Ballplayer: Pelotero (2011) - full transcript

Two top baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic face fierce competition and corruption as they chase their big league dreams.






NARRATOR: 20% of professional
baseball players in the United

States in the minor
and major leagues

combined come from the
Dominican Republic.

1 in 5-- a staggering number
considering the island's

population is 2% of
the United States.

No one knows for sure,
but it's estimated

over 100,000 young players,
or peloteros, train

full time in thousands of
programs across the island.

And they all have
one dream-- to sign

a professional contract
on signing day, July 2.

This is the story
of two peloteros.



NARRATOR: Jean Carlos Batista
is a 16-year-old shortstop.

He comes from a town
an hour away and boards

at the dorm of his
trainer, Astin.


ASTIN JACOBO: He looks good.

The kid need some
polishing, and I'm

almost sure that
I'll get him signed.

We have our ground to cover.

We have five months in front of
us before July 2 comes around.


NARRATOR: One field
over from Astin's is

Moreno Tejeda's program.


NARRATOR: Miguel Angel Sano is
a 15-year-old shortstop who's

been training with
Moreno since he was 12.


-He not only has bat and
projecting is your bat speed.

But the upside to the
size of his arm, I

think he's the top player that's
been here for a long time.


-I love you.




NARRATOR: The 1962
San Francisco Giants

featured four of
the first Dominicans

to play the majors--
Felipe and Matty

Alou, Manny Mota
and Juan Marichal.

At a time when the Giants were
signing American prospects

for bonuses of $60,000, the
team paid less than $5,000

in total for these
four Dominican players

who helped them win the
National League pennant

and would go on to play in a
combined 16 all-star games.


Major league teams knew a
good thing when they saw it.

In the '80s, they
started pouring

millions into the
Dominican Republic.

They built training
facilities and hired staff

to scout the talent on
this impoverished island.

And MLB established
a set of rules.

The youngest a player
can sign is 16.

The first day they become
eligible is July 2.

This system has yielded
enormous returns.


For the past 20 years,
the Dominican system

has produced superstar
after superstar

at bargain basement prices.

When top American prospects
were signing for over a million

dollars, future all-stars Miguel
Tejada, Vladimir Guerrero,

and David Ortiz signed
for less than $4,000 each.

The run up to July 2
is a grueling marathon

for try outs for
young players who

have five months to prove
their worth to scouts

from Major League teams.

Today is John Carlos's first
tryout with the Houston Astros.


tough for a young kid

to be looking at a
person who's going

to decide what his
future's going to be.

Right there is, you're
recklessly nervous thinking,

you know, is this the guy
who's going to sign me?

Is this is the guy
who's going to give me

the money so I can buy
a house for my mom?

That's a lot of pressure on you.

Ah, was an outside pitch.

-Jean Carlos see his mother
probably once a week,

sometimes two weeks and
he doesn't see his mother.

But he sees me every day, and he
spends 6, 7, 8, 10 hours a day

with me.

We eat together, we ride
together, we sing together.

We are in the field together.

He tells me, "You
know I don't have

no father, so you my father."

NARRATOR: This signing season
is being watched closely

by baseball insiders with
all eyes on Miguel Angel

and just how high
his bonus might go.

Angel and Jean Carlos

are coming onto the
market following

a record breaking year.

In 2008, the previous year,
the Oakland A's signed

pitcher Michael Inoa for
$4.25 million dollars--

almost double the
previous record.



-Oh yeah.

No question.

NARRATOR: Trainers
like Moreno and Astin

do not get paid for
coaching their players.

Most players could not
afford that anyway.

Trainers work on commission.

If a player does not
sign, the trainer

sees nothing for years of work.

But if a player does sign,
trainers take as much as 35%

of the player's signing bonus.

NARRATOR: Most trainers act
as agents for their players,

but elite prospects
like Miguel Angel

have professional agents to
handle negotiations for them.


-I started doing this
in 1996, and I basically

broker Dominican 16-year-olds
to Major League baseball teams.

But Miguel Angel, I've
never had a guy this good.

I don't think it's
close, either.

It's a long process, but
when the teams have seen him

sufficiently, I can work out a
deal for him to sign on July 2

and negotiate,
hopefully, the biggest

bonus I can possibly negotiate.



ROB PLUMMER: I've loaned
and invested money in him

that I feel comfortable I'm
going to get a good return on.

the family weren't

living to where I thought that
somebody who needed to have

his mind focused on
baseball was living.

They had rotted-out mattresses.

And so I offered to help them
move to a different place.


NARRATOR: 16 is the magic
number for Dominican prospects--

the age MLB allows
them to sign, the age

they command the
biggest bonuses.

After 16, a player's market
value drops precipitously,

and that's led to
rampant problems.

For years, Dominican players
have used steroids and hormones

to make their 16-year-old bodies
mature faster, though testing

now makes that hard
to get away with.

Just as common are players
lying about their ages, even

their identities.

-A lot of that happens
from the emphasis

that they want young guys that
could play baseball as go man,

you know, and that's
kind of hard to happen.

It gives guys
motivation to be 16.

Because that's
when they get paid.

NARRATOR: Years of
scandal came to a head

after the Washington
Nationals signed 16-year-old

Esmailyn Gonzalez
for $1.4 million.

Three years later, a reporter
discovered he was really

Carlos Lugo, 20 years old
at the time he signed.

Since then, MLB has ramped
up the investigation process

and teams are on high alert for
the slightest hint of fraud.

-Think this guy is gonna play
in the major league, guys.

I really think so.

He's got what it takes.

The interest on him
has increased a lot.

looking at a real player.

He smells like a major leaguer.

He does.

-Thank you.


-He plays a few pitches.

He was playing ping
pong with them.

Do they like it?

Yes, they know him.

You never know.


-In baseball, you
can't look at today.

You got to be able to look
at tomorrow and the day

after tomorrow.

When I look at today, I like it.

When I look at
tomorrow, I love it.

And when I look at the day
after tomorrow, it's so awesome,

I can't believe it.

Feels good.

NARRATOR: With two
months until July 2,

Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore
Orioles, and Minnesota Twins

have emerged as front
runners to sign Miguel Angel.

Rene Gayo, the Pittsburgh
scouting director,

has set up a private
tryout at Moreno's field.



NARRATOR: MLB now investigates
every Dominican prospect

to verify their
age and identity.


NARRATOR: For a player like
Miguel Angel, high profile

and likely to cost millions, the
scrutiny is even more intense.

NARRATOR: And with rumors
of fraud circulating,

MLB orders Miguel
Angel to undergo

an extraordinary
battery of tests.

that Miguel Angel is lying,

it's a mandatory
one-year suspension

before he can sign or get a visa
to play in the United States.

NARRATOR: After a series
of successful tryouts,

Jean Carlos's stock
is on the rise,

and MLB begins the
standard investigation

into his background.

-And though I have
looked through his papers

and everything, but I haven't
done this great investigation

that you have to do, and you got
to make sure, because I been--

you know, I got caught
one time with that.

With Manuel Sanchez.

He turn out to be Julio
Sanchez instead of Manuel.


When guys are doing
something wrong,

usually you could see,
because, you know, I'm a coach.

I been around kids a lot.

When something wrong, they
give you a little hint.

And I say I haven't seen that--
not on him, not on his mother.


League Baseball, they

haven't found a single
shred of evidence

that shows any-- isn't his age.

This whole system, the way
it's working against Miguel,

it kind of seems
like, you know, he's

guilty until proven innocent.


-Today is July the 1st, a day
that we definitely like here

in the Dominican Republic,
especially guys like me.

Because tonight, after
12 o'clock, 12:01,

guys are going to
be eligible to sign.


This is the kind of a day when
you receiving phone calls.

They putting their
numbers together

and they gonna come
up with whatever

they say they think it's worth.

Let's put our head together and
try to do something about that.

And this hope that we get--
what we want, $1,500,000.

That's a go.

NARRATOR: While July
2 is signing day,

July 1 is the day when
contracts are negotiated.

The door is still
open for players

to negotiate and
sign after July 2,

but typically, the
top players sign on

to activate the largest bonuses.

Signing after July 2 usually
means smaller bonuses,

as teams have less
money available, if any,

to sign other free agents.




-I broke the news to him, and he
kind of looked around and say,

you know, why he was
getting that amount of money

when other kids were
getting more money.

I say, you know,
this is reality.

This is what we
have here and now.

NARRATOR: Desperate to sign,
Miguel Angel and his family

turn to the Dominican Baseball
Commission, a government

agency that advocates
for players.




-That's my boy.

I love him.

[LAUGHS] I really love him.

That's my boy.

That's my boy.

That's my boy.



NARRATOR: Post July 2,
Miguel Angel and Juan Carlos

are still eligible to sign,
but both are in limbo.

After Juan Carlos
turned them down,

the Houston Astros signed
another Dominican shortstop

for $370,000.

Miguel Angel has
still not received

any offers as teams
are waiting for MLB

to conclude its investigation.

NARRATOR: Finally,
on July 24, months

after they launched Miguel
Angel's investigation.

MLB releases the results.

NARRATOR: While they conclude
that he is who he says he is,

they state his age
is "undetermined."

By undetermined,
MLB investigators

mean they don't have enough
evidence to verify or disprove

that media Miguel Angel is 16.

The message to teams
is, sign Miguel

Angel Sano at your own risk.



NARRATOR: After the
meeting with Renee Gayo,

the Sanos gave the hidden
tape to Miguel Angel's agent,

Rob Plummer.

ROB PLUMMER: I actually tried
to show the tape to other teams,

or, but the teams don't want
to hear, he's 16 years old.

They want to believe
that they don't

have to pay him that much money.

Because if you can pay him
$2 million, not $5 million,

well, then you're going to
try to pay him $2 million.

It kind of smells
like collusion to me.

I'm not saying we're going
to sign for like, $5 million

or $4.5 million or break
anyone's bonus anymore,

but Major League Baseball
might have an interest

in trying to keep
the bonuses down.


Carlos's investigation

has been delayed in a
backlog at the MLB office.

-You see that his mother give
him breath-- was at the bottom.

He was supposed to be
somewhere in the middle.

Because he was born on the 15th.

It's a little odd.

If this kid could not
be signed, then they

really have taken
advantage of me.

That really throws our
work out the window.

We got to find out
exactly what's going on.




-And repeat it after me.


My name is--

My name is--

Hello, my name is Miguel Angel.

I am from Dominican Republic.

My favorite baseball
player [INAUDIBLE].



Nice to meet you.


Nice to meet you.

And to the class--


Welcome to the class.

Very good.

Ah, next.


-They lie, him and his mom.

I went to his school.

I find out on the third
grade, he was born in 1991.

And then the fourth
grade, was '92.

Basically, he's 17 turning 18.

I confronted his
mother, and that's

when she admitted the truth.

I was naughty, mad, you
know, because my reputation

went down the drain.

And I was out there pushing my
player, working with my guy,

telling everybody about all the
wonderful things he could do

as a baseball player
that he could still do.

I mean, he's a
great ball player.

But he was lying.

NARRATOR: Major League
Baseball suspends

Jean Carlos for
lying about his age.


NARRATOR: He will not be able
to sign for another year,

ensuring a much
smaller signing bonus.


-Things with Jean Carlos did not
end up as good as we wanted to,

and the relationship
is not the same.

It's just that when
somebody lies to you,

it's not-- never the same.

-Jean Carlos can say
whatever he wants to say.

When they changed the age on
Jean Carlos, he was already 10.

I don't know anything
that happens,

that happens when
I was a little kid.

Come on.

If you're 9 when you're
in the 3rd grade,

and you're 9 when you in
the 4th grade, I mean,

you can't be 9 for 700 days, you
could only be 9 for 365 days.

And Jean Carlos is very bright.

Always been very smart.

Things like that are just
not going to pass on him.

Jean Carlo was a liar before.

And he's still a liar.

And he's always
going to be a liar.