Posted by: Mike Cornelius | September 13, 2018

Book Review: An Exposé Turns Into A Bitter Screed

There are three distinct stories in “Baseball Cop,” the new memoir by Eddie Dominguez, written with Teri Thompson and Christian Red. The first and the last make for compelling reading, as both are stories of overcoming great adversity, albeit in distinctly different forms. One is a story of escaping from tyranny and rising from poverty in an initially foreign land to a long and distinguished career in law enforcement. The other is a harrowing but ultimately hopeful tale of staring down one of the most dread diseases known to man. If both were expanded upon it would be easy to recommend the book, though it would need a different title.

Dominguez was born in Cuba just before Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista. One form of authoritarianism was replaced by another, and in 1966, when Dominguez was nine, his family escaped to Miami. They did so not by some dangerous ocean journey, but on a Freedom Flight, a now largely forgotten cooperative arrangement between Castro and the Johnson administration that allowed nearly 300,000 Cubans to migrate over an eight year period, provided they were willing to run the risk of publicly denouncing Castro’s regime.

Dominguez, his parents, and younger brother Carlos arrived in Miami in July 1966, with only his father knowing so much as a few words of English. They stayed with a friend of his mother’s for a month, before deciding that both job and educational prospects were better in Boston, where two aunts lived. The family settled in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, living first in a small apartment above a Spanish grocery store. Starting with virtually nothing and facing barriers of language and culture, Dominguez eventually paid his way through college and joined the Boston Police Department in 1979.

Thus began a twenty-nine-year career in blue that Dominguez recounts through a series of vignettes, from working in the “combat zone,” the long-defunct Boston red light district, to undercover drug investigations. For the last third of his police career Dominguez also served on a FBI drug task force, on which he was exposed to sophisticated investigatory techniques. Over the years he received multiple awards and professional recognition for his work.

In 2014, years after he left the Boston Police Department, Dominguez grew alarmed when he thought he noticed blood in his urine. That was soon followed by a stomachache that wouldn’t go away and a loss of appetite. At the insistence of his partner Donna, he finally went to see his doctor, who initially thought Dominguez was passing a kidney stone. But less than a day later the diagnosis grew far grimmer – Dominguez had pancreatic cancer. Few forms of the disease are deadlier, but Dominguez’s doctor offered a thin reed of hope, namely that the cancer was still in an early stage. The former cop endured proton radiation, a risky procedure known and Whipple surgery, and a clinical trial of an experimental drug.

Through it all Dominguez received strong support not just from his family, but also from scores of former co-workers. Against all odds he was eventually found to be cancer free. Dominguez married his longtime partner and remains in good health, though by his own admission he now takes life three months at a time – the interval between each regular scan.

As interesting and entertaining as these two stories are, the title of “Baseball Cop” makes it obvious that they are not the focus of the book. His formative years and police career take just three chapters, while his battle with cancer is recounted in a mere dozen pages. In between Dominguez writes of his involvement with the Great Game, first as a resident security agent, or RSA, for the Boston Red Sox and then as part of the initial staff of MLB’s Department of Investigations, established in response to the Mitchell Report on performance enhancing drug use. What Dominguez took away from his ten years as an RSA, which was the name given to a member of the local city’s police department assigned to assist with security at the ballpark and in the clubhouse, and his six years with the DOI is made clear by the book’s lengthy subtitle, “The Dark Side of America’s National Pastime.” As Dominguez sees it, baseball’s management is filled with corrupt executives and team rosters are overflowing with PEDS users. All of which could have been prevented if he and the other original staff members of the DOI had just been allowed to do everything their own way.

Dominguez harbors special enmity for now-commissioner Rob Manfred, who oversaw relations with the Players Association and later became MLB’s chief operating officer while the author was working at the DOI. His seething anger pours off the page as Dominguez recounts ways in which, in his view, Manfred sought to hinder or block DOI initiatives, all as part of a grand scheme to secure baseball’s top job when Bud Selig retired.

Unfortunately, that anger generates far more heat than light. A reader is still in the prologue when told that the DOI “died quickly and quietly in 2014,” when in truth it still exists, just not to Dominguez’s liking. A few pages later Dominguez cites an unidentified source who estimates that “90 percent of current baseball players use something.” Similar passages can be found in almost every chapter. While his accounts of the DOI’s work are at times interesting, his ready willingness to engage in outright inaccuracy and wild hyperbole greatly diminishes the book’s credibility.

So too does his early admission that while on MLB’s payroll he submitted travel reimbursements that included expenses for car services taking him from his home to the airport and back, when in fact he was being driven by family members. In the age of the internet Dominguez obviously had no choice but to come clean. But while he dismisses the issue as petty, it allows MLB to in turn dismiss “Baseball Cop” as nothing more than the angry cries of a disgruntled former employee who was terminated for cause. All too often, that’s exactly how the book reads.

The reality is that as long as our various games are played, there will be those, both in the owner’s box and on the field, who will look for ways to cut corners or gain an unfair advantage. The effort to combat those villains is unending, and also often thankless. The Great Game is by no means perfect, nor will it ever be, but through his service Eddie Dominguez helped push it in the right direction. Sadly, he seems unable to accept that, and move on.

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