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MLB

MLB Strikes Deal With Cuba, Ending Dangerous Defections

This one is a long overdue game-changer and should eliminate the dangerous trafficking that has run rampant for decades.

According to reports, Major League Baseball, it’s players’ association and the Cuban Baseball Federation have reached an agreement that will allow players from the island to sign big league contracts without risking their lives defecting, in an effort to eliminate the dangerous trafficking that has run rampant for decades.

 

Journal Sentinel on Twitter

The MLB deal with the Cuban government will allow talent to be scouted and signed without undergoing the dangerous journeys and dealings with human smugglers in defecting. https://t.co/qp6O6tO9hg

 

According to the Daily News, “The agreement runs through Oct. 31, 2021 and allows Cubans to sign under rules similar to those for players under contract to clubs in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.”

In other words, the club gets paid a grip if you want a specific Cuban prospect. It’s a win-win for everyone.

The agreement marks a step forward in U.S.-Cuba relations during a time of tensions between Cuba and the Trump administration, which has pledged to undo President Barack Obama’s 2014 opening with the island.

 

Via a Shadow League article in 2016:

Obama Attempts To Stop The Economic Oppression

“For over half a century, the U.S. government has tried to isolate Cuba economically in an effort to destroy Fidel Castro’s regime and deprive the country of vital resources. Since 1960, Americans have been barred from trading with, investing in, or traveling to Cuba. Initially, the embargo was no more than a thorn in Castro’s side and an inhibitor to Cuban talent moving through the MLB pipeline.

But all that changed with the fall of Soviet communism. Today, after losing billions in annual economic aid from its former sponsor, Cuba is a poor, dysfunctional and isolated nation of about 11 million. The spirit of the country and the proud people who inhabit it and have escaped it, however, remains alive.

Past Presidents have taken pride in suppressing Castro’s arrogance and unwillingness to bow down to the rulers of the free world. However, in keeping with his 2008 campaign theme of Change President Obama, who announced the beginning of normalized relations with Cuba in December 2014, made history.”

Awake Miami on Twitter

Since the Obama visit the pace of modernization in Cuba has accelerated. God knows how much Cuba could accomplish if provided the opportunity. One of the most highly educated people on earth. https://t.co/fZPO8eMPZp

 

In 2016, The Tampa Bay Rays played the Cuban national team on March 22. The game, was played at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana and broadcasted by ESPN and ESPN Deportes.

The Rays were the first team to play in Cuba since the Baltimore Orioles in 1999. According to ESPN, they were also the first US team to play in Havana since the late 1950’s.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred randomly picked the Rays out of a hat to represent the majors in Cuba, but it was fitting as the city of Tampa has a relationship with Cuba dating back to the 1800’s.

“During a time of historic change, we appreciate the constructive role afforded by our shared passion for the game, and we look forward to experiencing Cuba’s storied baseball tradition and the passion of its many loyal fans,” Manfred said in a statement.

Obama attended the game and held a joint press conference with Cuban leader Raul Castro.

Juan Martinez on Twitter

African American president watching the Tampa Bay Rays play in Cuba. You literally couldn’t have predicted that 20 years ago. #MLBinCuba

 

Trump was trying to stop that forward progress.

However, a loophole has allowed MLB to finally do the right thing. MLB says the deal was allowed by a general license issued by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control in 2016 that was not specific to baseball.

“For years Major League Baseball has been seeking to end the trafficking of baseball players from Cuba by criminal organizations by creating a safe and legal alternative for those players to sign with major league clubs,” Manfred said in a statement this week.

The agreement could translate into millions of dollars in future income for the cash-strapped Cuban federation, which has seen the quality of players and facilities steadily decline over the past few years as talent defected overseas to find better financial opportunity in baseball.

“Establishing a safe, legal process for entry to our system is the most important step we can take to ending the exploitation and endangerment of Cuban players who pursue career in MLB,” union head Tony Clark said in a statement. “The safety and well being of these young men remains our primary concern.”

Dan Cohen on Twitter

You must read @jonahkeri piece on Jose Fernandez. Multiple failed defections from Cuba, prison time, saved his mother, became an All-Star.

 

We have heard the horror stories about Cuban ballplayers and citizens defecting to the US, risking their lives and traveling across treacherous waters with waves 20-feet high, late in the night on poorly crafted boats under the control of thugs, with hopes of getting to the United States and escaping the communist and restrictive clutches of the Cuban government.

Ex-Yankees great Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez’ harrowing story is an example. According to a 1998 New York Times article,  “Around 7:30 on the morning after Christmas, Orlando Hernandez, one of the best pitchers ever on the Cuban national baseball team, and seven companions got into a small sailboat with four oars. They loaded four cans of Spam, bread, sugar and drinking water onto the craft and guided it into the calm azure Caribbean water off the Cuban coast.

Hernandez, known in his homeland as El Duque, was banned from the baseball team in August 1996 because the Government believed he was about to defect and had aided in the defection of other baseball players, including his half brother, Livan, who is a pitcher for the Florida Marlins and was the World Series most valuable player last season.”

“…However, their journey of hope soon turned dangerous as they spent 10 hours adrift in a leaky boat and four days stranded on Anguilla Cay, a remote sliver of land in Bahamian waters near Cuba. They sustained themselves on crabs from the sea”

Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez Yankees Highlights

Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez defected from Cuba in 1995. He made his major league debut with the Yankees in 1998 and finished 4th in AL Rookie of the Year voting that year. His best year came in 1999, when he won 17 games and proved durable by starting 33 games.

 

“Today is a day that I am extremely happy,” said a statement from LA Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who was smuggled out of Cuba by traffickers linked to a Mexican drug cartel. Puig’s life was threatened and he was basically financially enslaved to the thugs who facilitated his defection even after he made it to the United States. “To know future Cuban players will not have to go through what we went through makes me so happy.” 

 

MLB Pioneers

Let’s reflect on the pioneering Cuban players who risked their lives for a small piece of the American dream and ended up tremendously and bravely influencing the country’s culture. 

  1. Minnie Minoso

In 1951, Minoso became the first Black man to play for the Chicago White Sox and went on to become an All-Star left fielder. As a rookie, the speedy Minoso was one of the first Latin Americans to play in an MLB All-Star Game.

The Cuban Rocket first played in the Cuban Negro League and dominated there before coming to Chi-Town and becoming one of the most popular players in franchise history. Minoso was an All-Star nine times and won three Gold Gloves in his 30’s.

He also batted over .300 eight times and, along with Willie Mays, has been credited with leading the resurgence of speed as a lethal weapon in baseball, helping the Go-Go White Sox gel into one of baseball’s powerhouse squads in the 1950’s and ’60s.

 

  1. Tony Oliva

The third of 10 children, Oliva grew up on a farm in the Pinar del Río province with no electricity or plumbing. He put in work at an early age, helping his family tend to cows, pigs, and chickens and growing mangoes, corn and tobacco.

He was fortunate enough to develop into an MLB prospect, and left home in 1961 to play ball in the U.S.

He quickly learned about racism when he came to the United States. Oliva wound up with a rookie-league club in Virginia. There, he had to live in the colored section of town and walk three miles to the stadium. It wasn’t like that back in Cuba, but he persevered even after the Bay of Pigs fiasco further complicated U.S-Cuba relations, making it impossible for him to return home.

Twins legend Tony Oliva remembers fellow Cuban ballplayer Jose Fernandez

After the tragic death of the Miami Marlins’ Jose Fernandez, fellow Cuban Tony Oliva reflects

 

Oliva had arguably the greatest rookie season in history, leading the American League in runs scored, doubles, total bases, hits and batting average (.323) for the Minnesota TwinsHe spent his entire 15-year career from 1962-76 with Minnesota and at age 82, continues to inspire as a gem of the Minnesota sports community. The eight-time All-Star dominated pitchers, but unfathomably isn’t in Cooperstown.

Oliva missed getting inducted by the Hall of Fame Golden Era committee by one vote in 2015.

 

3. Tony Perez

“The Mayor of Riverfront” is probably the most famous Cuban baseball player in history. He was signed at age 17 by a Cincinnati Reds scout,  came over to the states in the ’60s and carved out a 23-year playing career and an overall baseball career that has spanned six decades.

The two-time World Series champ was a seven-time all-star infielder, playing with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan as a key cog in “the Big Red Machine,” winning two World Series with the Reds.

ARI@CIN: Tony Perez is honored with statue

8/21/15: Reds’ former All-Star Tony Perez is honored and celebrated with a statue at Great American Ball Park Check out http://m.mlb.com/video for our full archive of videos, and subscribe on YouTube for the best, exclusive MLB content: http://youtube.com/MLB About MLB.com: Commissioner Allan H.

 

After his legendary career ended, Perez went on to coach and manage the Reds and Florida Marlins. From 1993 through the 2017 season, he was Special Assistant to the General Manager with the Marlins.

Latin Lords Legacy 

These guys paved the way for studs like Puig and Jose Fernandez (RIP), who both defected from Cuba and took MLB by storm in 2013, with the golden-armed Fernandez out-dueling his fellow Cuban down the stretch for the NL Rookie of the Year honors.

Can’t forget All-Stars like Chicago White Sox slugger Jose Abreu, Yankees closer and World Series champ Aroldis Chapman and other Cuban players who went on to become elite pro ballers.

MLB’s deal is truly a monumental day for baseball. In order to call itself a world sport and a true leader in diversity and inclusion, it can’t be involved  in the exclusion of any race or nationality of people.

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