Global Baseball

One man\’s year-long journey through the world of baseball

MLB’s Thoughts on Cuba

The New York Times’ Michael Schmidt has written a piece on Major League Baseball’s anticipated move into Cuba if/when the country opens up to US business interests.  The piece basically repeats everything we already know about MLB’s plans: nobody in baseball is sure exactly how big a resource Cuba can be, but they know they want to open it up for scouting.  We’ve known this for years, long before Steinbrenner sent George Costanza down to Havana to create a
Communist pipeline into the vast reservoir of Cuban baseball talent” back in 1994 (a classic).

The interesting tidbits include the potential opening of Dominican/Venezuelan Summer League-style academies (which I discussed with Cuban baseball scholar Peter Bjarkman last month), and potentially relocating a minor league club to Cuba.

It will be interesting to see whether Cuba will allow its players to be subjected to the same completely open market that governs the majority of the international baseball world.  Only Taiwan and Korea make MLB wait until their kids hit 18 years old, offering opportunities for higher bonuses and also providing more polished players (as opposed to the crap-shoot that is the rest of the international scouting world).  If Cuba undergoes any sort of transitional period at all post-Castro, you have to think there will be significant opposition to a full-fledged opening up of the country’s baseball talent to the same kind of strip-mining that happens in the rest of Latin America.

 

The article also includes the following:

“Everybody on our side wonders how much talent is really there,” said Lou Melendez, baseball’s vice president for international baseball operations and administration, who oversees baseball’s academies in other countries. “I don’t think it is as strong as the Dominican Republic, but nobody knows. There is a talent pool there, but we just don’t know how deep it is.”

Honestly, I’m not sure why this is even a question.  People tend to judge Cuban baseball players by the few who have come over from Cuba’s top league and gone on to play major league baseball.  This seems pretty silly.  At any given point, there are fewer than a dozen Cubans in the major leagues.  These players serve as representatives of their country’s baseball talent not by virtue of being the best Cuba has to offer, but by virtue of having successfully defected.

To me, it is pretty simple.  Cuba has an estimated population of about 11.3 million, compared with the Dominican Republic’s approximately 8 million.  In the Dominican Republic, baseball dominates, but attention is divided.  A lot of people play basketball, and hand ball is surprisingly popular there as well.  In Cuba (so I have been told), all of the athletes play baseball.  The two islands have a similar colonial history, so genetic makeup should not give Dominicans an innate advantage for any reason.  As we covered in the Bjarkman interview, factor in the superior nutrition and education Cubans receive as children, and there is little reason to believe that Cuba won’t out-pace the Dominican Republic as a source of talent if it opens up to the same scouting process.

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April 29, 2007 - Posted by | Cuban Baseball

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