Baseball teams up with Castro

Staff Columnist

Americas, By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

The Wall Street Journal (Monday, December 31, 2018)

“A league deal with Cuba benefits the Business but treats players like chattel.”

“Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers general  manager who signed Jackie Robinson to break baseball’s color barrier, said ‘ethnic prejudice has no place in sports, and baseball must recognize that truth it is to maintain stature as a national game.’

More than 70  years after Robinson debuted at Ebbets Field, Major League Baseball has cut a deal with the Cuban military dictatorship in which  Havana will allow Cubans to play in the U.S.   In exchange baseball will garnish their salaries and send the money to the regime.  No other group of foreign players so oppressed at home is singled out for such treatment.  This is another form of discrimination.  Have baseball executives thought about how it looks when they conspire with  the Cuban regime to treat these players like chattel.  The league is marketing the agreement as a demonstration of its concern for Cuban players.  In fact, baseball is a business that wants the talent.  So it is accommodating the dictatorship in Havana, which has been repressing Cubans for 60 years.  The regime already boasts the world’s largest state-run human-trafficking operation.  For decades it has placed Cubans abroad to work for foreign companies or governments as indentured servants.  Workers go ‘voluntarily’ because their economic circumstances at home are so dire and they have no other options.  But once abroad they receive a small fraction of what they earn; the rest goes to the Cuban state”

Ms. O’Grady continues: “One big money-maker for the dictatorship has been the export of Cuban physicians and nurses throughout Latin America.  Many have defected, carrying tales of deprivation and being spied on so that they could not run away.

Cuba has already withdrawn the medics.

Cuba also forbids talented athletes to shape their own destinies.  Denied the basic right of travel, aspiring Cubans often turn to smugglers.  Some 90 top Cuban ballplayers have defected to play in the majors.  Many escapes have been harrowing, such as the 2012 flight of Yasiel Puig, who signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

If Cubans were free, good ballplayers from the island could get free-agent status in the U.S. as long as they were over 25 and met experience requirements.  But Cuba regards its citizens as state property.

Supporters of the Castro tyranny claim the players are stuck because of the U.S. embargo.  But if that were the problem, baseball could seek and probably get a waiver from the Trump administration to sign them from Cuba.  The idea that such a move would alter Raul Castro’s Cubans –for-hire racket is a daydream.  So instead baseball executives have decided to sacrifice players’ rights to placate the regime.

The Washington Post reported that the deal will ‘eliminate the need for Cuban players to defect.”

More from Ms. O’Grady:

In fact, Cuba says the deal blocks players from signing with major-league teams if they defect.  They remain the property of the regime, which according to the post will take between 15% and 25% of their earnings.  That’s roughly what smugglers demand for transport out of  Cuba.  But as sports consultant  Joe Kehoskie told the Post, they will sign ‘less valuable contracts ‘under the restrictive [release] system or draft, rather than as free agents.’So the league gets cheaper talent in exchange for enforcing regime control of the players.

Whether the Trump administration will go along with this arrangement remains an open question.  Guidance provided to Major-League Baseball by the Obama administration in 2016 gave something of a green light on grounds that the Cuban Baseball Federation is an independent body.  But that’s laughable, especially with Fidel Castro’s son Antonio a vice-president of the federation.  Major League Baseball likens the deal to its practice of dipping into Japanese players’ pay to compensate their league back home – rather different from teaming up with one of the world’s most despotic regimes”  Ms. O’Grady finishes with her conclusion:  Major League Baseball is no the first business to put money over morality.  But let’s not pretend that its partnership with Cuba’s military dictatorship has anything to do with player interests.”

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