Rorris: The secret business side of baseball

Editor's note: This essay earned the author a 2014 Herb Moss Business of Baseball Scholarship from Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Moss is a longtime SABR member and a 1968 graduate of the Scripps school. He established the scholarship to recognize the importance of business and economic news, and to follow his love of baseball. Moss is VP at UBS investments, which specializes in financial services. The essay is being republished in its original form at with the permission of Herb Moss.

By Emily Rorris
Ohio University

There is a business aspect of sports that many people often overlook and that aspect is human trafficking. While it is not directly supported by sports organizations, large sporting events such as the Super Bowl and World Series attract thousands of people and with that they attract this form of human slavery. The typical baseball fan isn’t the target of this upsetting crime. Those who bring their families to watch the games aren’t going to want to ‘purchase’ teenagers involved in human trafficking. However, there a number of national and international corporations and business men who travel to the World Series who are more than willing to support it. It is a lucrative business as well as the third largest crime in the world. With the World Series being an international event it can often create even more support for the crime. Human trafficking is much more popular as an international business. This is the secret business side of baseball.

This crime isn’t only seen among the fans of baseball but in the community as a whole. Security is increased during major sporting events but they are not trained to look for these victims. There are thousands of kids and young adults around the area and the signs of human trafficking are often challenging to spot. Signs of human trafficking can include being confused about their location, appearing malnourished, having little to no possessions and avoiding eye contact. In an attempt to help with this many local clubs have joined Club Operators Against Sex Trafficking (COAST). There are also many churches that attempt to get involved and collect donations from the increased population during these sporting events.

When you think of crimes in baseball the typical first thought is steroids or performance enhancers, not human trafficking rings. However in 2005, starting pitcher for the Texas Rangers, Alexi Ogando was caught in a human trafficking ring. There had been an increase in minor league baseball players marrying young women who had been denied visas, Ogando included. For his involvement in this scandal he was banned from the United States for five years. This ring involved about 30 Dominican minor league players in the 2004 and 2005 seasons.

Strings of human trafficking like Ogando’s are popular in the Dominican baseball community. It is seen as a way to make easy money. There are thousands of players who have been illegally trafficked into the United States as well. With multi-billion dollar sports institutions such as major and minor league baseball, there is a trend of recruiting talented adolescents internationally. Their age and inexperience makes them highly vulnerable to this crime. Human Trafficking does not have to be limited to ‘sex trade.’ There are so many forms of human trafficking including labor abuse as well as the simple treatment of people as objects in trade agreements.

While players can often be caught up in the crime aspect of human trafficking there are many who choose to get involved to stop it. The campaign, Team Not For Sale (Team NFS), is an organization which has combined with athletes worldwide in an attempt to end human trafficking. The organization is widely recognized and the baseball community plays a large role in their organization. In 2010, San Francisco Giants’ pitcher, Jeremy Affeldt reached out to Team NFS to see what he could do to help. He then decided to pledge $250 for every strikeout he throws to Team NFS. Following his pledge he asked Matt Holiday of the St. Louis Cardinals to join as well. Holiday agreed to pledge $500 for every home run to Team NFS. There are now more than 30 MLB players pledging to end slavery in our lifetime.

These players give more than just money to this organization though. They reach out to their fans to try and get them involved; giving their time to community service events and fundraisers in an attempt to involve local communities as well. There are so many ways to help and that’s what these players are looking for. It not only helps out organizations similar to Team NFS but it gives these players a better public image which is always good for the business of baseball. Human trafficking can go both ways, affecting a player’s image. When caught in a scandal the image can be trashed but with this kind of involvement it can boost fans and even ticket sales.

While this issue may not be seen as directly connected to the business of baseball I believe that it is an aspect of the business and that baseball fans would be interested in learning about it. There are so many people in the world who love baseball but don’t know anything about the secret business hiding behind it. I think revealing this kind of crime involvement would actually have a positive effect on the image of baseball. I find that people often have a bad image of the industry as a whole. However, if more players were to get involved with preventing human trafficking it would give the leagues a better image within the international community as well. Many people don’t want to associate this type of business with their local baseball team but even if the players aren’t participating, the sport is causing a problem that needs to be stopped.

Everyone wants to feel like a hero. As part of the attempt to lessen human trafficking at the World Series, COAST handed out “baseball cards” to every police officer and employee. On the front these cards appeared normal but on the back they had signs for human trafficking and who to call if they see something suspicious. While it unrealistic to think this can happen at every baseball game around the country, I am willing to bet that many fans would be willing to help out and make a phone call if they knew what behavior they were looking for. Baseball fans love the game, every part of it. They want to keep it a safe, friendly and family sport. The business of human trafficking a problematic aspect of baseball that needs to be stopped in order to better the business and fun of the game.