The country of Cuba has historically been a hotspot of great baseball talent, producing baseball players such as Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro, who both hit over 450 home-runs. So, the finale of the MLB baseball season has brought amazing news for the sport of baseball and many Cuban baseball players. Players, such as Yasiel Puig, who have defected from Cuba have also left family members and children in Cuba, and this news may allow them to reunite with these lost family members; Cuba has just announced that it will be allowing baseball players to sign with overseas teams as of November 1 and all other athletes as of January 1.
No longer will Cuban baseball players have to face the perils and punishments of defection to play baseball abroad. They are free to come and play, which is great for the sport of baseball because so many young and talented players have been marooned in Cuba, and some have never allowed to play baseball again because of their attempted defections.
Again, many Cuban baseball players have been punished and banned from ever playing baseball again, just because they had talked to someone who attempted to defect or one of their family members attempted to defect to the MLB. Baseball fans in the United States may rejoice at the news, but that happiness will be overshadowed by the pure ecstasy experienced by players in Cuba at this moment, since former Cuban President Fidel Castro abolished professional sports in Cuba–a decision that has left many professional athletes to live in poverty in one of the poorest countries in the world. This opportunity to earn millions of dollars for professional athletes has the potential to be a wave of relief for many struggling families in Cuba.
Notable MLB players that have defected from Cuba and paved the way for many Cubans include Los Angeles Dodgers rookie sensation Yasiel Puig, the Oakland A’s star Yeonis Cespedes, and Cincinnati Reds phenom Aroldis Chapman. The problem is that in Cuba, MLB games are rarely televised, and when they are, they are from thirty to forty years ago. So all of these great players in the major leagues are missed back at home, and no one knows how well they are doing. These ostracized players, who may have been heroes to many in their native Cuba, are sorely missed.
An example of this is former Major League Baseball player Luis Gonzalez, who won a world-series with the Arizona Diamondback, and who is of Cuban descent. When he met rookie Yasiel Puig, Puig did not even know who he was, but Luis Gonzales did not know the situation in Cuba, and as a result, took it as an insult. Hopefully these games will be televised, since players are now allowed to go overseas, and Cubans are now free to move wherever they wish.
Although the door may have been opened, the opportunity may not be completely open for professional athletes because there are still some possible obstacles. What will happen if these athletes decide that after being paid millions of dollars, that they don’t want to return? What will happen then? Will the Cuban government decide to rescind the freedoms granted to players once again?
The likelihood of this happening is extremely high because why would players making millions abroad have the desire to return to Cuba for $200 in salary?
Another hurdle is that Cuban baseball players may still not be able to play in the Major League Baseball because of the 51 year old embargo law, which is the reason why one cannot legally buy Cuban cigars in the US. So although Cuba has lifted its restrictions, the US government may prevent such players from participating, with the threat of heavy penalties being enforced.
Cuban athletes are forced to pay a tax on whatever salary they make abroad, which prevents the MLB from employing such players. Many players may, unfortunately, be forced to face the dangers of defection, should they want to chase the big bucks in the MLB. But fortunately, the US is not the only country that would love to have Cubans play for them. There are reputable professional baseball leagues in Japan, Korea and Mexico that can afford the opportunity to employ a number of talented Cuban professionals.
How will teams feel about their players being forced to play in the Cuban leagues from the months of November to April? The possibilities for injuries to players who may possibly be payed millions is a serious matter for other ball clubs.
This could pose a problem on contract negotiations, since teams could require insurance on contracts due to the added liability of stress on a potentially year-round season for these Cuban players.
This news coming from Cuba is a good thing for sports around the world, and notably baseball because it is such a major sport in Cuba. More importantly it has the opportunity to provide some relief from terrible living conditions for Cuban professionals and their struggling communities. But there are many potential obstacles that still need to be dealt with concerning embargoes and contracts of players. So we’ll just have to wait and see how things work out and hope that things continue to get better.