Global Baseball

One man\’s year-long journey through the world of baseball

Chavez Consolidating Power

While not specifically baseball-related, MLB has to be watching political developments in Venezuela incredibly closely these days. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez remains incredibly powerful due to widespread support among his country’s poorer citizens.  This is thanks in large part to his emphasis on improving by leaps and bounds his country’s social services since his election in 1998. As a pair of headlines this week show, Chavez has been incredibly aggressive with that power recently.

Today’s BBC reports on a political demonstration in Caracas protesting the closure of one of the country’s TV stations. Chavez claims the station supported the failed coup that temporarily ousted him and suspended the country’s legislature in 2002. Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a story on Chavez’s program of land seizure and redistribution, a program lauded by poor Venezuelans using the newly-seized farmland for subsistence farming, but criticized by land-owners and economists.

When I interviewed Peter Bjarkman back in March, he briefly mentioned the possibility of the Venezuelan Government, as part of its march towards socialism, taking control of the contracts signed by the country’s amateur baseball players, and negotiating on those players’ behalves. While any vestiges of a state economy are troubling, government control of baseball contracts could actually potentially benefit amateur baseball players. Attempts by Latin American governments to set limits on the percentage of signing bonuses trainers are allowed to take have been met with indifference. Of course, relying on a government moving towards socialism to treat these kids fairly has its own set of problems.

It is doubtful that Venezuela will ever entirely embrace the isolation that Cuba experiences under Fidel Castro. If Chavez were to cut off the pipeline between Venezuela and Major League Baseball, he would have a serious PR problem on his hands, as Venezuelans take an incredible amount of pride in seeing players like Johan Santana succeed in the majors. For the time being, however, Major League Baseball’s second largest source of international talent is getting more volatile by the day. If this continues, baseball will almost certainly feel its effects somewhere down the road.

May 22, 2007 Posted by | Venezuela | 3 Comments

Changes Afoot in the VSL

The Venezuelan Summer League looks like it will receive somewhat of an overhaul this season, as new teams look to establish a stronger foothold in South America’s largest baseball hotbed.   Reports are conflicting on what this year’s VSL, set to begin in 10 days’ time, will look like.  Last year, the VSL was a 10-team league, with seven teams owning and operating their own squad attached to their team’s academies, and six other major league franchises splitting their players between three teams.

Last year’s split squads, the Orioles/White Sox, Tigers/Marlins, and Twins/Blue Jays, are being switched around.  In for sure are two newcomers to the VSL, the Cubs and Devil Rays.  Chicago’s  north-siders will split their VSL squad with the Twins this year, while the Devil Rays will run a split VSL team with the Reds.

As for the Orioles, White Sox, Marlins, and Blue Jays, it’s unclear at this point whether they will be getting out of Dodge altogether, or forming a second division in the VSL with full squads.   If the latter is the case, the two divisions will not play against each other as schedules for the existing division have already been set.

New developments in the Venezuelan academies are interesting to keep an eye on as the country’s political and economic links to the United States become more tenuous.  Venezuela is already considered one of the most dangerous countries in the Western Hemisphere for foreigners to visit, and from my brief time there, I can say that the reputation is well earned.  Venezuela does not yet appear on the US Government’s travel warning list, and its ‘s vast oil reserves make an embargo of the emerging socialist nation unlikely.

For now, it is interesting that certain clubs are ratcheting up their involvement in Venezuelan scouting, even if others are backing off.  If Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez makes good on hints that he will begin instituting a system where the government negotiates players’ contracts with MLB clubs (a major long shot), all hell will break loose.

May 5, 2007 Posted by | Venezuela, VSL | 1 Comment

Results Match the Hype

Now that Felix Hernandez has delivered arguably the two best pitching performances of the young 2007 season in his first two starts, I think we can safely say that Venezuela boasts the two greatest pitchers in the world.

David Ortiz, on Felix Hernandez’s 1-hit shutout of the Red Sox, courtesy of mlb.com:

“He had the best stuff I have seen in the last five or six years” Sox slugger David Ortiz said of Hernandez. “He could have a career like you couldn’t even imagine. Nolan Ryan. Pedro Martinez. Curt Schilling. He could have a career like that if he takes care of himself.”

Felix’s current line: 2-0, 17.0 IP, 0ER, 4BB/18K, and perhaps most impressive, 29 groundouts to 4 flyouts.

His game scores for his two performances were 86 and 87, easily the two best performances of the year by that crude measure. His opponents? A team that made it to the ALCS last year (albeit one with an injured lineup) and arguably the most potent offense in the American League.

Oh, and he just turned 21 four days ago.

Felix Hernandez is here to stay.

April 12, 2007 Posted by | Felix Hernandez, Venezuela | 4 Comments