Jul 8, 2023; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco (5) reacts after getting hit by a pitch against the Atlanta Braves in the third inning at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most shocking and salacious stories in recent sports history started with screenshots of a couple Instagram posts.

Three days later, there are now multiple investigations looking into allegations about star Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco carrying on illegal romantic relationships with two minors. But outside of official statements from MLB and Dominican authorities, details remain scarce in the mainstream press. Anybody interested in digging beyond the press releases must look to social media, where rumors and innuendo are flying at a breakneck pace.

To make matters even more complicated, the scandal is playing out in Spanish.

How in the world should media organizations handle an explosive revelation like this? There is a fine line between spreading unfounded innuendo, and being behind the story.

So far, mainstream outlets are erring on the side of extreme caution. While that’s probably the right call legally, it leaves inquiring minds with few options besides pounding away at the Twitter search bar.

What a mess.

On Saturday, a Spanish-speaking journalist posted a couple screenshots of Instagram posts that allege Franco is sexually involved with a 14 year old girl.

A rough translation of the first post in question inquires about a “Major League Baseball player who allegedly abused a 14-year-old girl,” complete with two images of Franco.


The second post included photos and videos of the alleged victim.

At first glance, it’s difficult to determine whether the posts are true or not. There’s no evidence the girl pictured with Franco is 14 years old, besides an Instagram caption. A Google search of the man who shared the info, Sonny Respeto, comes up empty.

With that in mind, speculation was contained to the underbelly of social media until Sunday afternoon, when the Rays scratched Franco from the lineup. He had played 40 straight games at that point, and was in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak.

Franco was originally spotted in the Rays dugout, but left during the fifth inning. He wasn’t in the locker room after the game.

Before the contest, Franco broadcast a now-deleted Instagram Live video from the Rays clubhouse denying the allegations.

Then things started to get really strange. While Rays manager Kevin Cash insisted it was a scheduled day off for Franco, he offered no other info.  (In a terrible coincidence, the Rays were promoting a Franco snapback hat giveaway Sunday to fans 14 and younger.)

A couple of hours later, the Rays released a statement acknowledging they were aware of the posts and “take the situation seriously.” That seemed to confirm there was some legitimacy to the allegations. The notoriously tight-budgeted Rays signed Franco to an 11-year, $182 million contract, making him the face of their franchise.

It’s hard to fathom they would address speculation about their star player preying on a middle school-aged girl on a whim. While no news organization had confirmed the story at that point, they didn’t need to.

The Rays did it for them.

Late Sunday night, Jeff Passan reported Franco wasn’t traveling with the team to San Francisco; and on Monday, confirmed MLB was investigating.

But wait: there’s more. The Dominican Attorney General’s office revealed Monday night it was investigating a separate complaint filed by a minor against Franco, who’s currently on MLB’s restricted list.

As The Athletic mentions, the allegations against Franco originated in the Dominican, and appear to be secondhand. That severely complicates matters.

The last big scandal involving a star Dominican ballplayer happened four years ago, when David Ortiz was shot at a nightclub–and we still may not know the truth. Law enforcement changed their story about the incident numerous times, destroying their credibility.

Ortiz hired his own private investigator, ex-Boston police chief Ed Davis, who finally revealed his findings in 2022. Davis said Ortiz was targeted, because a notorious drug kingpin felt disrespected by the slugger. That revelation contradicted the findings of Dominican police, who came to the conclusion that Ortiz was shot accidentally.

Throughout the investigation, the only outlets reporting on the matter were The Daily Mail and other gossip rags, which published salacious information about Ortiz engaging in extramarital affairs, and having a secret son. (Boston Magazine confirmed parts of those stories, including information about Ortiz’s second-born son, in a 2022 exposé.)

Ortiz’s situation is relevant to Franco, because it shows we may never know what really happened. The Dominican National Police is considered one of the most corrupt law enforcement units in the world.

With little reliable information, and few sources on the ground, news organizations are stuck. They can’t report on a story if they have no leads.

At this point, the only outlets for information are MLB and the Dominican attorney general’s office, both of which may have their own agendas.

We seemingly know everything about our favorite athletes and celebrities these days; and yet, Franco’s alleged sexual relationships with two minors may forever be shrouded in mystery. The same may be true for his future in Major League Baseball.