By: Daniel Gross
This past baseball season, over thirty Cuban players put on uniforms for Major League Baseball teams (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/birthplace.php?loc=Cuba&y=2016). Some like, Aroldis Chapman helping the Chicago Cubs end some kind of infamous drought, or Yoenis Cespedes for the Mets, played integral roles for teams in the postseason. Locally, both Adeiny Hechavarria and the late Jose Fernandez played major roles for the Miami Marlins. And the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, these players, and their Cuban brethren, are reflective of a long disturbing trend, in Major League Baseball’s willful ignorance into how many of these players came to the United States, and the often degrading and illegal conditions through which these players were smuggled from Cuba to the United States, all for the opportunity to play “America’s pastime.”
For a number of years, Major League Baseball has been complicit in a what is effectively a black market smuggling ring where the chief asset is a player’s talent (http://money.cnn.com/2016/12/15/news/mlb-cuban-baseball-players-smuggled/). In doing so, there is an unspoken acknowledgement that there is a criminal element involved in the smuggling of these players (Id.). Many of them are effectively kidnapped, threatened, and have been held at gunpoint, just to get out of the country. Regarding the entire system, Paul Minoff an attorney for one of the players, said, “These players are a commodity. They’re blood diamonds…Everybody knows where they come from, yet there’s a market for it. And everybody pretends it doesn’t exist.” (Id.). MLB has enabled such behavior by simply tracking players and approaching them once they start playing in a non-Cuban location and blatant ignorance of immigration papers that listed some of these players as workers in Mexico, among other inconsistencies.
On a positive note, the government has recently began to hold those involved accountable. Whether it does so with Major League Baseball remains to be seen. Recently, a federal trial against two men prominently involved in the smuggling of Cuban baseball players began in Miami (http://miami.cbslocal.com/2017/02/21/mariners-martin-tells-of-threats-in-cuban-smuggling-trial/). Testifying for the prosecution, Leonys Martin, outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, has shed light on many of the life threatening and degrading conditions baseball players face while part of these smuggling rings. (Id.) Overall, around 17 players were involved in the alleged ring currently at trial, with the players paying over 15.5 million dollars to the smugglers. (http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/cuban-baseball-players-paid-15-million-smugglers-article-1.2615560).
Without a doubt, the current trial has intensified the scrutiny on Major League Baseball and its dealings with Cuban baseball players. Whether it will change anything is an unanswered question. But it remains a positive first step; one that can be strengthened with the right amount of public pressure. We saw a similar situation manifest itself recently with the NFL, where a league executive acknowledged a link between playing in the NFL and CTE, after years of public denials (http://www.espn.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/14972296/top-nfl-official-acknowledges-link-football-related-head-trauma-cte-first). Now I’m not saying the same thing will happen here. But there’s no harm in trying. Or at least not as much as some of these players have been subjected to…..