The facts are depressingly simple. Greedy Baseball team owners connived with Congress to eliminate visa restrictions on importing players. As Millman puts it
The surge of young foreign players into the U.S. minor leagues began in 2007, a few months after then-president and former major-league team owner George W. Bush signed the Creating Opportunities for Minor League Professionals, Entertainers and Teams Act, known as the Compete Act. It freed the farm systems of major-league teams from having to compete with all U.S. employers seeking H2B work visas for foreign employees, the supply of which usually was exhausted each year by February. Now, teams can import as many prospects as they wantâ€¦
The changes pose a challenge to American teens hoping to make the big leagues. Instead of signing hundreds of U.S. amateurs out of high school — the traditional business model for stocking minor-league rosters — teams are drafting fewer U.S. kids and signing more so-called nondraft free agents, the vast majority of them teenagers from Latin America.
Millman is quite candid about the reason:
Economics plays a huge role. U.S.-born players drafted out of high school rarely sign a contract to turn pro without a cash bonus, most in excess of $100,000. This summer, the Cubs have forked out more than $6 million in signing bonuses to 26 U.S. prospects, an average of nearly a quarter million apiece.
While some foreign playersâ€¦got hefty signing bonuses, the majority do not. Latin players in particular can be had for a lot less — just $10,000 in the case of Venezuelan pitcher Eduardo Figueroaâ€¦Third baseman George Matheus, another Hawk from Venezuela, received $15,000 for signingâ€¦
Lifting visa limits creates an opportunity for players like Eric Gonzalez, a 22-year-old Spaniard in the San Diego Padres' farm systemâ€¦"I signed for $1,000, before taxes," laughs Mr. Gonzalez, one of two Spaniards in the minors this year. "Basically, I signed in exchange for a plane ticket and a work visa."
As Millman happily notes
For decades, minor-league rosters seemed the essence of America's heartland. But thanks to growing numbers of foreign playersâ€¦the minors are fast turning into a veritable United Nationsâ€¦.Across the minor and major leagues, the total number of foreign-born players is growing fast, to almost 3,500 of the 8,532 players under contract this summer, from 2,964 three years ago.
No one seriously maintains all these imports are better than Americans. Many come from countries where Baseball is a minor sport. It is purely that they are cheaper.
The Baseball owners deserve to lose their Fans. Congress needs to revisit the Compete Act.