14 February 2013

2013 World Baseball Classic: Brazil

This is the sixth in a series to introduce everyone to teams participating in 2013's World Baseball Classic.  As this series progress, you will find all of the articles under this key world: 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Previously, we reviewed Australia, Canada, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the USA.

The body of the Brazil article was written by Jon Shepherd.

IBAF Ranking (out of 74) 20th
2013 Pool Cuba


2013 Players of Note Andre Rienzo, RHP

Rafael Fernandez, RHP

Luiz Gohara, LHP

Rafael Moreno, RHP

Leonardo Reginatto, 3B

2009 Record Did Not Appear
2006 Record Did Not Appear
The origin of baseball in Brazil is unique among the countries South of the United States.  Where other countries in the Western Hemisphere saw baseball flow through US colleges via Cuban students as well as American serviceman as the country decided to impart greater influence areas south of their borders.  This pattern was mentioned previously in our posts on Puerto Rico and Cuba.  You will also hear it again when we cover Venezuela.  Brazil though, as I mentioned earlier, does not follow this path. 

Of course, the arrival of baseball in Brazil began in the United States where the game more or less came to be in its most popular incarnation.  From American colleges, the game traveled to Japan where the first recorded games were played in 1878 by a returning engineer.  In Japan, the game developed isolated from the United States and their sphere of influence.  Japanese baseball more fully embraced slap hitting small ball and a pitching strategy that valued hiding the ball more than velocity or pitch quality.  That style of game is what arrived in Brazil in 1908.

Why is 1908 important?  Labor.  A large portion of Brazilian exports were based on their productive coffee plantations.  The hard labor was originally fulfilled by the African slave trade, but slavery was outlawed in 1850.  The business stumbled for a decade or two before offering incentives to bring Italians into the country by paying for their passage and then forcing them into low paying, grueling positions on the plantations and into a culture that often ignored their well being.  The brutalization of the Italians led to the Prunetti Decree in 1902 which no longer allowed Brazil to subsidize Italian immigration, once again leaving Brazil with a cheap labor shortage.

Fortunately for Brazil, this time coincided with the social and political modernization of Japan which resulted in a large and incredibly poor rural population.  With few opportunities at home, opportunities were sought abroad.  Labor was needed in the rapidly growing industries found in the United States, Australia, and Brazil.  Japanese-American relations had soured in response to Japan's militaristic coming of age in the Far Pacific leading to multiple tense diplomatic events before the two nations agreed in 1907 to end all Japanese immigration to the United States.  Australia also had concerns about non-white individuals, which led to a series of actions roughly known as the White Australia Policy that also prevented any Japanese immigration.

Brazil stood to gain with their more tolerant acceptance of origin for their cheap labor.  Japanese farmers first came over on the Kasato Maru and later on other vessels with most beginning work out in the coffee plantations.  The systems set up on these plantations were similar to the coal communities that were common in the United States for much of the 20th century.  Essentially, labor is paid minimally while the company gauges the employees on rent as well as over charging for food and other supplies by owning all of the businesses in the community as well.  For anyone who doubts the utility of unions, the pain and suffering in those mines as well as in the Brazilian coffee fields should cause some second thoughts about how benevolent management is when left to there own devices.

Why is this important?  Well, those farmers originally saw the move to Brazil as a short-term plan.  They would leave their home, make some money, and then return a success to their ancestral home.  The truth wound up being though that only an incredible few would ever be able to save up enough money to afford the trip back home.  Almost all remained in Brazil, largely shunned by the locals, and became an incredibly insulated community.  Part of this insulation was the strong survival of baseball in spite of these Japanese communities being surrounded by ravenous support for soccer, basketball, and volleyball.

Baseball survived as a sport that is played by a small part of society and in a way that is not entirely conducive to the way it is played in the Major Leagues.  This is where Andres Reiner comes in.  If you have not read it, you must read Venezeula Bust Baseball Boom.  That book is about how Venezuela became a major player in developing prospects for the Major Leagues.  Reiner plays a major role as a member of the Astros organization.  He found guys like Bobby Abreu, Johan Santana, and Melvin Mora.  He made baseball work in Venezuela by developing a system for professional scouts to move in and acquire talent.  After Houston decided to dry up their efforts in Venezuela, Reiner followed a former Astro GM to the Tampa Bay Rays organization where he was put in charge of making Brazil a viable source of baseball talent.

Reiner's work was discussed in Jorge Arangure's piece for ESPN Insider.  Briefly, the Rays were able to secure a very sweet deal from a town called Marilla.  The government there built a 29 acre academy for the Rays to use and the local population agreed to deviate from the Japanese game to play a more familiar American style (which is also being pushed by Cuban coaches who are more frequently being hired).  The Rays did not need to contribute any money for any of this to occur.  However, they are on the hook for maintaining the facilities that were bought for them.  They are also not on the hook for any medical coverage as Brazil has a quite progressive universal health care system.  In total, the Rays look to be investing about 750k per year to run the facility.

Of course, this is not easy work.  Yan Gomes is the only Brazilian to appear in the Majors.  He did so last year with the Blue Jays, the other team who has pushed significant resources into Brazil (though not an academy).  Over in Japan, only a handful of Brazilians have played the game there.  The country though is becoming more important.  The Orioles signed Rafael Moreno in November of 2011 and has received some positive marks for his performance last year in the Dominican Summer League.  Moreno will also be part of the Brazilian World Baseball Classic Team who will face the Orioles in Spring Training in March.

What to expect in WBC 2013?
Few people thought that Brazil would make it to the WBC.  This was Panama's spot to lose and they lost it.  Brazil's strength lies mainly in their power pitching.  Andre Rienzo is a 24 year old pitcher who performed well last year in the White Sox organization and is equipped with a low 90s fastball and an above average slider.  Youngsters, Luis Gohara and the aforementioned Rafael Moreno, should provide strength out of the bullpen.  Rafael Fernandes, a NPB pitcher, rounds out the squad.  Offensively, did I mention their pitching?


Anonymous said...

great history and very interesting. The largest untaped market for talent? You will not find a country with more passon. If baseball becomes popular in Brazil, watch out!

Anonymous said...

That was a great read. Thanks! -dfa

Jon Shepherd said...

Thanks DFA.

Anon - Brazil certainly has great potential with a strong kernel of baseball being played there along with the ability to attract experienced managers and trainers from places where baseball is already established. In that regard, it has better potential than China. However, if China ever decided that baseball was important...watch out.

David said...

I graduated from High School in Sao Paulo, Brazil from an English-speaking school. I played high-school "baseball" down there for a year. We actually played a Brazilian-Japanese baseball team for one game as a tune-up.

My wife- by chance- is Brazilian. I'm excited that Brazil (or Brasil) is in the WBC. She could care less. It's all futebol for her. Now they play Japan and Cuba and things may get ugly. Oh well. Barry Larkin will get the most out of them and I hope they enjoy it.

Your article was full of information I didn't know. Thanks.