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90 Miles Too Many

By Nicolas Berg

Some of the best players in Major League Baseball (MLB) call Cuba their home, including the reigning American League's Most Valuable Player, Jose Abreu. However, for these Cuban stars to be able to play in the MLB, they have to do much more than simply travel the 90 miles to the United States. Due to decades of political tension between the two nations, it is nearly impossible for a Cuban player to become a Major League player. The current system is nearly impassable and, often times, extremely dangerous. However, with relations between the two nations improving, many hope that this process will become easier.

Typically, for a Cuban player to become eligible for MLB, he must endure a lengthy, complicated and dangerous process. Initially, the player must defect from Cuba and establish residency in a different nation. Next, he must apply to the Treasury Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) for a license to move to the United States. This process usually takes at least a year. If he is lucky enough to obtain a license, he may move to the United States and apply for free agency with MLB. Once he is cleared as a free agent, every MLB franchise is free to bid for his services. At this point, luck begins to swing in the player's favor. During this bidding process, competition among clubs usually drives the prices for these young players through the roof. This was evidenced by the record high fee paid for Yoan Moncada just this past offseason. Although Moncada had to endure a long arduous process before being able to collect on that fee, he is still very lucky that he did not experience a life-threatening journey, as do many other Cuban players. (http://www.latinpost.com/articles/40918/20150305/mlb-immigration-news-cuban-players-seeking-major-league-baseball-career-no-longer-need-license-to-play-from-us-government.htm).

The most famous, and probably most dangerous of these stories, is that of Yasiel Puig. To hurdle the necessary barriers to play in MLB, Puig first took a treacherous boat ride to Mexico to establish residency. While in Mexico, he was taken hostage by a Mexican drug cartel, where he was routinely threatened with attempts on his life and physical well-being. He had to promise the cartel 20% of his future MLB contract to ensure his safe passage into the United States. Once in the U.S., he reached a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, becoming one of the game's best young talents. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-hayden/us-trafficking-in-cuban-p_b_5207377.html).

With the recent opening up of trade relations between the U.S. and Cuba, there is hope that this inefficient and dangerous process may soon be a thing of the past. With increased trade relations, there is the possibility that players will no longer need to defect. This could subject Cuban players to a foreign players draft, like those from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, or, alternatively, the U.S. could adopt the same system that is used to acquire Japanese players. In that system, clubs pay the entity who owns the rights to the player, which would likely be the Cuban government, a fee to buy the right to negotiate a contract with the player. (http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/cuban-field-dreams-decision-opens-new-baseball-world-article-1.2049350). Either way, horror stories like Yasiel Puig's will likely be a distant memory.

When human lives are jeopardized as a result of the current legal regime while in pursuit of something as trivial as playing a sport, the system has failed. Hopefully, as these legal barriers between the United States and Cuba start to fall, MLB can use that momentum to reform its admission policies for admitting Cuban players.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 28, 2015 1:14 PM.

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