In the spring of 1986, The Boston Globe ran a spe­cial report on the rise of Dominican-​​born base­ball players. Wide­spread poverty at home, the report con­cluded, had com­pelled thou­sands of young men to pursue pro­fes­sional careers in Major League Base­ball in North America.

But sport and glob­al­iza­tion expert Alan Klein, then an asso­ciate pro­fessor of soci­ology and anthro­pology at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, believed indi­gence only told part of this story. “It was a rea­son­ably good con­clu­sion to draw,” he said, in ref­er­ence to the Globe’s reporting, “but I won­dered why other devel­oping nations in Latin America were not pro­ducing these kinds of players.”

Alan Klein, professor of sociology and anthropology

Alan Klein, pro­fessor of soci­ology and anthro­pology at North­eastern University.

Upon fur­ther review, Klein found that many of the Dominican Republic’s sugar refineries had begun fielding ultra-​​competitive base­ball teams in the 1930s. Over the next sev­eral decades, thou­sands of cane laborers had honed their skills and grew the sport’s pop­u­larity on fields con­structed by the mills’ owners.

The inten­sity of the rival­ries was fueled by the close prox­imity of the refineries, resulting in insanely com­pet­i­tive rela­tion­ships,” he explained. “What started as a game to give the men a break from back­breaking labor indi­rectly led to their level of excellence.”

Klein traced the devel­op­ment of base­ball in the Dominican Republic in the aptly titled 1991 book Sug­ar­ball: The Amer­ican Game, The Dominican Dream. Since then, Klein, who was pro­moted to pro­fessor of soci­ology and anthro­pology in 1992, has con­tinued writing about Latin Amer­ican base­ball, delving into the glob­al­iza­tion of the big leagues as well as the for­tunes of a Mex­ican League team that para­dox­i­cally rep­re­sented two nations from 1985 to 1994.

His fourth and final book on Latin Amer­ican base­ball, which was pub­lished this month, charts the his­tory of Major League Baseball’s influ­ence in the Dominican Republic. The 200-​​page paper­back, Dominican Base­ball: New Pride, Old Prej­u­dice, has been hailed by critics as a quin­tes­sen­tial addi­tion to the base­ball fan’s library.

klein_225If you don’t under­stand the Dominican base­ball pipeline in all its dimen­sions, then you can’t say you under­stand base­ball in the 21st cen­tury,” said Dave Zirin, sports editor of The Nation. “Alan Klein’s Dominican Base­ball demands a place on your shelf next to your Bill James guides, Ball Four, and Boys of Summer.”

One chapter of the book exam­ines Dominican talent bro­kers, known as bus­cones, who simul­ta­ne­ously train dozens of young ballplayers to become future stars. “They range from guys who can work with players during the day to those with full-​​fledged facil­i­ties to house, feed, and train them,” Klein said. “If and when one of their players signs a major league con­tract, they get between 30–35 per­cent of their signing bonus.”

Over the last sev­eral years, he said, Major League Base­ball has worked to tame the power of the bus­cones. Last season, for example, the league threat­ened, but failed, to instate a draft of Dominican prospects to usurp con­trol of the com­modity. “The MLB has con­sis­tently tried to con­trol its affairs in the Dominican Republic,” Klein explained, adding that the league has over­stated Domini­cans’ use of performance-​​enhancing drugs in order to “con­trol the market.”

Busi­ness part­ner­ships notwith­standing, both sides agree that the Dominican Republic is one of the world’s best per capita pro­ducers of pro­fes­sional talent. Over the past 25 years, Klein has wit­nessed the con­sid­er­able skills of count­less players, inter­viewing more than 100 of the 568 Dominican-​​born players who have reached the big leagues. Of those, he said, his favorite is future Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Mar­tinez, he of the head­hunting fast­ball and knee-​​bending curve.

I iden­ti­fied with him,” said Klein, a southpaw who pitched in junior col­lege. “He and I threw very live balls that moved a lot, but I was just a thrower and he was a pitcher. Our careers showed that.”