Monday, March 07, 2016

The End of the Cuban Baseball Leagues?

There is increasing attention to Major League Baseball's efforts to normalize its relationship with Cuba, a process that is blocked by the embargo. As this Washington Post article notes, the sticking point is that any money that would flow into Cuba would go to the government.

MLB has filed a series of proposals over the past year with OFAC, seeking a way to clear both the regulatory hurdles and political opposition from those who would view a deal as a new revenue source for the Castro regime. 
To assuage those concerns, MLB recently asked OFAC to approve a U.S.-Cuban nonprofit-like entity that would take a percentage of the salaries paid to Cuban players and spend it on new baseball facilities, youth sports programs and other sports-focused efforts, Halem said.

This will happen, and probably sooner rather than later. The average fan in the United States likely won't notice a big difference because so many Cuban stars have already come to the United States. But Cubans will feel a big difference.

Peter Bjarkman, who recently completed a book on Cuban player defections, believes a decision about a baseball deal has the full attention of the Cuban vice president, a sign of its importance. 
“The Cuban government is watching its baseball league disintegrate before its eyes, and it knows it has to change, but it still wants an arrangement on its own terms,” Bjarkman said, adding that if and when a deal is reached, the biggest question may be how many players Cuba allows to go to the United States. 
“They haven’t figured out how they can do it without losing their baseball entirely, and that’s the issue,” he said.

Opening up Cuba to MLB will change Cuban baseball forever, and not necessarily for the better. When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in MLB, that was an historic milestone but it also marked the beginning of the end of the Negro Leagues. There is no way Cuba can match MLB salaries, so the best players will always leave. Of course, that is already happening now but it will accelerate, and it will be easier for lesser stars to do the same without risk.


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