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Stealing Lives

The sad, unsurprising truth at the center of "Stealing Lives" is that the baseball business differs little from lots of other businesses. Owners seek profits, frequently at the expense of employees, especially the employees at the lowest levels of the operation. Those doing public relations for the owners do their best to focus everybody's attention on the company's good works - playgrounds constructed, clinics run - and keep the public ignorant of the abuses perpetrated by the company in order to enhance the bottom line.

In the clothing and sneaker businesses, the companies pay super stars lots of money to wear stuff that can be manufactured for very little because the folks laboring in the sweatshops overseas are paid almost nothing. When confronted with that fact, the companies (Nike, et
al) deny that they have anything to do with the working conditions their subcontractors have established in third world countries.

In the baseball business, the major league clubs establish "baseball academies" in the Dominican Republic and other promising recruiting grounds. In the academy discussed in "Stealing Lives," a score of young men, some of them too young to be legally signed to a contract, live in two concrete rooms. They have no running water. Their "house" has no window glass or screens. It has one toilet, which is broken for most of the summer. The players don't get enough to eat, their injuries go untreated, and they are managed by a drunk with a gun.

The authors of "Stealing Lives," Arturo Marcano Guevara and David Fidler, both attorneys, encountered Alexis Quiroz, a Venezuelan teenager who signs a contract he can't read. The Chicago Cubs, Quiroz's employer, promise to bring him to the U.S. to play minor league ball, then they ship him to the concrete house with the broken toilet. Quiroz plays two miserable summers in the Dominican Republic, and his experience demonstrates that the Cubs' strategy, like that of lots of other major league clubs, is to sign players in large bunches and count on a few of them bubbling up through the system. Those who don't succeed are abused, threatened, and cheated.

Alexis Quiroz's story actually has a happier ending than some. His family has resources enough so that when Quiroz is injured during a game and then badly treated by the Cubs organization, Alexis can fly to the U.S. and hound the Cubs at their spring training camp in Arizona. Eventually, he succeeds in getting the team to pay for at least some of his medical and rehab expenses. Most players in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere on baseball's lowest levels have no access to money and lawyers, and their stories are never told.

David Fidler has said of "Stealing Lives" that he hopes the book will provoke changes in the way young men and children at the bottom of the pro baseball ladder are treated. It probably won't, because in places where the poverty is especially grotesque and baseball is perceived as the only way out, a few months without a toilet might seem a small price to pay to keep the dream alive.

Beyond that, as far as the big league teams are concerned, the current system works. A few players bubble up out of the herd and, eventually, make millions of dollars, which enables the employers to say they're just giving all those youngsters the opportunity to succeed magnificently.

Some of the baseball academies are less disgusting than the one described in Stealing Lives. Some baseball teams are more responsible than others. Neither fact detracts from the impact of this book.

This program aired on March 15, 2003. The audio for this program is not available.

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