedard, Jeff Francis and Rich Harden, and reliever Eric Gagne, a former Cy Young winner, out of the line-up, or mysteriously had surgery scheduled that made them miss the tournament. Together with Mr Dempster, they form a quartet of starting pitchers that is second to none.
In his news conference announcing the 45-man preliminary roster for the WBC, Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams, said, “Ultimately it’s the player’s decision in terms of participating in the tournament,… All players would factor in any number of variables, I’m sure seeking input and counsel from everyone that has a vested interest. And obviously in doing so, he’s (referring to Mr Dempster) come to a decision that, simply stated, it’s not in his best interest to play in the tournament.”
Mr Hamilton was referring to the fact that he had just signed a four-year, U.S.$52-million contract this off-season with the Chicago franchise. But instead of pointing out that the U.S. franchises can keep up to as many as seven players from competing in the tournament, Mr Hamilton presents a very murky and misleading picture indeed.
The facts cited above show that it is not the player’s decision which is decisive, as Mr Hamilton would have us believe. Whether or not Mr Hamilton and Baseball Canada would even dare to question let alone challenge the U.S. MLB is also a moot point. And Mr Hamilton may not even be aware of the backroom facts.
Yet it is known that both Mr Dempster and Gagne had indicated several times in 2008 their honest desire to play for Team Canada, and Mr Bedard competed in 2006. Mr Gagne only withdrew in February after signing a minor-league contract with Milwaukee, allegedly opting to focus on making the big league club. We do not know whether he did so under pressure from Milwaukee, because no one from the media thought to ask.
In 2006, four players opted out of Team Canada.
Decisively, three were pitchers, two of whom were All Stars (Eric Gagne and Rich Harden), with the fourth player the young catcher (Russell Martin) then trying to make the roster of the Los Angeles Dodgers. No one asked what the real reasons were.
As a result, when Team Canada released its 30-man roster on 14 January 2006, with 46 days left until training camp, it had still only 23 names filled in. Questions were also raised about the lack of Quebecois players.
Considering the weight of pitching, the exclusion of these three pitchers and the catcher, a right-handed hitter, would prove to be decisive. “We’re missing a few,’” said coach Larry Walker, a former all star and just retired from the St Louis Cardinals, at the time. “Obviously myself, if I could have played it would have hopefully helped. With Dempster and Harden and Gagne not here, those are three big names not only in Canadian baseball, in baseball in general, names you know.”
If all these players were, in fact, directly or indirectly kept out of Classic by their teams, then we have to do with U.S. match fixing, bordering on a criminal conspiracy and collusion for which MLB has well known history.
If they were not, and their decisions were all a matter of spontaneous decisions made separately, then we have to do with shoddy journalism. Either way Canadians cannot pass judgment on this trend without information and being involved.
But rather than the individual “selfishness,” we have to do with the anti-social and anti-national “me first” attitude inculcated by the self-serving professional private sports empires and the Canadian sports system increasingly made subordinate to them.
Instead of playing the blame game and attacking individual athletes, professional sports journalists should raise the appropriate questions with the MLB monopolies, and stop spreading anti-social and neo-colonial ideas. To do this, they need to stop acting like lackeys and break from their casual indifference, laziness and corporate deference.
Far from an “attitude” problem of the professional athlete, the real problem is that the Canadian people do not control their sports, which have fallen prey to unethical U.S.-dominated private sports empires, which are sucking our wealth and draining our youth. As a result, mass sport including baseball is declining and being wrecked, regional leagues have largely disappeared, national sport does not exist, and Canada, despite the capacity of our athletes to persevere and win, enters international competition with the United States on an unequal basis.
A pro-social nation-building project is the only response.
*Tony Seed is co-author with Curtis Coward of The Kids’ Baseball Book (New Media Publications, 1994), president of the Nova Scotia Cricket Association since 1993, a certified coach in three sports, and editor and publisher of Shunpiking Magazine, Nova Scotia’s discovery magazine.