Cuban Baseball Players No Longer Need to Defect to be in MLB
What a triumph for Cubans in baseball history.
Earlier last month, officials from the Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation settled on a new deal that allows Cubans to play baseball in America without having to defect.
In a news conference held at the Latin American Stadium in Havana, Cuban Baseball Federation’s president Higinio Velez called this decision “historic” and something “we have to be happy” about.
The new deal, which runs through October 21, 2021, permits Cuban players to participate in contracts similar to those of other foreign baseball players from Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Cuban players will still be able to play for their home country’s national league and maintain their Cuban residency while playing for the U.S.
Cuban defectors were not uncommon to the MLB. The history of Cuban players in America stretches back to the Cold War when Fidel Castro took hold of the Cuban government, and a strained relationship with the U.S. caused Castro to subsequently ban Cubans from playing for foreign countries. Baseball was also eventually banned in Cuba.
Yet, this suppression was not enough to stop Cubans. Many have risked their lives being smuggled out of their country through Mexico to play for the MLB beginning as early as the 1990s. This included players like Rogelio Alvarez (defected 1963), Michel Abreu (defected 2004), and Gerardo Concepción (defected 2011), a pitcher who most recently made his MLB debut in 2016.
Such journeys were extremely dangerous due to the level of criminal activity involved during the defection process. In a Cuban smuggling trial, Leonys Martin (ex-outfielder for the Seattle Mariners) recalled a close encounter with crowbar-wielding kidnappers in Mexico before he crossed the U.S. border into Texas.
“The contract will contribute to stopping illegal activities like human trafficking that for years have put the physical integrity and life of many talented young Cuban baseball players at risk,” the Cuban Baseball Federation says.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed the same intent through reaching this new deal, highlighting that the MLB wants to create “a safe and legal alternative for those players to sign with major league clubs.”
To qualify for the MLB, Cuban players must be at least 25 years old and have had at least six years of experience in the Cuban baseball league. In return, the MLB will pay the Cuban Baseball Federation a release fee.
For Cubans aspiring to play for the MLB, many never thought they could see this day happen and are ecstatic.
José Abreu, a Chicago White Sox player who left Cuba in 2013, is proud of the progress both sides have made to ensure a better future for people like him.
“Knowing that the next generation of Cuban baseball players will not endure the unimaginable fate of past Cuban players is the realization of an impossible dream for all of us,” he says.
— MLB Cuba (@mlbcuba) December 21, 2018
We’re excited to see what new players come out of this change! What about you? Are you excited for baseball season? Let us know in the comment section below.
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