As of this afternoon, authorities and news organizations have received confirmation that Wilson Ramos is still alive. This is obviously very good news, perhaps the only good news so far about this situation. The 24 year old former Twins catcher was kidnapped in his native Venezuela yesterday by four armed men.
As Paul mentioned yesterday, we at Puckett’s Pond sincerely hope that Ramos will return safely home as soon as possible. I know that every baseball fan who has heard this story feels the same way. I would also like to add my sincere hope that the thugs who kidnapped this young man get caught and punished to the severest extent that Venezuelan law allows.
Whether Venezuelan law is up to the task remains to be seen. It is becoming increasingly clear that MLB needs to do something about its policy toward the South American country.
This kidnapping would be scary enough if it were an isolated incident, but it is just the latest in a long line of unacceptable occurrences involving MLB players in Venezuela. Ramos is the first player to be kidnapped, but a handful of players have had family members kidnapped and/or killed in the past few years. The most notorious case is probably the 2004 kidnapping of reliever Ugueth Urbina’s mother (Urbina himself was convicted of attempted murder a few years later, and he is now serving a 14 year prison sentence). Urbina’s case was far from an isolated incident. Tom Powers wrote an eye-opening column for the Pioneer Press detailing some horrific Venezuelan occurrences. Powers writes that Twins prospect Joe Benson was robbed at gunpoint when he arrived in Venezuela to play winter ball. Venezuela-born Twin Jose Mijares had to suffer even worse, as his brother was shot to death. Later, his sister was also shot, but she survived.
Venezuela is one of the most dangerous nations in the world, and its corrupt government does not help matters. The country, which is a bastion of the South American drug trade, had a murder rate of 47.21 per 100,000 residents as of 2008, fifth worst in the world. By comparison, the murder rate in the U.S. is just over 5 per 100,000. Though Venezuela has lucrative oil reserves, nearly 40% of the population lives in dire poverty (and living in poverty in Venezuela is much worse than living in poverty in the United States). As a result, violent gangs often kidnap wealthy individuals (such as baseball players) in the hope of earning ransom money. Hugo Chavez’s socialist government is riddled with corruption; Transparency International ranks Venezuela 164th out of 178 countries in its Corruption Perception Index. As Powers notes, the Venezuelan government has been known to seize players’ and teams’ property for absolutely no reason, and there is no way for the rightful owners to fight back.
MLB needs to do something to protect its players and their families. Baseball is very popular in Venezuela, and MLB players bring a significant amount of money to the country, as do the winter league teams full of prospects. MLB needs to exert its influence and give the Venezuelan government an ultimatum: increase security and stop seizing property or MLB will pull all baseball operations out of the country. The Twins have already taken big steps toward abandoning Venezuela, and it’s fair to assume the Ramos kidnapping will only cement that decision.
Aside from putting pressure on the Venezuelan government, MLB teams shouldtake their own steps to improve conditions for Venezuelan players, such as providing security guards for players and prospects. At the very least, MLB should devote some time this offseason to meeting and brainstorming some ways to stop this violent idiocy.