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--James Madison, "Political Reflections"


January 19, 2006

Planted by Orchardist/Professor Matthew S��berg Shugart @2:21 pm [Edit This]
Planted in: Baseball

Although the idea of the World Baseball Classic–principally, to promote baseball internationally by having major-league players play for teams assembled under the flag of their home countries–is a good one, inevitably the WBC is succumbing to the same scourges that afflict the Olympics: nationalism and petty politics.

Just to give one example, the other night I was listening to the MLB channel on XM Radio. Holden Kushner, one of the XM MLB hosts, was weighing in on the ongoing attempts by MLB to have the US government rescind its prohibition on Cuban participation in the WBC. He favors Cuban participation. Good so far. But why? So he can enjoy watching Team USA whip the “Cubans’ butts.”

I don’t get it. The Cuban team, if it is allowed in, would be the one team with no major-league millionaires or even minor-league prospects on it. It would be a team of not-very-well-off players who are playing for the love of the game, and whom we in the USA would most likely otherwise never get to see. And we should root against them because we are Americans and our political leadership despises their political leadership? I just do not get it.

For the record, if Cuba is in, that’s the team I am rooting for. Cuba, while a force in amateur international baseball, will be an underdog in the WBC–precisely because it will be competing against major-league big-money all-star teams from the USA, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. I will be rooting for them precisely because they will be players I have never heard of and will never see again (absent defections).

Moreover, the Cuban team, if permitted, would be the one team that won’t be playing to benefit its home-country baseball federation. In order to try to get around the US ban, Cuba has offered to donate all proceeds to Hurricane Katrina victims. A worthy cause, for sure. But why not donate a share of all the proceeds, and not just Cuba’s, to this purpose, thereby still allowing the baseball federation of Cuba–the poorest country and one of the most baseball-passionate in this tournament–to gain needed support for a program that gains none of the revenue that flows to the Dominican and other countries from their MLB stars?

Also for the record, if Cuba is forced out by the US government, I really do not care about the WBC. It will be far less “classic” and will have seen its inaugural tournament sullied by petty politics. Of course, there might not even be a WBC if Cuba is barred, because the International Baseball Federation may withdraw its sanction, causing several other countries to withdraw. Puerto Rico has already said it will not participate without Cuba.

And then there is the looseness of the definition of nationality in this tournament. The Italian team will be loaded with players who might have visited Italy once or twice, but otherwise are no more connected to Italy than I am to Norway or Germany. Mark Mulder will play for the Netherlands. Well, at least he is from South Holland.

And why are the Netherlands Antilles, home of Andruw Jones, lumped in with the Netherlands, yet Puerto Rico is not considered part of the USA? And of course, Taiwan will participate, but not under its own name and flag. That would offend the PRC.

It is all quite absurd.

With 43 days before the scheduled start of the tournament,the Cuba question needs to be resolved quickly.

Play Ball!

In addition to the long list of comments to this post, folow-up posts include:

Cuba, the WBC and engagement

Play Ball!


12 seeds sprouted

  1. Go ahead and root for Cuba.

    Root for the only unelected leader in the western hemisphere.

    Root for the country that allows zero dissent.

    Root for the country that has an apartheid system that keeps cubans off their own beaches, out of their own restaurants, and out of their own hotels.

    Root for the country that thousands dies trying to escape from every day.

    Root for the country that shelters Colombian FARC, and Spanish ETA terrorists as well as American cop killers.

    Root for the country that puts aids patients in gulags and arrests hundreds of young black men for the crime of “dangerousness”

    Seed planted by conductor, January 19, 2006 @ 5:21 pm

  2. In a free country, Mr. Conductor, everyone is entitiled to state their opinion, whether you agree with it or not.

    I truly fear what is going to happen in Post-Castro Cuba after reading this post. I have a feeling the US military is going to end up playing referee between the pro and anti Castro groups. Apparently, neither respects differing opions or supports freedom of speech.

  3. As to what will happen when the communists fall in Cuba, we need only to look at what happened in Russia and other eastern block countries. There will be some violence. You can’t have less than 5% of the population oppressing the other 95% for 47 years and expect that there won’t be some payback. There won’t be any pro-castro groups of consequence. The majority of Cubans go along with the regime because of fear. When they taste liberty it will be hard to give it back.

    Seed planted by conductor, January 19, 2006 @ 7:29 pm

  4. Nice to see a little controversy sparked by this post!!!

    “Conductor,” you might note that I am not rooting for Castro or his form of government. Apparently you have read nothing else at F&V or you would know better. In fact, apparently you did not even read the post carefully befire responding with your knee-jerk anti-Castro vitriol. Look more closely and you will see that I am rooting for the PLAYERS from Cuba, who, because of their government and because of the US embargo–that is, because of politics–do not have the right to sell their considerable talents on the open market (unless they are willing to take the personal risks inherent in defecting).

    They are unknowns in this country, because of the state of US-Cuban relations. They are underdogs because some of their best players have alraedy defected and play in the major leagues, and will play for other countries.

    I like underdogs. And even more, I like young men who play baseball for the love of this great game. Let Cuba play, and may their players take the WBC by storm! And may they one day live in freedom. But, to inject politics back into this discussion, not the “freedom” of the Florida exile community, but a homegrown freedom. Unfortunately, I do not think the East European or Russian experience is very relevant to Cuba. The regime is narrower, and the exile community much larger and more politically connected in Washington (which explains the Republican administration’s decision to ban the Cuban team). I fear Jack is right in this regard about what immediate post-Castro Cuban politics will be like.

    Seed planted by MShugart, January 19, 2006 @ 8:15 pm<

  5. Vitriol? Was anything I said about the castro regime factually wrong? Let me ask you what embargo you speak of. Are you not aware that the United States is the largest provider of food and agricultural products to Cuba? Are you not aware that the U.S. is Cuba’s 5th largest trading partner overall? The embargo is one in name only. castro can purchase whatever food and agricultural products he wants from the U.S. provided he pays cash up front for it. Why, because the amount of unpaid foreign debt that cuba has has ruined the country’s credit.

    The embargo does not prevent any cuban ballplayer from coming to play in the big leagues only castro can do that. To say that cuban ballplayers play strictly for the love of the game is naive. In a communist regime athletes are coddled (the the extent that a totalitarian and economically bankrupt regime can coddle). As a ballplayer you have an opportunity to travel, something ordinary Cubans can’t do. And that’s why, when given the opportunity, many cuban players defect. But it’s not so easy. Many have wives and children that they don’t know if they will ever see again. And those families must face reprisals by the castro regime. You should familiarize yourself with the case of Jose Contreras, the Chicago White Sox ace pitcher whose wife had to be smuggled out of cuba because the country routinely denied her permission to leave.

    As a HUGE baseball fan I would love nothing more than to see cuba’s team get crushed in the WBC and then have half the team defect. But I have a big problem legitimizing the castro regime through this event. South Africa is among the teams participating in the WBC. Would you be as gung ho about their “underdog” players if apartheid still existed in that country? If you don’t think there’s a form of apartheid in Cuba today, you are badly uninformed.

    And one more thing. Cuban ���amateur��� baseball players are about as amateur as the eastern block countries��� athletes were during the cold war. Carlos Delgado will be playing for Puerto Rico. Would castro allow Jose Contreras and the Hernandez brothers to play for the Cuban team? I doubt it.

    Seed planted by conductor, January 19, 2006 @ 9:00 pm

  6. Well, “Conductor,” I did not use the word “amateur” to describe Cuban players. I did refer to the international “amateur” competitions, because Cuba does indeed participate in them. One of my basic sympathies with Cuban players is, even if they are good enough to play in MLB, they lack the freedom to do so–unless they defect. So, I think we agree on this: Cuba’s players lack the usual freedom that talented players in other countries would have. I suspect this is all we agree on!

    Oh, well, maybe we do not even agree on that. I see you extol the special rights that baseball players get in Cuba. They are “coddled.” I guess you see them as better off than I do. How ironic! :-)

    I want to see the Cuban players succeed in one of the few opportunities (perhaps the only opportunity) they will ever have to be recognized in the USA (where the Panamerican Games, for example, are hardly noticed). That is, if the allegedly pro-freedom Bush administration lets these players have the right to play on our soil.

    And, by the way, I never suggested that anyone other than Castro prevents players from coming to play in the major leagues. But why does the US have policies towards Cuba unlike those towards any other repressive government on earth, including many past and present communist governments? Because of the Florida exiles and their influence in Washington. On this, again, Jack (above) is right.

    Regarding the South Africa parallel, I do not see it. Perhaps I am mistaken, and if so, I would be grateful to anyone who would set me straight. But I believe the South African international sports teams were not integrated, and that South Africa banned inter-racial sporing competition. Now, “Conductor” claims there is an apartheid in Cuba today. I do not wish to get into a debate about the state of race relations in Cuba. But where is the apartheid in the Cuban baseball team?

    Mr. Conductor suggests that letting the Cuban team be in the WBC would “legitimize” the Castro regime. I do not see why. One hardly needs to support a country’s government to allow its citizens to enjoy international sporting competition. In fact, that is precisely the point I started the original post on: decrying the insertion of politics between national governments into what is supposed to be an international showcase of the world’s best baseball players.

    Seed planted by MShugart, January 19, 2006 @ 9:27 pm

  7. Actually, a better analogy than South Africa would be hockey. Teams from the Soviet Union toured the United States in the late 80s-early 90s and played NHL teams. One time, I got to see the LA Kings play Dynamo Riga at the old Forum once. Great Game! I’m sure its known to all of us what the old Soviet government was like.

    Players started defecting in the mid 80s, until a transfer system was set up so that the Soviet hockey clubs could benefit from the sale of the players to US and Canadian clubs. The system exists to this day. Some now- Russian teams get a significant revenue source from the transfer payments.

    Perhaps a similar system could be set up to support Cuban club teams in the post-Castro era. I would hate to see in Cuba what has happened in the Dominican Republic, with each US and Canadian team having camps that attract players from the age of 16 on up.

    Finally, if the Cuban team gets crushed, I doubt there would be much interest from US and Canadian professional teams in players that defect. Like they learned the hard way in hockey, baseball teams are learning just because a player is from Cuba, it doesn’t mean he has talent.

    Play Ball!

    Seed planted by Jack Lazorko, January 20, 2006 @ 5:17 am<

  8. Jack, again, makes excellent points about the recruitment of players, and in his DR analogy. I think anyone but the most rabid anti-engagement forces would see that playing ball with Cuba is a net positive. At worst, it would have no effect on the broader US-Cuban relationship or the “legitimacy” (whatever that means) of the Castro regime. At best, it could spur things along towards greater liberty in Cuba, albeit only a little bit. It could be the beginning of a better future for Cuba’s baseball players and also give the Cuban people some ray of hope. I really do not care what Castro thinks or how he tries to spin any agreement that might be reaced over the WBC in his favor. Castro will be irrelevant one day, and that day gets closer every day. In the meantime, a little goodwill towards baseball players and ordinary baseball fans couldn’t hurt, and might help.

    Indeed, we know what the old Soviet regime was like. It was a tyranny worse than Castro’s. So is China’s regime, and so is Vietnam’s. So are many non-communist governments with whom we matintain close relations–Suadi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Somoza’s Nicaragua, etc. Yet we have or had better sporting and other people-to-people relations with these oppressive regimes than we’ve had with Cuba. It makes no sense on any rational level.

    Play ball!!

    Seed planted by MShugart, January 20, 2006 @ 7:44 am

  9. Let me split my response into two parts, the political and the athletic questions.

    Political: When I say Cuba has an apartheid regime I’m not talking about race (though racism in Cuba is still alive and well despite the propaganda to the contrary. During the entire castro regime there have been a only a handful of blacks that have held any positions of importance).

    What I mean is that in Cuba, Cubans are second class citizens. They are not allowed to mingle with foreigners, enter bars and restaurants that foreigners go to (even if the foreigner is buying), swim on the same beaches as foreigners.

    And forgetting how Cubans are treated relative to foreigners, it’s a police state. Cubans aren’t even allowed to travel freely withing their own country. The government spends a considerable amount of time and energy keeping peasants from the countryside from trying to migrate into the cities of Havana and Santiago. This is similar to South Africa’s historical townships. I bring up South Africa because they had a regime that carried on policies of gross abuses of human rights that the world found repugnant. So S.A. was put into a box and forced to change because of exterior pressure. My point is that I don’t think it would have been too popular 20 years ago to be pushing for South African participation in international events. Remember the slogan “I ain’t gonna play sun city!”? But somehow castro is portrayed as some sort of benevolent dictator. I can’t believe that less than 15 years after the fall of the USSR everyone has forgotten how communist countries use athletics for propaganda purposes. It’s a concerted effort by the government to hide the systems shortfalls by highlighting whatever success (or even a failure presented as a success) they may have in unrelated areas.

    As far as coddling of athletes goes, I don’t know how I could have made it any clearer than disclaiming with the following parenthetical “(the the extent that a totalitarian and economically bankrupt regime can coddle)”. Our players are coddled because our society puts a high value on sports but our players aren’t subsidized by the government. Our government doesn’t have a vested interest on who wins the WBC, the world cup, etc. etc. We have a rooting interest for sure but it’s not the same. If you don’ think that Cuban athletes have more privileges and perks (relative to the rest of the population) given to them by the government, then you are sadly mistaken.

    I don’t see why we Cuban-Americans are vilified for pursuing a policy agenda. There are more than 1.2 million Cubans living in the U.S. We’re well organized and we’ve fought very hard for 47 years to have voice in Washington. Isn’t that supposed to be the American way? Why do people begrudge us our power? And by the way think about why these 1.2 million Cuban Americans are almost monolithically opposed to the regime and legitimizing it in an event such as the WBC. I don’t see how you can discount those 1.2 million opinions to play a ballgame.

    To say that decision makers within the U.S. baseball industry don’t know about Cuban ballplayers is a gross misunderstanding of the situation. [MSS: I am not aware of anyone who says that; I myself was referring to the average baseball fan when I spoke of players being “unkown” in this country.] Believe me several ballclubs have dossiers on every player in the Cuban system. They are scouted. There are agents like Joe Cubas who specialize in following the Cuban team around and trying to get guys to defect.

    Baseball is Cuba’s national sport and they are very good at it but they aren’t as good as they once were. For one thing the switch to wood bats has really damaged their offensive capabilities. And they were never that good offensively to begin with. They play with a dead ball called “fofa”. Have you ever stopped to consider why only Cuban pitchers are successful in the majors? [MSS: I have indeed, and there is some research on it by the analysts at Baseball Prospectus. The reasons are rather more complex than implied here. We could say the same thing about Japanese players in MLB: The pitchers have been much more successful than the hitters, Ichiro notwithstanding.]

    What Cuba’s citizens would enjoy is a free country first, then we can talk about having a sporting event. [MSS: So, let’s ban all countries classified as “not free” from participating in international sports and other exchanges. Great idea!!]

    Seed planted by conductor, January 20, 2006 @ 7:46 am

  10. You know I can’t give my opinion on what we should do with other countries but I know that Iraq was banned from the Olympics under Saddam Hussein. Maybe we should have a requirement that a country meets a basic level human rights. After all it’s the country that these teams represent. If you are going to wear Cuba across your chest then what that country stands for is relevant to the debate. There is no separating politics from international athletics. China is playing, well two wrongs don’t make a right. And to whoever said the USSR was worse than Cuba, that may be true on cosmic evil meter but fidel castro’s victims are just as dead as those of Stalin. Dead is dead. It seems to me that a lot of people are bending over backwards to get castro his little victory on a baseball field while people risk their lives to get away from his fiefdom.

    Seed planted by conductor, January 20, 2006 @ 11:37 am

  11. Yes, the players represent their COUNTRY, but no country is simply reducible to its political leaders. That’s my underlying point. If a government restricts participation in international athletics on political or racial or other non-athletic criteria, then there might be a case for a ban. That was certainly the case with South Africa. I do not know about Iraq. I do know that some individual Cuban players have been left off teams out of fear they would defect. I am not sure how to think about that, because unlike the good Conductor, I have no monopoly on the truth. But I do agree that there are criteria under which a country might be barred from international competition for political reasons. It is my conclusion thus far that in the specific case of the WBC, the grounds for a ban (whatever they might be) are not met. Nothing I have seen in this (very interesting) exchange has convinced me otherwise, but I most certainly welcome the debate and interchange of ideas–and it is precisely in that spirit that I support Team Cuba’s participation in the World Baseball Classic. Play ball!!

    Seed planted by MShugart, January 20, 2006 @ 1:21 pm<

  12. Does boiling their citizens alive count as repression? Let’s ban Uzbekistan from international competition. Obviously, they are not in the WBC, but they could be banned from the World Cup and the Olympics.

    Seed planted by Jack Lazorko, January 20, 2006 @ 5:06 pm

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