Mr. Obama Plays Ball

Our correspondent @SocraticGadfly noted yesterday that the Obama administration issued new guidelines that pertain to Cuban baseball players coming to the US to play in MLB. I’d like to unpack that a little and look at what’s going on here.

First, let’s go back to the post @scoutsaysweitersisabust wrote a couple of weeks ago about MLB wanting to set up a partnership with Cuban entrepreneurs and the MLBPA that would basically create something like a baseball academy system in Cuba. Why Cuba — which produces baseball players of superior talent on its own — would need MLB’s assistance in training youngsters is unclear (and not a believable cover), but the key here is that a percentage of the salaries paid to players going into MLB from Cuba would be skimmed off to go to this nonprofit body. Ostensibly, this was an obvious subterfuge to get around the US embargo against Cuba while still offering a way to funnel money to the Cuban government indirectly for letting players leave to come play baseball in the US. Does this make sense? No, unless you dig into the background a little.

As Reuters reported back in 2014, the Cuban government made an agreement with the NPB in Japan — and then with its equivalent in South Korea — to allow Cubans to play for those leagues. In return for letting the players go to Asia to earn bigger salaries, the Cuban government receives a 20% cut of each player’s salary (for sharing the rights to them with teams) plus whatever income tax the players would owe. Essentially, Japanese and South Korean teams are paying kickbacks to the Cuban government in order to sign players, who benefit from making more (even with the cut for the government) than they would back home.  Through this arrangement, the Japanese and South Koreans shut MLB out of access to Cuban talent.

Some Cuban players, however, would still prefer to come to the US to play because the salaries are so great here. Despite the fact that they can safely go to Asia, players are still trying to come to America — and American handlers with Cuban ties are eager to see them make it to the US instead (earning a cut for themselves, of course). Defecting to come and play in the US is riskier than going to Japan or South Korea, but it offers a great payday.

Part of the danger of defecting for players like Yasiel Puig actually lies at the feet of MLB. Those of us of a certain age well remember a number of Cold War defectors who have come to the US to work. One of the most famous sports figures from my youth was Martina Navratilova, who defected to play tennis. Cuban players could take the same route to attempt to defect (showing up at a US embassy when traveling abroad to play) or they could make the dangerous journey to Florida directly. It almost never happens that Cuban players come to the US this way. Why? Because of the terms of MLB’s collective bargaining agreement with the player’s association. If defectors come directly to the US, as resident aliens, they would be subject to the draft and would have left their homes and their families behind to be (relatively) underpaid like American draftees. If, however, they go to another country first, they can establish themselves as free agents right away — and then they can sign for the big bucks.

Now, if you’re a poor Cuban player who wants to make it to MLB, how are you going to make that happen? You can’t exactly book a ticket to the US (and you might not be able to afford it anyway). Handlers (often Americans acting illegally) are willing to front the money to have smugglers move players out of Cuba in order to get to the US, but they want the biggest cut for that they can get. It benefits them financially (as well as Cuban players) to take the more complicated and dangerous route of smuggling Cubans to another country to set up as free agents first. Since these handlers are acting illegally, they put the defectors in the hands of often-dangerous criminals in the process.

MLB gets no benefit from that arrangement, which was tolerable for the league as long as that was the case for all baseball leagues.  Now that Cuban players can go to Japan or South Korea without danger involved like coming to the US, though, more of them could opt to go there instead (or perhaps use the NPB or KBO to set themselves up to come to the US with free agency). In light of the new arrangement, MLB lobbied the Obama administration to change the embargo regulations so they could set up a similar deal to bring players here. There was no way that the US government was going to agree to the terms that the Japanese and South Koreans did with Cuba, however, because money would be going to the Cuban government directly. Hence, MLB came up with the convoluted “academy” plan, which is obviously a cover for funneling money to the Castro government  — and conveniently brings MLB and the MLBPA a cut as well (at the expense of the players).

As Gadfly observed, however, the new guidelines the Obama administration issued specifically state that payments cannot go to the Cuban government in return for players coming here. Should the US government determine that MLB’s plan is just a shell for paying off its counterpart in Cuba, it could nix the plan. It’s unclear at this point what Obama’s end game is in issuing the new regulations then. Is he trying to help players come to the US but in a way that will not let MLB, the MLBPA and the Castro government make money off of Cuban defectors?  Is he trying to force their hand so as to get a better arrangement for players without benefiting the Cuban government or MLB? Or, is he trying to help facilitate the cause of big business (and unions) by helping MLB (and the MLBPA) circumvent the embargo so Japan and South Korea don’t gain the market advantage? It’s anyone’s guess at this point. We’ll have to see how things develop to know Obama’s game plan. For now, we just know that Raul Castro is at the plate, and there’s a lot of excitement to see if he puts something in play.

18 thoughts on “Mr. Obama Plays Ball

  1. “Or, is he trying to help facilitate the cause of big business (and unions) by helping MLB (and the MLBPA) circumvent the embargo so Japan and South Korea don’t gain the market advantage?”

    IT’s that one for sure, in my opinion. It’s also very interim type of thing I think.The softening of relations is ongoing as we open doors to Cuba and vice versa. I imagine this version is only in place to cover the MLB and the Cuban players until a more official system is in place in the next year or two. Kinda like the airline industry and cruislines are getting the first dibs with respect to interjecting into the Cuban economy while me and you still have some hoops to worry about.

    Finally, where are the pictures? I can’t read without staring at a picture every two seconds!


  2. Thanks for the more extended piece, Hist, as I was thinking along us needing more discussion on this myself, but at least wanted to get a roundup piece yesterday with multiple happenings.

    First, this won’t affect the current season, whatever happens or will happen. We’re too far into spring training.

    Second, per what I highlighted on the Treasury Dept. release, what does “payments” mean? Is it cash only, or is it any capitalist-based financial considerations?

    Because, to channel my inner Gator a bit, MLB will have to steer between the Scylla of the letter of the Treasury Department and the Charybdis of what Cuba wants.

    If “payments” is cash only, let’s say one of Raul Castro’s minions pitches something like the following to one of Commissioner Corleone’s minions.

    We like that you had a spring training game here in 2016. We’d really like teams to agree to play a couple dozen.

    And, you’ll surely want to build an MLB-level spring training complex here, probably in Havana. Maybe a second in Santiago or something. (And feel free to add enough grandstands to that field, or those fields, to seat the typical Serie National crowd.)

    ¿Oh, and you know, Señor Commissioner? I’m sure enough Yanqui fans will want to see béisbol here that they might want to do so in the comfort of a new, American-class hotel.

    We can name the whole complex after one of the best Yanqui writers, one who emblemed the manhood of béisbol and is beloved in both countries, Señor Ernesto Hemingway.<<

    No cash trades hands. The whole complex is owned by a shell nonprofit which just happens to let Raul and/or Fidel appoint the majority of the board of directors.

    Cubans get thousands of construction jobs for building all of this.


  3. it would be pretty easy to establish the money laundering, but nobody in the obama administration will care, but now AG Christie, or president Cruz on the other hand…


  4. I’m not sure I want to put this here on this article, but What The Heck. I have been away due to a pretty significant health scare, and it has left me scared shitless, less interested, and inable to even semi-frequently participate in the discussions, which frustrates me no end.
    I Do want all of to know how much you’ve meant to me over the last few years, with your knowledge, patience, intelligence, wit and great insights., and your willingness to tolerate a less over-all passionate fan than yourselves. I’ve been in awe of your breadth of knowledge and your writing abilities I’ve happily watched this site grow from a few pissed-off’,disgruntled people to a going concern that just keeps getting better, So all of you keep up the good stuff. You’re gonna be successful with this here thing, y’all.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I almost emailed you today. Your absence has been noticed. I was worried. I am still worried. Are you okay?

      I consider you a part of my little internet family here. I notice when someone hasn’t partcipated in awhile. It’s odd, this little community. Sometimes someone just loses interest. Of course, this is a voluntary activity. There is no blood oath. But when someone like you disappears, his or her absence is felt acutely. I noticed it. I wondered if something happened to you. As a former ER nurse, I imagine the worst. I know how quickly life can change. I am sad to hear something bad has befallen you. I am sad to hear you have less interest in baseball. Your passion and humor was one of your wonderful qualities. Please know there are people who’ve never met you who do care.


      1. I just went through a graduate-level course in nursely- compassion and care. Basically, end of last week, was diagnosed with metasticized, kidney cancer which has spread to my spine. Underwent ER procedure to debride (?) 1 vertebra, and then pin-and-rod some of them together. The people who treated me were absolutely the greatest, esp, the nurses and tech’s. A few of the Dr’s left a bit to be desired ( on the human interaction side), but that’s the nature of Drs.
        Anyway, right now I don’t have the energy- or the right frame of mind to play. But I’ll lurk around anyhoo. We’ll see how it goes. WHEE, Chemo starts tomorrow. – Or maybe not.


        1. Oh, no, no, no, no. Please tell me you are telling me a horrible joke.

          I can barely type for the tears. I was hoping you’d say something relatively mild, like a myocardial infarction. Believe it or not, a heart attack is better. If you are up and writing one week after a heart attack, you’re fine. Not fucking cancer. Not for you. Fuck you, cancer.

          It seems so trite to say if there’s anything I can do for you, but I truly mean it. I am a nurse, I am a good researcher, I can ask my doctors questions. Whatever you need. Please email me:


    2. Please don’t be a stranger. Check in with us sometimes.

      I’ll keep you in my most positive thoughts. 🙂


    3. Sometimes distractions don’t fit the bill. Feel free to drop by to rage or whatever if the need strikes. You don’t have to be any way but what you are around here. We’ll take you any which way.

      I’m thinking of you.


    4. Hey Baddy. Your old friend “cur68/DangYouToHeck/Rik” here. Long time no speak.

      So ‘Philliac just told me about this and shot me the link. So, it goes without saying that I’m sorry this is happening to you and I’ll spare you advice and how this makes me feel and all that stuff people say when they really don’t know what to say. Instead, I’ll share some stuff with you.

      no no. Don’t recoil in horror. It’s not pictures of my diseased spleen or some other ailment or rot like that. Misery doesn’t really need like company, y’know? It’s links to stuff that makes me laugh, teaches me stuff, or just interests me in general even though I am not an expert in it. I don’t know as it’s going to do any of that for you, but it’s all I got, so here we go.

      First: A Giant Sword Maker.
      Yes. don’t rub your eyes. I like to watch on youtube a guy making giant swords. Here’s a link to his thingy:
      He’s funny, brilliant, gifted, and one of the planet’s true characters. And he makes big swords from scratch.

      Next, a website dedicated to being a badass.
      Basically an even handed, profanity laced, over the top documenting of people, animals, fictional characters, and things that are over-the-top badass awesome. Enjoy.

      Then, Vet Ranch. Pretty straightforward youtube fare, only its really very well done. Veterinarians who rescue and fix up animals so they can be adopted. There are puppies. And kittens. Even a hedgehog. I love this channel.

      Lets see…what else…I KNOW! A Canadian one. THIS little nuggert of youtube gold is by a Canadian fella in the wilds of British Columbia who’s profession is something like “fixes oil rig stuff that other oil rig people break”. His thing is to buy a tool/appliance (usually a popular one) and take it apart to see if its any good then test it to destruction. He’s very thorough and if you’re a tool using guy you’ll enjoy that part of it very much. The BEST thing about is that he’s funny as hell. Here:

      That’s all I got. That’s stuff that makes me happy to watch and takes my mind off things. I hope that’s something of value to you.

      Good luck my friend.



    5. Badhair, Let me add best wishes to all the good karma heading your way. I’m in full agreement that the nurses and therapists are the bee’s knees, and the MDs are a little chilly. Keep the faith and drop by for an occasional hello or a tasty Midnight Snack. My best too you!


  5. Historio, it took me more than one try to finish this (it’s not you, it’s me) but I am happy to see your postings whenever they occur. You are the conscience of baseball, and I love it!


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