NEW YORK -- Commissioner Bud Selig announced Friday new oversight for the league's operations in talent-rich but problem-plagued Latin America.
Selig tapped Jorge Perez-Diaz, Puerto Rico's former Attorney General, to serve as interim head of Latin American Oversight for Major League Baseball. Perez-Diaz replaces Sandy Alderson, who pioneered the position before leaving after seven months to become general manager of the New York Mets. Alderson will continue to be a presence in the international baseball scene by serving with Florida Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest and Minnesota Twins general manager Bill Smith on a newly created, three-person, Latin American Oversight Committee.
The announcement comes less than 48 hours after three former Chicago White Sox employees were indicted on federal fraud charges for allegedly skimming money from the signing bonuses of teenaged Latin American prospects and the league punished seven Venezuelan prospects for supposedly falsifying their ages and/or identities. These instances illustrate the profundity of the challenges and culture of corruption Perez-Diaz and the committee will be charged with changing.
When Alderson assumed the position in March, MLB's announcement specified his duties in the Dominican Republic, MLB's largest exporter of talent. Perez-Diaz's title, however, expands his role to the entirety of Latin America, which some baseball experts with whom SI spoke today see as a subtle move towards organizing the countries should an international draft be enacted once the collective bargaining agreement expires December 2011.
While Perez-Diaz's resume is thick with legal accomplishments ranging from his clerkship on the U.S. Court of Appeals under Judge Stephen Breyer-now known as Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer-and work in areas like heath care and civil service, his baseball credentials are thin. He consulted with Alderson in coordinating the league's legal affairs for the last several months and serves on the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy and High School. Selig, however, notes, "Jorge will have outstanding resources in Sandy, Larry, Bill and many other dedicated employees of Major League Baseball as we continue to make progress in areas that are critical to our future operations."
In a phone interview with SI, Perez-Diaz says he cemented his love for baseball as a child growing up in Puerto Rico in the 1960s and 70s, when the first wave of Latino superstars like fellow countrymen Orlando Cepeda and Roberto Clemente dominated MLB.
Perez-Diaz pointed to his language skills as a major advantage in performing as Latin America's MLB baseball czar and says, "I will look at a lot of issues carefully," in regards to his agenda. "I have a big advantage after Sandy spent time laying the groundwork."
Part of that groundwork includes sending scouts from the Major League Scouting Bureau to offer teams additional evaluations of players and a pilot program to test the top 40 prospects in the Dominican who would be eligible to sign their first professional contracts in 2010. Thirteen of the 40 teens tested positive for banned substances and two of 31 of them used false ages or identities to try to boost the value of their signing bonuses. The remaining investigators are either ongoing or investigators cannot verify their identities or ages at this time. In the 2010 calendar year, the Dominican Summer League-the first professional stop for most Latin-born prospects--accounts for 45% of all positive steroids tests in baseball.
Perez-Diaz is charged with devising solutions to these problems. He will continue to reside in Puerto Rico (a brief, 45-minute flight away, he points out) while maintaining his current position as a partner at Pietrantoni Mendez & Alvarez in San Juan.