Every year, MLB’s trade deadline occurs on July 31st – tormenting us up until the final moment at 4 pm, Eastern time. MLB instituted the trade deadline in 1923, in response to moves made by the New York Yankees and Giants during several previous years that put other teams at a competitive disadvantage. Thus, both the American and National Leagues implemented a uniform rule on non-waiver trades prior to the 1923 season. (Its always the Yankees, isn’t it?)
On Friday, the Orioles traded away Hyun Soo Kim, one of my favorite players. I was bummed. It’s hard when your favorite players are traded away. (It’s even harder when they go to a team you don’t really much care for.) In order to survive, however, maybe we need to start reinterpreting what a trade is.
Old definition: A trade is a heartbreaking disruption of the perfect balance achieved by the personalities on your favorite team, presumably to improve the post-season chances of one of the teams involved, but generally resulting only in heartbreak and not always a World Series championship.
New definition: A trade is a new opportunity for your favorite players, who clearly were not appreciated by the heartless owners of your favorite team. You still are not likely to win the World Series, but at least now you don’t have to hear rude MLB analysts saying mean things about a guy who was not given a fair shake on your team or watch the players’ stats dwindle along with their playing time.
Or something along those lines. (Never mind the fact that that doesn’t seem to be the case with Kim.)
You see, don’t look as a trade simply as a removal of one of your favorite players to another team, obviously without your permission. Let’s face it, often, your favorite team has pretty much mistreated said favorite player by not giving him enough playing time, not paying him what he deserves, not saying nice enough things (in your opinion) about him, etc. Favorite Player, now that he has been traded, will likely be better appreciated and have more playing time in his new city. Even if it is a city you despise. It’s not his fault. It’s the fault of the evil ownership of your favorite team.
Of course, the trades may not be over by the end of the day – meaning there will be more opportunities for our hearts to break. Teams may still negotiate trades until midnight (Eastern time) on August 31. (Any player added to a team’s roster after August 31 will not be eligible for the postseason.) After today, however, players have to clear waivers before a trade becomes final. In other words, other teams (in reverse order of the standings) will have the opportunity to claim the player first. If a player is claimed during the waiver period, the original team can choose to keep the player on its roster or send the player to the team that claimed it.
No matter how we convince ourselves that trades can be a good thing, however, we can’t help feeling like this:
Since we’ve been looking at Venezuela for the past week, I thought I’d provide an overview of Venezuelan-born players (as compiled from Baseball Reference):
Total Number of Players from Venezuela: 369
Current No. of Players from Venezuela: 97
Total Games Played by Venezuelan Players: 118,274
Total At-Bats: 331,646
Total Hits: 88,033
Total Home Runs: 7,337
Total RBI: 38, 347
Combined Batting Average: 0.265
The current players from Venezuela are listed below.
Richard Hidalgo was shot in the forearm during a carjacking attempt in Venezuela in 2002. Three years later, kidnappers demanded $6 million for the release of Maura Villarreal who had been taken from her home in Ocumare del Tuy, outside of Caracas. Villarreal was rescued unharmed. In 2008, however, Carlos Simon Blanco Sanchez was murdered by his kidnappers in Venezuela. In 2009, an 11-year old and his uncle were kidnapped on the way to the boy’s school (but were later released as police were closing in); Jose Castillo was attacked by armed men as he left a luxury hotel; and Elizabeth Mendez Zambrano was kidnapped nine days after her nephew was abducted and killed.
What did these individuals have in common? They all had ties to Major League Baseball: an outfielder, a former player, and players’ moms, son, cousin, brother, and brother-in-law. In 2013, another player’s family – his father, mother and youngest brother – were unharmed in a kidnapping attempted in Valencia, Venezuela.
The nonprofit Venezuelan Observatory of Violence identified Venezuela as the second most murderous nation in the world in 2016, noting that there were more than 28,000 homicides in Venezuela that year – a rate of 91.8 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. According to the U.S. State Department, kidnapping is “a major criminal industry” in Venezuela and while there are no official counts of the number of “it is believed that kidnapping cases remained constant during 2016, as with 2015.” In 2011 alone, more than 1,000 people were kidnapped in Venezuela. One of them was a Major Leaguer. Still, it would take a little more than four more years before the majority of MLB teams would close their training academies in the country.
Recently, major leaguers from Venezuela have begun speaking out about the problems in Venezuela. Francisco Cervelli, Salvador Perez, and Miguel Cabrera are just a few of the players who have made statements about the current situation. Other Latino players have also shown their support.
With the increasing tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela, and the upcoming deadline for a vote on the new legislature, these issues are sure to remain in the news. With the increasing involvement of major leaguers, perhaps more of us will be informed of what is happening internationally and perhaps something can be done to assist those living in Venezuela during these challenging times.
Since April this year, nearly 100 people have died in clashes with Venezuelan security forces during mass protests, with thousands more injured and hundreds arrested. Protesters have denounced plans for a “Constituent Assembly” to replace the National Assembly and are demanding early presidential elections. In recent months, the political and economic situation in Venezuela has deteriorated to the point where Major League Baseball players have joined the call to end to the oppression of the Venezuelan people. As the Latin American nation becomes more unstable economically and more dangerous to visitors and citizens, it is important to understand the issues and why even baseball is affected. The Washington Post summed up the conditions in Venezuela as follows:
“Venezuela is a powder keg. Once a rich country held together by strong leadership and heavy social spending, it is now in economic disaster and could slide into widespread social disorder, triggering instability throughout Latin America. Drastic shortages of food, medicine, electricity and other necessities are causing small riots. Organized crime and extrajudicial police killings have given Venezuela a frighteningly high rate of murder and violence.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department noted, “The United States deplores the Venezuelan government’s increasing authoritarianism, and the convocation of a National Constituent Assembly designed to undermine Venezuela’s democratic institutions, including the National Assembly.” The Constituent Assembly is currently scheduled for a vote on July 30. Yesterday, the U.S. government announced it had begun preparing sanctions against Venezuela which it would implement if the Latin American country continues with its plans to replace the National Assembly with a new “Constituent Assembly,” which critics state simply would do the bidding of Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro. After Sunday’s unofficial referendum (organized by oppositions leaders) revealed that more than 7 million people in Venezuela opposed the new assembly, the White House issued a statement that said, in part, that the “strong and courageous actions [of the Venezuelan people] continue to be ignored by a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator.”
Although the United States established diplomatic relations with Venezuela in 1935, the relationship between the two countries has been strained in recent years. The State Department attributes the deterioration of relations to the most recent presidents of Venezuela having partly defined themselves through opposition to the U.S. government and practicing “21st Century Socialism” at the expense of the Venezuelan people and economy. Thus, in December 2016, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning advising against U.S. citizens visiting Venezuela “due to violent crime, social unrest, and pervasive food and medicine shortages.”
While it is difficult to sum up the political issues of the past century, we can see that decades of economic decline and political instability have taken their toll. (See the timeline posted below.) Tomorrow we will review the toll this has taken on baseball and what current MLB players are saying needs to be done.
The following timeline includes highlights from a chronology published recently by the BBC News and other sources:
1908-35 – Dictator Juan Vicente Gomez in control at the same time Venezuela becomes the world’s largest oil exporter.
1945 – A coup establishes civilian government after decades of military rule.
1948 – A coup overthrows Venezuela’s first democratically-elected leader after eight months of rule
1958 – Leftist Romulo Betancourt of the Democratic Action Party (AD) wins presidential election.
1973 – Venezuela benefits from oil boom and its currency peaks against the US dollar; oil and steel industries nationalized.
1989 – Carlos Andres Perez elected president amid economic depression, launches austerity program. A huge increase in gas prices leads to riots, martial law, and general strike follow; hundreds killed in street violence.
1992 – Two coup attempts by Hugo Chavez and his followers
1993-95 – President Perez impeached on corruption charges.
1998-2013. Hugo Chavez elected president in 1998 amid disenchantment with established parties, launches ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ that brings in new constitution, socialist and populist economic and social policies funded by high oil prices, and increasingly vocal anti-US foreign policy. During his presidency, Chavez will nationalize several industries and sign cooperation accords with Russia. Chavez government temporarily overthrown in 2002, but pro-Chavez forces reinstall Chavez two days later. In March 2005, media regulations are issued which provide stiff fines and prison terms for slandering public figures and Venezuela ends its 35-year military relationship between the U.S. In 2010, Chavez devalues Venezuela’s currency against the U.S. dollar. Later that year, Parliament grants Chavez special powers to deal with devastating floods, prompting opposition fears of greater authoritarianism. In 2012, the Venezuelan government extends price controls on more basic goods in the battle against inflation. Chavez wins a fourth term in office, but dies in April 2013.
2013 – Nicholas Maduro elected president by a less than 2 percent margin. In November, with inflation running at more than 50% a year, the National Assembly gives President Maduro emergency powers for a year, prompting protests by opposition supporters.
2014 – Protests over poor security in the western states of Venezuela win the backing of opposition parties and turn into anti-government rallies. At least 28 people die in the ensuing violence. In November, the government announces cuts in public spending as oil prices continue to drop.
2014-2015 – Opposition figure Maria Corina Machado charged with conspiracy to assassinate President Maduro; opposition mayor of Caracas charged with plotting coup with US support. In December 2015, the opposition Democratic Unity coalition wins two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections, ending 16 years of Socialist Party control.
2016 – Three Democratic Unity deputies resign from the National Assembly parliament in January under Supreme Court pressure, depriving coalition of clear two-thirds majority that would have allowed it to block legislation proposed by President Maduro. In February, Maduro announces measures aimed at fighting economic crisis, including currency devaluation and first petrol price rise in 20 years. In September, hundreds of thousands of people take part in a protest in Caracas calling for the removal of President Maduro, accusing him of responsibility for the economic crisis.
As promised last week, I want to look more closely at issues in Venezuela, especially as they intersect with baseball. One of the basic ideas of Sport Sociology and Baseball Sociology is that sport is a microcosm of life – thus, sport can both reflect what’s going on in society as well as become a part of it. Baseball is no exception.
Part 1 of this series will provide a brief history of baseball in Venezuela; Part 2 will look at some of the recent political and economic issues in Venezuela; and Part 3 will bring us back to the current impact of those events on baseball. While I am not an expert on Venezuela or Venezuelan baseball, I can provide a brief overview of the issues to help us be better informed. I welcome comments from those who are experts in these issues.
According to Baseball Reference, baseball was introduced to Venezuela in the 1890s by Venezuelan students who had studied at U.S. colleges. Over the next few decades baseball grew in popularity and eventually professional teams developed. In 1927, the Federación Venezolana de Béisbol was founded, followed by the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League in 1945. The first major leaguer from Venezuela was Alejandro Carrasquel, who debuted with the Washington Senators on April 23, 1939. Since then, more than 200 Venezuelans have played Major League Baseball. Luis Aparicio was the first Venezuelan to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Venezuela national baseball team participated in a variety of international events in the first half of the 20th century, making its first international appearance at the Central American Games in 1938 (where the took 4th place). Baseball became even more popular in Venezuela when it won the Amateur World Series (later called the Baseball World Cup) in 1941, after placing 4th in 1940. Between 1940 and 1970, Venezuela won a total of 9 medals at the World Cup: 3 gold, 2 silver, and 4 bronze. Venezuela also won gold at the 1954 Central American and Caribbean Games and the 1959 Pan American Games.
Venezuela won the Caribbean Series championship in 1970, after the competition was re-established (it has been dissolved in 1960 after the Cuban Revolution), and captured the championship six more times between 1979 and 2009. In 2009, Venezuela took third place at the World Baseball Classic.
In short, there is a rich baseball history in Venezuela, and Venezuelans love their national pastime. MLB loved Venezuelan baseball, too, at least until recently. Later this week, we’ll look at the economic and political situation in Venezuela…