Fidel Castro, who always enjoyed sports, promoted programs that helped Cuba become a front-runner in Latin America. The island nation fields outstanding baseball, soccer, basketball and volleyball teams. It also excels in amateur boxing. Believing that sports should be available for everyone, not just the privileged few, the phrase “Sports for all” is a motto frequently used. When Castro took power, he abolished all professional sports. Only amateur baseball has been played in Cuba since 1961.
An unexpected consequence of this initiative was that many players discovered that they could get much better deals if they left Cuba. As an attempt to prevent this, Fidel forbade players from playing abroad and if they did leave the island, he would prevent their families from joining them.
Originally, many Cuban baseball players played for teams in the American Negro league. This ended when Jackie Robinson was allowed to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers during the late 1940’s. Afterwards, all Cuban baseball players played for the regular leagues regardless of their race. The Negro National League ceased after the 1948 season, and the last All-Star game was held in 1962. The Indianapolis Clowns were the last remaining Negro/Latin league team and played until 1966.
Cuban players with greater skill joined the Major League Baseball (MLB) teams. If they defected to the United States directly, they had to enter the MLB Draft. However, if they first defected to another country they could become free agents. Knowing this, many came to the United States via Mexico.
In all, about 84 players have defected from Cuba since the Revolution. The largest contract ever given to a defector from Cuba was to Rusney Castillo. In 2014, the outfielder negotiated a seven-year contract with the Boston Red Sox for $72.5 million.
Starting in 1999, about 21 Cuban soccer players have defected to the United States. The Cuban government considers these defectors as disloyal and treats their families with disrespect, even banning them from taking part in national sports.
Photo: Caption: Cuban Baseball.
“Baseball was, is and always will be to me the best game in the world.” Babe Ruth – the Bambino, an American baseball player whose Major League career spanned 22 seasons, from 1914 through 1935
Captain Hank Bracker, the author of the multi-award winning book, “The Exciting Story of Cuba” has now written “Suppressed I Rise.” This book is for anyone interested in a very personal human view, of the history of World War II. A mother’s attempt to protect and raise her two young daughters in hostile NAZI Germany challenges her sensibilities and resourcefulness. Both books will be at the NYC Book Exhibit this summer and are available at Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, BooksAMillion.com and many Independent Book Shops.