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MLB investigating bonus scandal

The jersey of Miguel Tejada of the Dominican Republic, as he played in the World Baseball Classic in 2006.

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Kai Ryssdal: Between the Olympics Friday and football fans wondering whether Brett Favre will ever play for the Green Bay Packers again, baseball is at something of a competitive disadvantage right now for media attention.

A couple of teams are getting coverage, just not the kind they'd like, I'd wager. Major League Baseball and the FBI have been looking into a kickback scheme. They're trying to figure out whether talent scouts are skimming a little something off the top of the signing bonuses that are given to young players from the Dominican Republic.

Last week, the top Dominican scout for the Boston Red Sox was fired over accusations he was involved and there are reports that at least one employee of the New York Yankees has been up to the same tricks.

Ashley Milne-Tyte has the story.


Ashley Milne-Tyte: About a quarter of players on Major League rosters at the start of the season were born in Latin America. Countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela have long been fertile ground for Major League Baseball.

University of Chicago economics professor Allen Sanderson says teams have been able to groom the best young talent at so-called baseball academies in those countries.

Allen Sanderson: And talent that would then have allegiances to a particular Major League franchise like the Yankees and then the Yankees or some other club could sign folks out of their academies.

But unlike the U.S. and Canadian amateur draft, says Andy Zimbalist of Smith College, this system of signing young Latin players is unregulated.

Andy Zimbalist: You have really throughout the Caribbean, although it's centered in the Dominican Republic, a wild, wild West situation.

He says players are often poverty stricken. They might come from a family earning a pittance. He says what might seem like a modest signing bonus to an American player is a fortune to a budding Dominican shortstop. And, he says, these teenagers don't know their worth in the U.S. marketplace -- but the scouts do.

Zimbalist: And they can make a deal on behalf of the player that is for a much greater sum of money, give the player a relatively modest portion of the total sum and keep the rest for himself.

Zimbalist says scouts have been doing this for years. Right now, the system is still very much a jungle, but Major League Baseball officials and the FBI will be looking to tame it.

In New York, I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

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