One day we’ll talk about Cuban baseball without reference to Cold War cliches. Today is not that day, but we’ll let that go right now. In the meantime, this article from The Economist — “The Cuban Baseball Crisis” — is most excellent and worth your time on this slow news day.
Part of it is stuff you’ve read before if you’re interested in the topic: the state of Cuban baseball as relations between the United States and Cuba thaw. There is, as there has always been, great interest in American baseball in Cuba and there has been an increasing flow of Cuban players to the United States, possibly imperiling baseball in Cuba, even as it creates opportunity and spikes interest in baseball overall.
But there are two things here which make this article well worth your time beyond its deft handling of those familiar topics. First, a neat little detour into Cuban baseball history with some nuggets that I’ve never heard before, such as the role of Cuban baseball in the Spanish-American War. Fun times.
The second: Major League Baseball’s peculiar and somewhat contradictory stance on Cuban baseball players coming to the United States. On the one hand, U.S. baseball has been at the vanguard of introducing capitalism back into Cuba and the promise of U.S. riches has driven this whole dynamic on the baseball side. And, in a larger sense, baseball has and will likely continue to play a huge ambassadorial role as overall relations thaw between the countries. Baseball, quite literally, will be a standard-bearer for the United States’ re-engagement with Cuba.
On the other hand, baseball has a keen interest in making sure there isn’t unfettered free agency of Cuban baseball players, just as as it has sought to limit the agency of amateur players in the U.S. and looks for ways to do so in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. An international draft? Bonus pools? Anything Major League Baseball can do to keep those salaries and bonuses down it will do, because despite being at the vanguard of capitalism in some respects, baseball is VERY keen on socialism of a sort and restricted markets when it suits team ownership.