Professional Little Leaguers
The MLB has become increasingly diverse in recent years. The league has seen an exponential increase in foreign players, specifically Latin Americans, since 1993 (Anzil). As of 2018, 27% of MLB players are foreign-born (Anderson). The increase in foreign players is emphasized by the emergence of young stars like Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuna Jr., and Luis Robert. The emergence of these stars is symbiotically beneficial. Yet, the MLB is under investigation regarding their recruiting tactics in Latin America.
According to the current rules, foreign players cannot be drafted into the MLB. Major League clubs can only make offers under specific restrictions. These restrictions under the collective bargaining agreement limit the spending on signing bonuses for foreign players (OKennedy), resulting in clubs’ desire to claim players as early as possible.
International players must be 16 years of age to be signed to a Major League Baseball team according to the MLB rules; US citizens must be 18 years of age. The structure of signing international players has risen many debates. MLB teams routinely make verbal offers to players as young as 12 years old (Red). Due to the singing deadline, MLB teams are encouraged to make offers well before players are 16 years old. When questioned the MLB acknowledges that verbal agreements made while an athlete is underage are “unenforceable and not recognized” (Red). The lack of accountability for Major League baseball teams allows them to change their initial offer or revoke their offer entirely. The result can be catastrophic for young athletes and their families. Young children aged 12–15 not only lose an opportunity to play Major League Baseball, but they also lose their innocence and trust. Families of these players may also face “perilous financial situations”, as they are more likely to partake in high-risk loans (Red).
Legality is also an issue given the age of the athletes. Although the MLB has rules regarding the age a player can be signed, there are US laws that govern child labor. Yet, given that the offers are made to international players it is unlikely any laws have been broken. Nonetheless, Federal authorities are tasked with determining whether US laws are violated by the verbal agreements (Red).
Baseball clubs routinely break young players’ hearts. Yet, when millions of dollars are at stake feelings are the last thing on these teams’ minds. MLB teams are always looking out for their best interest. Teams may lose interest in a potential prospect once they become signing age, or perhaps the player did not progress how they hoped. Either way, MLB clubs are concerned with winning games, not fulfilling dreams.
The recruiting of young Latinx players is a part of the larger discussion surrounding representation in sports. The demographics of baseball are quickly changing as many of the faces of the league are from Latin America. The prominence of Latin American players in baseball encourages young athletes to pursue the majors and ultimately culminates in the verbal contracts between MLB teams and 12-year-old kids.
The larger issue of exploitation is also at play. Baseball is one of the few opportunities for many Latin Americans. It is a way for young men to rise themselves and their families out of poverty. Boys as young as 6-years-old are placed into intense training programs, with the goal of making it to the MLB (Red). Yet only a very small fraction of players are signed by MLB teams and an even smaller fraction make it to the big leagues
Anderson, Stuart. “27% Of Major League Baseball Players Are Foreign-Born.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 27 Apr. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/stuartanderson/2018/04/27/27-of-major-league-baseball-players-are-foreign-born/?sh=786aacb57712.
Anzil, Federico. “MLB Demographics: The Rise of Latinos in Major League Baseball.” Visme Blog, 3 Apr. 2019, www.visme.co/blog/mlb-demographics/.
Burdi, Kim. “Major League Baseball Scouts Children in Latin America.” Medium, Medium, 12 Apr. 2014, medium.com/@kimburdi/major-league-baseball-scouts-children-in-latin-america-6fefe2aaef6c.
Calcaterra, Craig. “A Look into Corruption in Latin American Scouting — MLB: NBC Sports.” MLB, 10 Sept. 2019, mlb.nbcsports.com/2019/09/10/a-look-into-corruption-in-latin-american-scouting/.
Red, Christian, and Teri Thompson. “In Latin America, Big League Clubs Are Exploiting Prospects as Young as 12, Whistleblower Told Feds.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 16 June 2020, www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2020/06/16/mlb-international-free-agents-deals-underage-prospects/5334172002/.