Sunday, February 22, 2009

Smiley's Buscon Speaks

ESPN's Jorge Arangure, Jr. has a post this morning reporting Basilio Vizcaino's side of the story on the Carlos Alvarez/Smiley Gonzalez episode.

To recap, Vizcaino was Alvarez's buscon, the personal trainer/agent/foster parent who in exchange for 20% of the player's future bonus housed and coached Alvarez for 2-3 years, according to the Post's feature on the "Smiley Gonzalez" signing at the time. Vizcaino is also a childhood friend of Jose Rijo, who, until he was put on leave yesterday, ran the Nationals operations in the DR. Suspicion was aroused when the Nationals were the only team pursuing Alvarez who dealt with the buscon rather than Rob Plummer, his official agent at the time.

The upshot is that Vizcaino says he's totally innocent and that he was duped just like everyone else. He says that the scheme was cooked up entirely by the player himself and his cousin.

From the report:
The trainer for a top Washington Nationals prospect who faked his age and name denied any knowledge of the player's deception and blamed Major League Baseball's investigative office in the Dominican Republic for failing to catch the scheme.

Basilio Vizcaino, trainer to Nats prospect Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo, said he was unaware that Lugo changed his name to Esmailyn Gonzalez and took four years off his age when he claimed to be 16 and signed a $1.4 million contract with the Nationals in 2006.
The story continues:
On Saturday, the Nationals announced that special assistant Jose Rijo, who had been credited with spotting the prospect, has taken a leave of absence. Vizcaino claims neither he nor Rijo and the Nationals did anything wrong.

Vizcaino recently spoke with Lugo, who admitted his wrongdoing and explained what had happened.

"He's sad," Vizcaino said. "He did it because he thought if he didn't change his identity he would never sign."
And the story concludes with this:
When confronted by baseball's new investigative task force, Lugo admitted he and a cousin had concocted the scheme, according to Vizcaino. Afterward, the player's visa was revoked. He has since reapplied for a visa under his real name.

Vizcaino said MLB should provide more transparency involving their investigations. As it stands, neither the player nor his representative are allowed to see the reports. The establishment of baseball's new investigative unit includes five Spanish-speaking investigators, according to one baseball source, but those investigators are used only in special cases.

"Why doesn't Major League Baseball let people see those first investigations?" Vizcaino said. "They should be investigating those investigators. If you have nothing to hide, then why don't you let your people speak openly? I have nothing to hide. Gonzalez fooled them. Yes. Who is at fault? [MLB's] investigation."
For all this to be true, you have to believe that Vizcaino met Alvarez when the player was actually 17, but that he believed his was 13. You also have to believe that this supposed 13-year-old lived with Vizcaino for 2-3 years while maintaining a pretty intricate series of lies about his name, family, really his whole life, and that Alvarez never caught on. This seems totally implausible, though it may never be proven.

Keep in mind what Barry Svrluga told us the other day in his post, "Smiley: What I Saw." He admits he should have dug deeper as a reporter, but he ultimately paints a picture of an entire family--if not a whole community--apparently complicit in the scheme, all pretending that the family's name is Gonzalez, that the kid was 16, etc.:
The list of people who lied to us - and, presumably, to the Nationals - is unknown in size, scope and specifics, but I have to believe it includes the man who was introduced to me as Daniel Gonzalez. He was, supposedly, the father of Esmailyn Gonzalez, and we met him at the family home, where folks were sitting around in plastic chairs in the dirt as some sort of chicken stewed on an overturned trash can that was being used as a stove. Was it his father? Who knows? Was his name Daniel Gonzalez? I have to think not.
Further, today's article tells us that, according to Vizcaino, "the baseball investigators, who are sub-contracted by MLB, visited the player's supposed hospital of birth, the player's supposed school and his hometown of Bani to interview people and to review documents. Each time the player's identity was confirmed, though major league officials were skeptical."

So, just to clarify, this scam was cooked up by a kid who at the beginning of the ruse was no more than 17, maybe younger, and his cousin, and the conspiracy was this widespread and air-tight?

Vizcaino also offers more detail about how the scam was done, though evidently this is all what's been told to him by Alvarez recently, since, as he says, he didn't know anything about it. He says that the Smiley Gonzalez $1.4 million bonus was deposited in his "real" uncle's bank account, and that's why investigators into the bonus-skimming scandal couldn't find it in the falsified Gonzalez family accounts. If this is true, wouldn't someone with the team have noticed that at the time?

Also notable is the subtle swipe Alvarez takes at the Nationals and his old buddy Rijo:
"Maybe teams need to do their own investigations," Vizcaino said. "What is the point of the Dominican office if they're simply going to allow teams to lose money?"
I obviously don't know what happened, but buck sez not one word of what Vizcaino says in this story is true.


Ulises Jorge Bidó said...

The same report you quote also have Vizcaino claiming that besides the Nationals, the Yankees and the Red Sox asked MLB's Dominican Republic office to investigate "Gonzalez" age.

That should be easy to check out with both teams, and if it's true then that office should be doing a better job. I'm from the Dominican Republic and I'm pretty familiar with the culture of corruption that permeates everything over there.

I can tell you, I'm not surprised if the deception regarding the "Gonzalez" case went as far as to altering hospitals and school records. Ilegal Haitians inmigrants in the DR can obtain identity cards for the equivalent of US$42.00. What do you think a well connected buscon can get for 10 or 20 times that? Just say what's your price and you can get anything.

But there's another part of this story that seems to reinforce Vizcaino's point about MLB office in the DR.

'Each time the player's identity was confirmed, though major league officials were skeptical.

"There's always been questions about that kid," one baseball source said.'

If they were skeptical, why didn't they dig a little deeper? Is that so hard to do? I do see your point, Vizcaino's tale is hard to believe, but it looks like someone at MLB drop the ball too.

Finally, I'd like to point out that your headline should read "Smiley's Buscon Speaks". "Buscon" is the singular for "Buscones".



Steven said...

Yeah, I agree with everything you're saying. I don't excuse the team or MLB at all--they seem as incompetent as the buscon seems corrupt.

Also, thanks for the spelling tip. Pretty dumb gringo mistake.

JayB said...

Steven, how cool is that first post....with luck your Blog will shed more light on these issues than SI or ESPEN. Surely more than Post and Times is getting from just accepting Stan’s rules that we are not talking about it and when we want to talk about it we will tell you.