Thursday, June 12, 2008

Commie Ball

A boy steps up to bat in a pickup game in Havana.
Photo by Claudia Daut/Reuters/Corbis.

Fidel Castro with Leslie Anderson
and Cuba’s national team in 2006.
Photograph by Sven Creutzmann
reportage by Getty Images.

A game at Santiago de Cuba’s
Estadio Guillermón Moncada
in April.
Photograph by Sven Creutzmann
reportage by Getty Images.

Excerpts from an article by Michael Lewis in Vanity Fair.

July 2008

Back in the old days, before Cuba was closed for business, it supplied more players to the major leagues than all the other Latin-American countries combined. In 1961, Cuba entered its first post-revolutionary baseball teams in international competitions and proceeded to beat the hell out of everyone, including the Dominicans. For a 10-year stretch, starting in 1987, the Cubans were 129–0 in major international competitions. “There are plenty of Cubans who are big-league [caliber] players,” says Chuck McMichael, who scouts the Latin professional leagues for the Atlanta Braves and helped hire Cubans to play shortstop and catcher for his team. “We just don’t know who they are. But I can’t recall a guy on the Cuban national team [which competes in the World Cup and the Olympics] that you wouldn’t at least sign. You’d sign every guy off that team.”

Relatively few Cuban players have left their island and almost none of the best. What has come to the U.S., instead, is a rattlebag of players past their prime, players in political trouble, players injured, and players who were never very successful in Cuba.

Soon after he seized power, in January 1959, Fidel Castro banned professional sports from his island. The next year he tossed out the first pitch to open the Cuban amateur league and even took a few cuts with a bat.

JG: The article was a big disappointment. It was mostly about a greedy capitalist who was sent to jail for smuggling five Cuban baseball players who are called “defectors” by the Yankee imperialists.

I have always said – and it is absolutely true – that the best Cuban baseball players stay in the island. The mediocre ones come to the United States chasing the almighty dollar.

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