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The Defections

Carlos Rodriguez Acosta

  • Defections–Socialist Argument
  • On Scouts
    Joe Cubas
  • Motivation/Why players defect?
  • Response to Antonio Pacheco's nationalism
    Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria
  • Defections motivation/impact
  • Why Cuban government restricts players?
    Sigfredo Barros
  • Personal view on defections
    Antonio Pacheco
  • Why he would not leave
    Angel Lopez
  • Why players leave
  • Why he left
  • Effect on Cuban League
    Jorge Diaz
  • Why he left
    Alan Klein
  • Why players started to defect in 1991
  • What led to defections
  • Effect of defections on Cuban league
    Joe Kehoskie
  • On Joe Cubas
  • Defection motives


    Carlos Rodriguez Acosta
    Commissioner of Cuban Baseball

    • Defections–Socialist Argument
      Sometimes in some places they ask us about the defectors we've had, those that have abandoned team Cuba, they ask us, "aren't you guys worried?" and I say "no, not in the least." Nor, how should I put this, are we at all alarmed. The ones that give us pride are the ones that haven't left. Those are the ones that give us pride. Martí said 'there are men that have honor and then there are men that carry the honor of many other men." And those are the ones we have here. The best athletes in Cuba, in all sports, the ones worth the most money, those will never leave. Of course, every man has his own way of thinking, his own way of being. Some have a highly developed concept of what family is, of what symbolism is, of what their country stands for, of what their friends are, and then there are those who haven't developed those concepts quite so thoroughly. It's the same in every country. But I would say that almost all of our athletes, not only in baseball, but in all of our sports, are all very aware of what they represent and why they're so great. They're great because they've benefited from a free education system, because sport is the right of the people, because they don't rely on sport to make a living, because health care is free and because they are given everything. You add all of this up and the ones who win are ours. And they're idols. Wherever they go they're idols for the people. What kind of money can buy that? So, as a principle we refuse to convert our athletes into merchandise-for me to buy for 2 million, sell to you for 3, and you to him for 5. And if there is someone of a weak heart, one that prefers those bonds over these moral elements, then it is their very personal decision.
      Cubas and Acosta discuss scouts.
      Requires Real Player.

      56K | DSL
    • On Scouts
      At every game where the Cuban National Team shows up, there are at least ten scouts. What does this mean? A scout is a professional that does his job and most are very respectful. But there are those who are not scouts. They're businessmen. And then there are those who use this phenomenon of the defection of Cuban athletes as a way to discredit the Cuban Revolutionary process. It's used as a way of undermining us. Because it's a pillaging. They come to see who they can take. But if you didn't form them, it didn't cost you one cent, and now you want to take them. I also want them form my team, but the difference is I want them no because I can pay them a millions of dollars but because they play for and represent eleven million people. I remember in the beginning they would park a convertible with two blondes and make offers to our athletes. All in an effort to discredit our revolution. Then someone realized that besides achieving this he could make himself a millionaire. Because all of our athletes are of a high caliber and are like blank checks to the delivering agents.

    Joe Cubas
    Sports Agent
    • Motivation/Why players defect?
      The key is this, and I don't want to sound out cliches here, but where there's a will there's a way, and quite frankly in Cuba so long as that dictator, that dictatorship system exists in Cuba, you're going to continue to see defectors, you're going to continue to see players who are willing to risk everything, because they can no longer tolerate living under that system. I mean we've seen it now with some of the players who have been willing to cross the Florida straits and drown in the Florida straits before living another day in that system.
              There's no question in my mind that their motivational, uh, primary factor is that they can no longer tolerate living under that system. I think that when you look at all the numbers and all the defectors, you're gonna realize that a very small minority have been able to play at a Major League level, and been able to obtain riches. I think when you look at this, you look at, for example, Osvaldo, Livan, Larry, Vlademir, now Danny Baez, now Rey Ordonez, after four or five years at the Major League level. So therefore the majority of them are still at the Minor League level, are still earning close to minimum wage at the minor league level, and have not been able to achieve the financial rewards that some of the other players have received but yet they are the majority. So there's no question in my mind with my experiences the motivating factor is that they can no longer live under that system and will do whatever it takes for them to be free. Some of them aren't playing anymore, but most of them have said the same thing: I would rather work in a factory, earning minimum wage in the States, then be a top baseball player in Cuba.
    • Response to Antonio Pacheco's nationalism
      I think you're always going to hear players while they are in Cuba, you are going to hear the lines that I'd rather play before eleven million people, and the honor and the pride of the Cuban flag and so on and so forth, I think that when you look deeper into those comments, you're going to realize that those are comments that come straight from the horses mouth-meaning Fidel Castro. Those are the exact lines that he's used in the majority of his speeches for the past 41 years and therefore those players while they are in Cuba and they don't have a way out and they don't have the opportunity to leave Cuba freely, they are going to come in and give you the same lines and go right along the party lines to protect themselves, to protect whatever it is that they may have, whether that's a position on the Cuban National team, whether that's a postiion on the baseball club in Cuba at the National level, which is their top level. But I think that once you see them come out and speak freely, and not be coerced into what they have to think and what they have to say, you're going to see comments make a complete 180 turn around from what really you're used to hearing in Cuba.

    Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria
    Cuban Baseball Historian
    • Defections motivation/impact
      I have to say that I object to the term defection or defector, one defects from an army, one does not defect, but one leaves a country. So to call the players that leave Cuba defectors, is something that I find unacceptable. These are players who chose freedom and who chose to be able to sell their talents or put their talents up for the highest bidder and reap the benefits of the that talent and of the efforts that they have made to hone them. So I object to the term of defector and I think it that it is a propaganda coup on the part of the government, to call them defectors and then to call them traitors in Cuba and at this and that and the other. But the fact is that a lot of players of late have left Cuba, Adrian Hernandez, El Duquesito, being the most recent and most notorious, but there have been many others. It began happening in earnest after the collapse of the Soviet Union because the Cuban economy which was in shambles already took a further dip and the players saw that their future was bleak. What was, in all of this for them. What could they look forward to. And I think that this is why they began to take steps to leave their teams. Rene Arocha who left the Cuban national team in Miami, Ariel Prieto, Ordonez, eventually El Duque, and many many others that I won't bother to mention. The years of productivity for an athlete, for anyone who depends on his or her body for her or his performance or livelihood like dancers and all that is limited. In the case a ballplayer it is perhaps between the ages of 18 and 38, at most, in exceptional cases. So the urgency to be able to use that talent is much greater than in the case of someone who has a much more intellectual type of job, more of a team kind of occupation. So these players felt that urgency after the Cuban economy dipped, also there was a sense of despair, now communism was a religion without a with a Rome or a Jerusalem. The great empire, the fulcrum of the communist world in the West anyway, had collapsed. So all the varities that had been said or told to them about it, about the system, had come crashing down. So that sense of despair, and urgency, is what led many of these players to leave. [Effect on Cuban League] That had an immediate effect in Cuban baseball, the quality of baseball in Cuba diminished and also the government took harsh measures to prevent people, other players from leaving the country. And since there is preventive punishment in Cuba, and also preventive detention by the way, quite a few players, Mesa, German Mesa, the great shortstop, Paret, another shortstop, and a few others, including El Duque at the time, who was still in Cuba, was suspended. They could not play in Cuba because it was suspected that they were about to leave Cuba. And so if you add to the defections those suspensions and the general malaise that spread to Cuban baseball, there was a dip there, and a diminution in the quality of play in Cuba
    • Why Cuban government restricts players?
      So-called defections embarass the Cuban government because these athletes, who are the embodiment of the benefits of Cuban society, turn their backs on it and say this is not what I want. So if I, a great baseball player wants to leave Cuba, imagine how many people behind me would love to leave also. So a player turning his back on the presumed benefits of a Communist society, denies the validity of what the government is propounding as a society leading up to a perfect society, etc. The idea is of course that so-called professional baseball is exploitation of man by man, it is hard to feel sorry for Pedro Martinez making all those millions, he's exploited in a way that I would love to be exploited, but there is of course exploitation of some of ballplayers. But one wonders if the ballplayers in Cuba are not also being exploited for propaganda purposes. But the government has dropped that line already, I think that they know that that is old-fashioned Communisism, it doesn't wash because everything collapsed in the Soviet Union, all of of those great sports machines, of Poland and Russia and so forth, that came crashing down. And I think what they want to do is to be able to control the product and reap its benefits. That is they don't want the players to leave, become free agents, and become millionaires in the states. They want to be able to market the players and have the players become a source of revenue for the country. This is what is being done with Professional volleyball teams in Cuba. Professionalism is not spurned by the Cuban government, as long as it is a professionalism that benefits the regime, and so when Cuban track stars like Javier Soto Mayor and others, play for professional clubs in Europe and bring back their money, they are, they're happy with that. And that is presumably not exploitation of man by man. It is when the players want to do it independently on their own that the regime objects. But I don't think that, I don't think that behind it there is much ideology anymore, I don't think that there is a great deal of ideology or political doctrine in the the Cuban government now. I think that the aim of the Cuban government is not political purity, its chief concern, and aim is to remain in power.

    Sigfredo Barros
    Cuban Journalist

    • Personal view on defections
      What you must understand is that we cannot put one million dollars into the pocket of a baseball player. We just do not have the money for that. It is sad, I know. But I think they have stolen our baseball players. Because what is important to say is that Orlando, Ordonez, Livan, Arrojo, all of them were trained here in Cuba, their coaches were Cuban, and their successes are in part the successes of Cuban baseball and Cuban trainers. No one in the United States taught Arrojo to throw a sinker; he was taught that here in Cuba. Or the slider to Orlando, or Livan's 93-mph fastball, or to field balls like Ordonez does. We taught them those things here. That they went there looking for money, well, what can we do to them. But it is the Cuban school of baseball that taught them.

    Antonio Pacheco
    Team Cuba Captain
    • Why he would not leave
      Every person is different. Every person has his principles, his dignity, his love for his people, for what made him ,and for what he cannot abandon. I'll give you an example and I say it with all of my heart: Cuba for me is like my mother, and I will never abandon my mother. And you, could you ever abandon your mother? Well that's the comparison I'm making. Every person makes his own decisions and must live by their decisions.

    Angel Lopez
    Cuban Baseball Defector
    • Why players leave
      The government doesn't want there to be any stars in Cuba. They want everyone to be equal. They want Linares, who is the best player in Cuba to be the same as any ordinary man that you don't know, even though he is a star in Cuba. They want him to have the same house, the same living conditions. They want everyone to have the same resources. But sometimes one needs things, things that the government doesn't give you. So you say, 'If I'm a great player here, why can't I also play in the Major Leagues.' Understand? You decide to leave the country to resolve your family's financial problems.
    • Why he left
      I was suspended after a training trip to Mexico with the National Team. I'm friends with Rolando Arrojo the pitcher with Tampa Bay. Everything was going well and then I spoke to Arrojo on the phone. So when I got back to Cuba, they told me that they had intercepted my call. That I had spoken to Arrojo from Mexico and that I would be suspended from baseball for life.
    • Effect on Cuban League
      The defection of players has greatly affected Cuban baseball because almost all of the defectors are quality players. Fans go to see good players and good teams. I've spoken with people in Cuba and they tell me that no one goes to our stadium anymore. We are four players, the four key players of that team, and the fans aren't going to see baseball.
    Jorge Diaz
    Cuban Baseball Defector
    • Why he left
      In Cuba we won three straight championships. And we didn't get things, presents, incentives. They would treat you to a beer, they'd pay for a night at the hotel with your family, but nothing more. One would ask for things that one needed and they would deceive you. Time passed and it was always the same, the same. And people started to get upset. And they were saying 'in the big leagues you get this, and this, and this.' And Arrojo was the first to defect. Upon seeing his success, we've all started to make our own decisions. That's the way life is. You understand?

    Alan Klein
    Social Anthropologist
    • Why players started to defect in 1991
      The Cuban system prior to the period defections, may be going back 10 years, was thought of as one of the most successful cases we have of an autonomous level of baseball being played, especially by 1990 there wasn't anything comparable to it. Their success internationally was well known to everybody. The real question is: is that a function of traditional Cuban system or is a function of a political system? And I think here's where you get a nice fusion. No one precedes the Cubans in all of Latin America for having brought the game on, they brought it on first, they developed its first, a exported it to all of the rest of the countries, they brought it to the Dominican Republic. So it has a venerable tradition throughout Latin America and everybody knows that the Cuban excellence in the game goes back over a hundred years. With Fidel what you had was the integration of a political system that eschewed professional status and revered in amateur status, the classic line of a communist country in the sense of avoiding playing for pay and doing it for altruistic reasons even the structurally Cuban athletes were given some kind of recompense on another level. The point is we have a fusion there. Taking a tremendous tradition, one that all Cubans agree is the essence of their identity, of being Cuban, and fusing it with a state structure which supports the playing of the game, which creates the young ballplayers, finds them, uses them in the same way an academy does develop them. They had National institutes for the development of these ballplayers, there's nothing wrong with that. At its height, we saw a level of excellence in that game that was paralleled by a tremendous intense identity between fans and teams. I mean part of it is the way their teams are structured so that if you're from a particular region you'd be playing for that particular region. That's the kind of internal, indigenous, cohesiveness that was part of the original Cuban system that Fidel accentuated. And at its highest level it was the best possible expression we saw. The problem came about when you began to have a crumbling economy, when the Cuban economy essentially was thrown into crisis with the loss of Soviet support and all that followed through the series of defections, and we're in the era of defections now. So again it's not a system that we can go back to but what it was, at its height, was everything Cuban baseball was traditionally and even more. I think Cuban baseball in the 80's was probably the best expression of playing for the right reasons in a state-controlled environment and building on a traditional indigenous system. There was no harm done to that traditional system. The early period of Castro accentuated that traditional system but then eventually political economic factors made it so that it was really ultimately in a state of crisis like every other dimension of Cuban society.
    • What led to defections
      The defection issue is one which fuses politics with economics. The reality is that for most Cubans life has become harder. What you have unfortunately happening here is an economic crisis which then fuels the political crisis which has been building for quite some time. The ball players themselves are being touted as defectors trying to run away from some kind of political oppression. I think that if we were able to look at these ballplayers, if we could possibly transport them back 10 years earlier, we would not have anywhere near the level of dissatisfaction. So it's clearly been fostered by the economic crisis. The fact that you had agents like Cubas and others who are in the country working to make defectors, turning them into political prisoners, that really has a shameful quality to it in this sense that like most people in the Cuban community, Joe Cubas sees everything through that one particular anti-Castro lens and unfortunately a lot of other issues are not being brought out. And it's not been aided at all by some of Fidel Castro's bad moves, bad political moves, so it's a really tragic set of interactions. What's happening now unfortunately is the future of Cuban baseball is frightening because if you allow the kind of brigand agent, the kind of swashbuckling agent to go into Cuba and do what he will in any way possible, which is one of the possible scenarios of the future is just letting people go in there and willy nilly sign whoever they want for whenever they can get, that could be the end of the game in any capacity. In this case I think the commissioner of Major League Baseball and his office has been trying to stop that from happening. That would be tragic. They are trying to streamline that, they're trying to create a set of institutional structures that will make the future of the Cuban baseball in a post Castro world one that will have a semblance of order to it. What everyone wants to avoid is the kind of economy in the Soviet Union where they equate capitalism with the absence of any kinds of rules, or orders, or structures of any sort at all and that in part it comes from the fact that they have been living in a pretty top down rigid system and so they're just responding or reacting to that. Agents like Cubas and some of these others are going in there and exacerbating those tendencies. So the commissioner's office would like to see something that is somewhat stable, organized, mainstreamed so that they can get ballplayers who are qualified in that country to come and play here. That at this point seems to be the most reasonable response. The Cuban system as we knew it prior to 1991 is gone. The question we really have to look at is what's it gonna look like in 10 years? Is it going to be in shambles? Is it gonna be a pirate economy? Or is there going to be some kind of stability or order in that thing? And that's the question that has to be answered. Unfortunately the elements that we saw in the old days of Cuban baseball, they are gone just the way they are in the Dominican Republic, just the way they were in the Negro leagues. And along with that loss are some wonderful anthropological cultural components and that's really gone in that shame. Is there a way of reintroducing it? Possibly. It depends on how major league baseball wants to operate in these countries. I think they need to be responsible but I think if you want to juxtapose major-league baseball's role in Cuba in opposition to the kind of absence of anybody except agents and scouts from individual teams operating in Cuba, I think I would put my money with the commissioner's office in terms of finding a more sane solution to the problem.
    • Effect of defections on Cuban league
      I think that baseball right now, that the defections have reverberated throughout the system. Cuban officials want to do less international traveling. Cuban ballplayers' know about the defections that's a big variable, every Cuban ball player now has defection in their head, whether they're going to do it or not is another story and that's now part of the process of being a ball player. So were living in social environment, in which defections are there, it's in the background. It makes for a climate of mistrust between players and the state institutions that run baseball. And it makes for a loss of loyalty between the two that wasn't there before 1991. Not that it was a utopia prior to 1991 and at least there was an understanding that this loyalty would be something that went between the player and the state. Now we don't have that anymore. Made worse by all of the recent incidences around defections and the elian controversy and so forth and so on. Distrust was not present prior to 1991, loyalty was present. In a community sense there was a kind of cohesiveness between players and the communities they were part of. That continues to function in large measure in Cuba right now. But in a crisis economy the ability of the state to support every level of play is somewhat curbed. So at everything that's happened since the Soviet pullout, on a political and economic level, has had disastrous implications within Cuban baseball. It only makes us more clear on how effective a system it was prior to 1991. Given whatever criticisms you can find in the system that are consistent with Castro, nevertheless prior to the Soviet pullout things were working pretty smoothly. Some qualities such as loyalty and cohesiveness and state support of individuals and athletes, that's the kind of thing that we don't have and we did have before. Those are variables that need to be looked at.

    Joe Kehoskie
    American Sports Agent
    • On Joe Cubas
      Joe Cubas used to be have a monopoly on the Cuban market. He was the main guy when all these Cubans started to defect Joe Cuba was the guy who was first involved. He has had some problems and there is obviously….when people started to see dollars about the market, other guys has gotten involved .. I believe I am one of four agents to represent Cuban guys, I am the fourth there other two guys beside Joe Cubas between Joe and myself representing Cuban guys. So it is still rather limited market. They do not have a whole lot of options because it is a very difficult market to get involved in between the embargo and getting them out of there and everything else is very expensive and it is very difficult to get good information. Joe Cubas was their agent off record the first time in the Bahamas. Obviously they never made that of pro or out of "C Mickel" But he was their agent. Essentially after they were sent back home and defected the second time they decided they did not want to Joe. I do not want to speak ill of Joe it is certainly not my job I have never met Joe, I know he has done a lot of things for our Cuban players. I think it just kind of a difficult situation in the Bahamas. He was kind of a win loose if they were allowed out of the Bahamas, he won by getting four clients or five clients if they were sent back home, he lost because he looks like the guy who did not get them out there so to speak whereas he really was not the guy who made the decision. So it was one of those things…My players I would not say they hold any ill will towards Joe it was just a matter that it did not work out the first time, they decided to go a different direction the second time around. I do not know beyond that what the situation was.
              I mean like I said I do not want to speak ill of Joe and publicity is the most milk of a lot of business including baseball. But with this situation and especially once Cuban initially defect there is that period of about a week when you really need to get things handled before the press really needs to get involved. You need to keep things quiet until you get a lot of things taken care of, once it is big news then people are looking for big dollars and they are looking for other you know checking and making sure there is no exposure on other matters. The government, local officials that kind of thing. So Joe did bring a lot of publicity within the Bahamas I think he went a little over confident that he was getting them out. And perhaps it kind of bid on that time between the hunger strike and the Bahamian government already having a repatriation agreement with Cuba. So uh. The publicity was definitely not a good thing down there and secondarily the Bahamas like any place else, kind of it leaks like a sift you pay the right guy $2000 dollars and they sneak out of the back door so I think my Cuban guys may have noticed that a little bit and seeing that hey well a second Joe is out front talking at the cameras and we are in here and meanwhile people are going to sneak at the back door at 2 o clock in the morning why don't just get us out of here instead of you know making the official effort and hoping that somebody comes through because it did look a little sticky down there you know once they got past that first week in Car Mickel you know things got as little … If they are going to get papers that first week, it was probably time to kind of re evaluate getting out of there ASAP to wherever, whether it is the US or wherever. But leaving them there for 2 months. They were there for 60 days and it was just .. You know the place is …and obviously it was a very difficult situation for them not knowing not only were they going to be put having an opportunity to play in big leagues.. But are they going back home and what waits for them back home, because you know I think the only reason that they are still alive at this point is because the baseball players are very well known back home They knew that if they went back home, and you know the government in Cuba knows that these guys come back home and disappear the government is going to know what happened and obviously they were loose face but for these guys I mean there are a lot of people who have disappeared in Cuba I mean I don't even want to get in the politics of the whole US Cuba relations but there are a lot of people who either disappear after leaving and been sent back home so my guys had 60 days of sitting there in that nasty detention center just wandering what is going to happen to us when get back home so I think obviously there are some natural I would not say ill will but obviously they just the first time it did not work out and like anything, it's like anything if something does not work out the first time, we have tendencies to go in different directions. They are consumers like everybody else and they just made a different choice the second time around.
    • Defection motives
      I think Cuba players leave, to me …it is obviously a dual opportunity for some it is more money than opportunity. For other it is more opportunity than money. I think they see, they live and die baseball in Cuba, and these guys being professional players unlike any place else in the world I think they want an opportunity to play in the best, in the best league on earth which is obviously the American major leagues. Secondarily, the money the money is obviously much better you get the opportunity to improve not only your life but also your entire family's life if we can get them out. So they leave for that reason as well and quite frankly, in a lot of these players my players for example, Jorge Diaz and Angel Lopez they were just suspended from playing baseball simply for king on the telephone with Rolando Arrojo who had previously defected from Cuba. He was a teammate with them with the Via Claretin in Cuba. So it was a matter of almost necessity for these guys, they get they can spend it for a simply talking on the phone with an old friend so they were essentially forced, Fidel Castro essentially forced these guys to leave Cuba. It was not really even a choice. It was either stay at home and be handled a broom and said have a nice life or they can leave Cuba and continue playing baseball at a higher level than they had in the past.

     
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