Cuba-MLB: What Comes Next?

By Reynaldo Cruz

Word about a virtual meeting between officials the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB for its Spanish acronyms) and Major League Baseball (MLB) has spread, following the birth of the Association of Cuban Professional Baseball Plajers (ACPBP) and their pressure to field an independent Team Cuba for the upcoming 2023 World Baseball Classic. The result was that Juan Reinaldo Pérez Pardo, Cuban baseball main official, will attempt to call Cubans who are under contract outside of the FCB’s umbrella, including major leaguers.

Although MLB hasn’t officially said that such conversations have taken place at all, there was a growing joy among some Cuban fans within the island. Yet, the hope some harbor about the revitalization of the MLB-FCB deal that was signed in December 2018 and terminated just a few months later by the Donald Trump Administration seems a bit far-fetched.

The biggest problem in question is precisely the lack of independence of the Cuban baseball apparatus, under complete control of the Cuban government—a control that was exercised to a suffocating extent by the late Fidel Castro and which continues to be tremendous even after his death. Under the current circumstances, Major League Baseball would be violating a US law if they were to agree on something with the government-controlled FCB.

Despite the expression of “good will” by the newly appointed Cuban Baseball Commissioner, his political stance continues to be a problem for MLB and Cuban big leaguers. The open obedience and subordination to the Cuban Government definitely plants the seed of doubt for MLB clubs before signing an FCB-controlled player. The Cuban laws indicate that one percentage of the signing bonus should go to the FCB because they were the ones that “formed” the player. However, there is no guaranty that such amount of money will go to the development of the sport, instead of the coffers of the government—or the private arks of some high-ranking government official.

Such level of suspicion was precisely used by those opposing the initial 2018 deal, as the late Higinio Vélez, former president of the FCB, said that they were “subordinated to our governing body,” in this case, INDER (Cuban Institute of Sports). The absence of a real players union (unions in Cuba are a façade of another way the government has of controlling people) and the slave-like treatment players receive in order to continue playing in the National Series and becoming members of the Cuban National Team.

The question remains: if the political position is such an important element in order to make the team, as they manipulate people into thinking that patriotism and communism are synonymic, what will their stance be in regards of those MLB Cubans who have expressed their disagreement with the way things are run in Cuba politically, who have used the word the word “Libertad” (Freedom) to express what they feel after leaving the Island and becoming major leaguers.

That is, without counting those who “defected” from Cuban National Teams, like Aroldis Chapman or the Gurriel brothers. Will the Cuban government shift their balance and yield to the people’s will? It is not like they have done so in the past 63 years in the rest of the aspects of the nation, will baseball be an exception? More importantly: how many of the players who have been vilified and offended by the Cuban media, whose feats have constantly been ignored, want to play for their country, when the government will use that in their favor?

While MLB is based on corporate mentality, Cuban baseball relies on politics. Corporations produce money, they are businesses that need to be profitable so that they can generate utilities and provide for all their employees. Politics in Cuba does not generate a single penny: they suck in from the corporations they control in order to perpetuate themselves in power, live opulent capitalistic lives, and continue to do more politics, thus making workers earn less and less.

So, when it comes to Cuba and MLB, the FCB has nothing to offer: every defection leaves them one bargaining chip further of their now-coveted cooperation agreement. What cannot be put to question is the fact that if (a BIG if, indeed) there was another agreement between the two baseball governing bodies, it will definitely be VERY different from the one that was reached almost four years ago.

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