Jeff Kallman
Throneberry Fields Forever
December 28, 2018

Yoenis Cespedes, one of numerous Cuban-origin players who made it to the Show the hardest ways. Now MLB wants to play ball with the Cuban tyranny for Cuban talent—in a kind of protection racket.

Contrary to the supposition of Joe and Jane Fan and the aphorism of Hall of Famer Willie Stargell (“The umpire doesn’t say, ‘Work ball!’)” playing baseball professionally requires work, and lots of it, to play competently. Unfortunately, for some players, the work includes things not customarily required at the ballpark or in the gymnasium. Players hailing from Cuba, for example. The work they must do just to play baseball in the United States has been a literal matter of life and death...

[Yasiel] Puig was a subject of the Castro regime who escaped his $17-a-month existence in the FBC, the Cuban Baseball Federation, with a lot of risky assistance from smugglers whose only concern about him was the profit they could earn by hustling him on his way to the United States.

Los Angeles Magazine cited baseball’s “Byzantine rules” and the federal Treasury Department’s “outdated restrictions” in revealing Puig’s journey, under both of which “the only way for a Cuban ballplayer to become a free agent—and score a fat contract—is to first establish residency in a third country. That detour is a fiction, winked at from all sides, and one that gives traffickers command over the middle crossing.” One false move, as they used to say in the movies, and it’s likely to be the proverbial dirt nap. In the end Puig had to buy his freedom from the traffickers before the Dodgers could buy him. And he’s not the only Cuban player who paid prices like that for his freedom...