Big news last week (that I’m just posting today because I forgot to over the weekend . Reversing literally decades of draconian socialist policy, Cuba announced on 9/27/13 that its residents will be allowed to compete in foreign leagues. Players would be allowed to play in professional leagues outside of Cuba as long as they paid taxes on their income and returned home to play in the Cuban (winter) national league. It seems like a more than reasonable policy that should end the “under cover of darkness” defection policy that Cuba’s best players have been adopting (and mostly risking their lives in the process) in order to pursue their dreams at salaries more commensurate with their skills on the international market.
My favorite side-effect of this policy may very well be the future effect on the World Baseball Classic Cuban team. I surmised what a “politics-free” version of the Cuban team may have looked like for this year’s WBC, a post I wish I could re-visit now that we’ve seen just how amazing guys like Yasiel Puig, Jose Fernandez, Alberto Despaigne and Jose Iglesias really are. Nonetheless you have to think a consolidated Cuban team (if they can find some pitching…they are thin on the mound) would be an early favorite for the next incarnation of the event.
One of my favorite baseball novels is The Duke of Havana: Baseball, Cuba, and the Search for the American Dream by two newspaper writers Steve Fainaru and Ray Sanchez. They covered Orlando Hernandez, Cuban baseball, his amazing defection and eventual Yankees career in this 2001 novel (which was a partial compilation of a number of their newspaper articles over the years). They show the effects of the ruthlessly cruel Cuban government on the nationalistic Hernandez, watch his general fall from grace, and hear the story of his near-death defection. After reading this book you’re struck by a few obvious points:
- Life in Cuba under the socialistic government is awful.
- The fall of the USSR (and their billions of subsidies) really, really has destroyed what’s left of the Cuban economy.
- The efforts Cuban baseball players must go through just to pursue their dreams is beyond amazing.
You would have to think that this policy change is being done in reaction to a series of recent high profile defections. Certainly guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig have had immediate and huge impact on the majors in the very immediate past, but the quick-fire defections of Cuban stars Alexander Guerrero, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and especially long-time cuban slugger Jose Abreu in just the last couple of months has to have been unsettling (click here for a full list of Cuban defectees on wikipedia). The Cuban government faces a set increasingly less-desirous options: ban its stars from playing at all and damaging its national sport, or stop traveling internationally and losing its fiercely held national pride in competing and winning these international tournaments. This policy seemingly would benefit both parties; Cuba would retain some taxable income from the players’ efforts and the players would get to vastly increase their earnings while competing in higher level leagues.
Me personally, I think the Cuban embargo has long since run its course. Yes I understand why it still exists, and I understand why those in the Cuban exile community still harbor significant resentment towards the Castro regime. But at this point, with Fidel Castro nearly dead, his country in shambles and its people badly suffering, wouldn’t a change in policy help everyone out here? Havana used to be a global tourist attraction, and US hotel companies have to be chomping at the bit at the opportunity to regain entry to the Cuban market. The dependence on tourism as an industry was initially rejected as part of the nationalistic movement under Castro, but the influx of money and jobs would seem like a welcome change to Cuba’s starving and struggling citizens now. We’ll see what happens from here; the US government has already stated its intended roadblocks from Cuban nationals sending taxes back to Cuba. But somehow I think we can find a way around such a policy if it so benefits all involved.
Post-posting update: excellent analysis in The Economist as pointed out by Hardballtalk’s Craig Calcaterra that indicates the MLB impact may be very minimal thanks to the ongoing trade embargo. I must admit I did not really consider this the impediment that it likely will be. In the comments section of the Hardball article are some spirited debate with options: the best sounds like Cuban players signing one-year deals in other foreign leagues then defecting while they are out of the country. That sounds like it could work…