On Wednesday night, Major League Baseball and its players’ association announced a deal with the baseball governing body of Cuba to change the way that baseball players leave that country to come to the majors.
According to ESPN, under the terms of the agreement, Cuban players will be allowed to sign contracts with American teams, in a system similar to those in place with Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. Previously, players from Cuba who wished to play in the majors were required to defect to the U.S., and most of the great Cuban players in recent baseball history, such as Livan Hernandez, Yaisel Puig, and Yoenis Cespedes, arrived in American baseball that way.
“For years, Major League Baseball has been seeking to end the trafficking of baseball players from Cuba by criminal organizations by creating a safe and legal alternative for those players to sign with major league clubs,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.
“We believe that this agreement accomplishes that objective and will allow the next generation of Cuban players to pursue their dream without enduring many of the hardships experienced by current and former Cuban players who have played Major League Baseball.”
The deal, however, drew criticism from Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who is Cuban-American.
“I have asked state dept & White House to review the deal that allows Cuban regime to conduct state-sponsored trafficking of baseball players,” Rubio tweeted.
“Unlike Japan & Mexico the regime controls sports & the state department should issue a ruling to that effect.”
I have asked state dept & White House to review the deal that allows Cuban regime to conduct state sponsored trafficking of baseball players.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) December 20, 2018
Unlike Japan & Mexico the regime controls sports & the state department should issue a ruling to that effect. https://t.co/Ismcgr4P7o
Rubio, who ran for president in 2016, was critical of Obama’s Cuba opening.
Another Republican Senator, Jeff Flake of Arizona, had a different reaction, calling the deal a “home run agreement [which] will make life better for Cuban baseball players, who will no longer have to risk unsafe passage to the U.S.”
Relations between the United States were liberalized during the Obama years, with President Barack Obama even visiting Havana in the spring of 2016 and attending a baseball game with then-Cuban President Raul Castro. The Trump administration, however, has pulled back a bit from those efforts in the last two years.
Fidel Castro, Cuba’s late longtime dictator, was a noted baseball enthusiast who encouraged the growth of the game on the island. However, reports that Castro was given a tryout with a professional team or came close to a career in baseball have been conclusively debunked by historian Roberto González Echevarría, as noted by Snopes.