By Vanndy Pan
Providence, RI and Dothan, AL – Since 2002, Joe Cook has made it his mission to weave the game of baseball into the fabric of Cambodian sports culture. Acknowledging that the American sport is virtually alien to the locals, the process of league development in this small Southeast Asian nation has tremendous obstacles to overcome. Thus, with a lot of gumption and determination, Cook gathered many extra hands to help him throughout the years to make his dream come to fruition. These people included Jim Small, vice president of MLB Asia; Rick Dell, director of MLB international baseball development; and even regular charitable citizens around the states. He had been praised by people everywhere for bringing the game onto Cambodian soil, but unfortunately for Cook, his efforts do not come without scandal. During the last three years, his reputation has been tarnished with scathing accusations ranging from malfeasance and fraud to player maltreatment and adultery.
The allegations were published in an ESPN Outside the Lines exposé written by Patrick Hruby titled “Field of Schemes?” in 2009. After nearly two years of seemingly keeping a low profile, Cook was eager to speak with THE KHMERICAN to offer his personal rebuttal to the exposé. Since it was published, the only voice that has been heard was that of Patrick Hruby. Apparently, other news media outlets have not approached Joe Cook to speak with him after its release. In all fairness, THE KHMERICAN was keen to give Joe Cook himself a chance to address his critics.
The following is an excerpt from the August 18, 2011 interview.
THE KHMERICAN, Vanndy Pan: What is your response to the people who have made allegations against you about how you handled finances and how you don’t pay your staff?
Joe Cook: Because you’re a journalist, because you’re a writer, because you have something to do… some people come to me and sometimes, they face a lot of things so they write all kinds of words, all kinds of things. Some of them write bad, some of them write good. I don’t know when you go to Cambodia you interview some of those players, having a hard time last time the player that was [making] accusations against me was like I don’t pay the players. Okay, now, who in the hell is paying me to pay those players besides my salary? I cannot raise funds. I’m telling the truth, Vanndy. I raised, from 2002 to 2011, I raised 31,000 USD cash, okay? That’s cash. The goods and service, you know like equipment, or people volunteer their time, flying down to Cambodia. I would say about $200,000—that’s goods and services, not money. That’s just the service—about $200,000. Now you calculate this, I make money. I work in the restaurant.
VP: There was a 2009 ESPN Outside the Lines exposé written about you called, “Field of Schemes?” by Patrick Hruby. What are your thoughts about the things that have been written?
JC: I thought I can trust him. I think it might come back to bite me later, but he’s been quiet since 2009.
VP: Did you actually get back to him on that, after you’ve read the exposé?
VP: No? Why not?
JC: He’s just not interested in me anymore, and he just thinks—okay, here’s [who] Patrick is. Patrick Hruby is a kid [who]’s born in the United States. He’s American, Irish, and he’s married to a Cambodian woman [who is] born here in the States. Her name is Saphira. She’s a very nice woman. She speaks very little Cambodian because she’s born here, and [Patrick] wanted to do this story, but he got paid big chunks of money to write about this story. He gets $1.2 million rewarded for this story here. They pay a lot of money for him and his wife, travel to Cambodia to do this article, to go do this story, and he got paid by the Major Leagues just to research on that. Now back to the ESPN, I am confess[ing] to you the only thing that is really true is the insurance fraud. Now the insurance fraud is—
VP: About your brother? Is that about your brother [Chroch]?
JC: Yes. Now, here’s what happened first. You have to know the true story first.
VP: Sure. This is why I wanted to talk to you personally, so—
JC: So you can write the way it is. My brother lives in California. He went to Cambodia and he likes the country. He likes the things there. He met a guy in Cambodia also doing [an] insurance thing so he was explaining to my brother, saying “Hey, here’s what you gotta do, such and such.” My brother kind of listened to that candy thing—kind of bite on that candy, and he informed me if I can do this such and such for him and kind of help out. I was like, “No I do not, I’m not that kind of person, okay? I got a lot of things I got to do. This can ruin my career or whatever things there.” And, he was like “No, we are brothers. We die together.” You know, I remember when I was a kid, when he took us, led us from our province to the border. I survived by him, so this is a payback to him. I had to do it. So, anyway, I told him I would do it but don’t get me involved too much. He said, “Okay, if anything, just resolve that to him” and Patrick Hruby [does not] want to resolve it with my brother. He basically [wrote] nasty about me.
VP: Can I read you some of the allegations?
JC: No, no. Let me finish here first, please. He had a New York life insurance for $20,000. He had it for 14 years and the New York life insurance settled without a question because he paid a premium. They make more money from him than what he paid so that was okay, but the other two insurance—the $80,000 and the $70,000—they do not pay because he had insurance for less than two years, so they will not agree to do that, and they confront[ed] me, and said, “Look, I know your brother’s still alive. We had the investigation. We can prove it to you. If you continue to move this forward, Joe, you’re going to be a deep whatever.” So I [said], “Okay. Good. I want to stop. So, what is the deal?” They said, “Look, we can sign this paper without any further allegations, and anybody who comes to us, we are nothing,” so I signed that paper. That was a done deal but made $20,000 I sent to my brother, and more than half of it he helped to support baseball to [keep it] going these days. Also, I’m telling you the allegations, that girl in the newspaper—in the paper, you see that?
For ease of reference, we have extracted from the first half of the interview the following statements by Cook, which he presented as facts but have yet to be proved or disproved:
- Cook does not pay players from his own salary.
- Cook raised $31,000 from 2002 to 2011.
- The cost of goods and services related to operating the Cambodian baseball team is $200,000.
- Hruby was not interested in Cook’s desire to set the record straight after publication of the expose.
- Hruby received $1.2 million (including the coverage of travel expenses) for writing “Field of Schemes?” expose [unclear if solely from ESPN or others, like MLB].
- Hruby received money from Major League Baseball [undisclosed amount].
- Cook’s brother, Chroch, convinced him to commit insurance fraud out of family loyalty; despite qualms, Cook agreed to help Chroch due to owing Chroch his life.
- New York Life insurance paid $20,000 for the claim of Chroch’s death. That amount was less than Chroch’s payments to them over 14 years.
- Two other insurance claims were not paid out due to suspicion of fraud.
- Cook sent the $20,000 to Chroch; more than 50 percent still went toward supporting Cambodian baseball.
VP: The one that said they are your girlfriend? Yes, go ahead.
JC: The secret girlfriend, yes! Let me tell you. This is a good one. She is a scorekeeper. In Cambodia, I always have scorekeepers. A lot, okay? I bring those kids. They are [prostitutes]. They are involved with [sex work]. I told them, “If you come to work [in] baseball, I will give you salary. I will teach you to learn how to read and write to help your career, to help your skills.” So, they came and do scorekeep[ing]. Now, this young lady here [referring to the photo published in the original ESPN article], she is a scorekeeper when Patrick was there. She is a scorekeeper. Patrick saw me talk to her most of the time, here and there. Most of the time, he goes to talk to everybody. Mostly scorekeeper, I work with them daily all the time. I want to review them, get their information. It’s about scores, so people in Cambodia thought—sometimes, she would hang out with me in the club house. We write about scorekeeping, track all the records and stats and things like that, so people look at [it] differently. People would look differently. Now, let me tell you about her. She had a fiancé. They were going to get married. In Cambodia, a young pretty woman like this have a great fiancé, you cannot do things like this, so [Patrick Hruby] wrote about her, put a picture about that. Then, that allegation, I saw that paper—I saw her photo, talked about me and her, and then I print it out, and then I let my general secretary in Cambodia, Chea Theary, show her and her fiancé and her family. And then, her fiancé and her family disconnect that relationship, because in Cambodia, you cannot put a woman before they marry the allegation like that, so the guy, the fiancé was like “I’m done. I’m not that kind of guy.” So, they separate. And now, since then, nowadays, she will never re-engage or whatever. So her family has a problem with baseball. They were accusing baseball. I said, “Look, I didn’t write about that. I did not do that. I was just showing you what other people wrote about your daughter.” And Patrick Hruby [doesn’t] want to face in Cambodia suing because the family is suing Patrick [for] putting her picture without her permission, without her parents’ permission. So, I don’t know how to contact her again, but now, it’s screwing her life. She [doesn’t] want to deal with that anymore. She blamed me because I handled baseball. I said, “Look, I did not write about that, okay?” He asked me if that’s my girlfriend. I said, “No, she’s a scorekeeper.” Because I print it out, and I showed her and her fiancé, they separate. They split, and now it hurts. Because in Cambodia when they [are] engage [to] somebody, they handle a lot of money. You might know something. In Cambodia, it’s like that, and they have to repay things. Now, did I make that trouble? No, I did not. I was just showing what people would write. Now, Patrick Hruby need[s] to say, “I’m sorry it’s [ruined] your life.” In Cambodia, as a woman, now [are] different [from] women in the States than in Cambodia. If you [get] engage[d], some people can engage 10 times, some people can only engage on[c]e in a lifetime, but to her, it means everything to her. Now, you can talk to the media in Cambodia. They investigate on her, on everything.
VP: As for the allegations of paying the players’ salary?
JC: I pay the players whatever I can. I earn money. I got $31,000.
VP: How much do you usually give to these players?
JC: Some players, maybe $20, $50, $60 and sometimes, $80.
VP: And what’s the period? Per month?
JC: Yeah, per month. Sometimes, I would delay because I don’t have enough money, so I would let them know that I would pay them here and here. Sometimes, I owe them like three months or six months. Not some of them six months, but when they interviewed with ESPN, they nailed me because they want their money. At that time, I [was] trying to pay my very best, because $31,000 where I spend $112,000 a year, that $31,000 is a piece of [expletive]. I mean, it’s good that I have that kind of donation, but it’s not even a fraction of what I do, operating in Cambodia, okay? I mean, I would run $40,000 to $150,000 a year budget in Cambodia. A lot of people were like, “What do you do with that money?” Well, in Cambodia there are a lot of things that I do with that money. To keep that legal[ly] done. To get everything done [for] baseball to get this far.
VP: Actually, there is someone in the exposé that talked about your finances. Do you know who Mr. Yom Kim Seng is?
JC: Yeah. Mr. Yom Kim [Seng] was a former president [of the Cambodian National Team, 2002-2008]. He thought that I got a lot of sponsors, a lot of business supporting baseball. I told him honestly, “Look, back then we’ve got,” I told him, “$27,000 in cash.” He thought, “Oh, that’s a lot of money.” Why [doesn’t] he get a portion of that? I said, “Look, how much I put to you all the time a month?” He said “$4,000, $6,000 a month.” He’s like, “Okay. That money, who does it come from if $27,000? How about we’re spending $80,000 or $100,000? Joe, you’re hiding something. You got somebody supporting you.” He thought that I get it from MLB (Major League Baseball) or some American company or Japanese company. He thought that I make that kind of money and don’t even put back into the Federation. He thought I make a million dollars or three million dollars.
VP: So, what happened next?
JC: So, in Cambodia, I know certain people you can [talk about] and you cannot [talk about]. I really have to respect that to have baseball going, but anyway, there’s a lot more people too—not just Yom Kim Seng. So, I took over from 2009. Now, the players said that we did not go to the Asian Cup in that paper [referring to ESPN article]. Well, we did in 2009, because the Philippines postponed the tournament. The players thought that I got money from sponsors, and that I don’t even want to go to the tournaments because I can keep that money. I told them, “Look, it’s postponed from the Philippines.” In Cambodia, they don’t believe me. They do things differently. I cannot convince them or make them believe certain things. They always believe differently. So eventually we did [go] to the Asian Cup in 2009. Back then, it was supposed to be in Manila, Philippines in 2008, October something, and it then held back until May 29, 2009. We eventually showed up and the players interviewed back in 2008. The paper ran in 2009. It was too late already. The players apologized later, like “Joe, I’m so sorry.” Everybody. I was like, “It’s okay. I know it looks bad on me, but hey, I’m going to swim through.” People talk bad about me. I continue to do that because you know, I don’t have to tell you that I’m an honest man. I make you judge the way that you see and you hear. You can make that judgment. I am not a good person. I am not a bad person. I’m just me, so there are a lot of allegations.
We have also extracted the following from the second half of the interview, which again were presented as facts but have yet to be proved or disproved:
- Cook’s “girlfriend” [name unknown] is actually a scorekeeper/recordkeeper for the team.
- Cook takes in young women who would otherwise be in the sex industry and offers them training and jobs.
- “Girlfriend” had a fiancé who broke off their engagement upon learning about the allegations of her relationship with Cook.
- Parents of the “girlfriend” are upset with baseball as an institution for ruining their daughter’s engagement.
- Cook pays some players $20 to $80 per month but is sometimes months late in paying them.
- Yom Kim Seng [misspelled in ESPN article] questioned Cook’s expenditure of funds.
- Cook feels unable to disclose certain facts because of political pressure.
- The Cambodian baseball team attended postponed Asian Baseball Championship, in May 2009 instead of October 2008.
To hear more of what Cook has to say about the allegations against him by former associates, please download and listen to the audio provided here with the article on THE KHMERICAN.
*Currently, Joe Cook is in the US handling the overall operation of the team and Federation via the Cambodian National Baseball Team manager, Shigeaki Anthony Nishimura, overseas. Furthermore, the Cambodian team was originally scheduled to participate in this year’s SEA (Southeast Asian) Games from November 10th to 20th but the team entry application has been denied by the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia. For more information, please visit Joe Cook’s Facebook page or http://www.cambodiabaseball.org