Baseball & Cuban Players

If anyone is interested there is an incredible piece on Cuban Baseball players in the current issue of Vanity Fair. (Angelina Jolie’s pre-natal boobs fill the cover so it should be an easy find on the Spar racks)

Window dressing aside, its a savage and hard working effort from the writer, and well worth a read for anyone interested in Fidel’s athletes, past current and future.

Even more interesting is the effect of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the collapse of Fidel’s trading/ swap deals, and their subsequent effect on Cuba’s potential stars.

I note the above in particular as it never occurred to me before.

Anyway, plug over.

Don’t want to hijack this thread but I think the Dominican players deserve a mention, most notably A Rod. I wonder how many people outside of the US had actually heard of him before the whole Madonna thing?

The Dominicans are represented in this same piece.
What is very interesting is that the American National Team (made up of Major Leaguers) don’t top the World Rankings; Japan are the current World Champs after beating Cuba in the final. Prior to which Fidel removed all the best players from the National Team so that they wouldn’t be spotted and then smuggled into Florida.

A great line in the article mentions a particular player who isn’t on the Cuban National Team and a quote from an agent “If he washed up on Miami shore he’d be a millionaire.”

Right so. Im off to buy Vanity Fair

A League of Their Own
[SIZE=1]A boy steps up to bat in a pickup game in Havana. By Claudia Daut/Reuters/Corbis.[/SIZE]

Commie Ball: A Journey to the End of a Revolution

Some of the greatest baseball players the world has never seen are in Cuba, where their talent is government property, and their only chance of turning pro is the risky boat ride to Florida. Gus Dominguez, an L.A. sports agent, has done more than anyone to help escaped players join major-league U.S. teams, but now he sits in a California jail, convicted of smuggling athletes. The author flies to Havana for an unprecedented scouting of the islands stars as he reports on the twisted dynamics behind the Dominguez case.

by Michael Lewis July 2008

Before he became a casualty in the immigration wars, Gus Dominguez was just another agent in Los Angeles. Then, on October 20, 2006, the United States government issued its first-ever indictment for smuggling athletes into the country, with Dominguez cast as the mastermind. The alleged contraband: five Cuban baseball players. Specifically, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida claimed that Dominguez had identified four pitchers and a shortstop in Havana and then paid $225,000 to smugglers to sneak them by boat to Florida and drive them to California, where he auctioned them off to Major League Baseball teams.
Intriguing as it sounded, the case didnt receive much attention, at least not at first. Outside of professional-baseball circles no one had heard of Gus Dominguez. But inside baseball Dominguez had made his mark as the agent who, back in the early 1990s, invented the market for Cuban baseball players, and still sat somewhere near the middle of it. When the sports media finally picked up on the indictment, the Bush-appointed assistant secretary of homeland security for U.S. immigration and customs enforcement, Julie Myers, issued this statement: Though this case involves a Beverly Hills sports agent and talented baseball players, it is remarkably similar to the human smuggling operations that ICE encounters every day. The ringleaders put the lives of illegal immigrants at risk and sought to profit from their labor.
But there were several aspects of the case remarkably dissimilar to anything that had ever happened before. Up to the moment he turned himself in to the law, Dominguez had been a model citizen. He was 48 years old, with nothing worse than a parking ticket against his name. Hed come to the United States from Cuba in 1967, at the age of eight. His parents had abandoned their property in the Cuban province of Camagey to become janitors in Los Angeles, to give their three children a new country. The eldest, Fernando, became an editor with the Los Angeles Times. Gus graduated from Cal StateNorthridge, married his high-school sweetheart, Delia, and then opened his own graphic-design firm. Hed become a sports agent practically by accident, and baseball writers who covered the Cuban beat considered him the honest end of a squirrelly trade. The players whod hired him thought of him as a friend and family man first, a businessman second. I signed with Gus, says Henry Blanco, the Chicago Cubs catcher, because of what other players told me. One said, He might not be the best businessman, but hes the best guy. You can trust him with your money and your wife. And you can.
Then there was the potential value of the cargo. There may be no entrapped pool of human talent left on earth with the dollar value of Cuban baseball players. I compare Cuba to the Dominican Republic, says Phil Dale, an Australian who played in the Cincinnati Reds organization and now scouts players in the Far East for the Atlanta Braves. But the Cubans are better. Their island has bigger and stronger athletes. Their island also has more people11 million to the Dominican Republics 9 million. There are now more than 1,700 Dominican players under contract to U.S. professional baseball teamscompared with just 40 Cubansand close to 100 are playing in the big leagues. Back in the old days, before Cuba was closed for business, it supplied more players to the major leagues than all the other Latin-American countries combined. In 1961, Cuba entered its first post-revolutionary baseball teams in international competitions and proceeded to beat the hell out of everyone, including the Dominicans. For a 10-year stretch, starting in 1987, the Cubans were 1290 in major international competitions. There are plenty of Cubans who are big-league [caliber] players, says Chuck McMichael, who scouts the Latin professional leagues for the Atlanta Braves and helped hire Cubans to play shortstop and catcher for his team. We just dont know who they are. But I cant recall a guy on the Cuban national team [which competes in the World Cup and the Olympics] that you wouldnt at least sign. Youd sign every guy off that team.
For the 30 players who traveled with the Cuban national team, quitting Communism for the big leagues has been as simple as missing the bus or hopping the wall in left field. But relatively few Cuban players have left their island and almost none of the best. What has come to the U.S., instead, is a rattlebag of players past their prime, players in political trouble, players injured, and players who were never very successful in Cuba. Orlando El Duque Hernandez escaped by boat in 1997, when he was in his early 30s, and became a star with the Yankeesbut he had spent most of his prime in Cuba, and insisted that he never would have left had he not been banned from baseball by the Cuban government because his half-brother, Livan, had fled Cuba two years earlier. Gus Dominguezs former client Rey Ordoez, who spent seven years as the starting shortstop for the New York Mets, left Cuba in 1993 only after it became clear that he was blocked by better players from starting for his Cuban team, the Havana Industriales.
The haul that landed Gus Dominguez in a U.S. federal court were cases in point. All five were in their mid- to late 20s and yet none had ever been selected for Cubas national team. ThreeAllen Guevara, Osmany Masso, and Yoankis Turinofailed to elicit even faint interest from professional scouts. The other two signed professional contracts, but in the minor leagues. Last season Osbek Castillo pitched for the Mobile Baybears, the double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Francisley Bueno for the Atlanta Braves double-A affiliate, the Mississippi Braves. Theres at least half a billion dollars of baseball players in Cuba right now and probably a lot more, says Joe Kehoskie, an agent who has represented a number of Cuban big-league players. Of all the people to bring over, it sure as hell wouldnt have been those guys.
That was another strange aspect of the U.S. governments case: it accused Dominguez of ruthless profit seeking, but hed lost a small fortune. It shouldnt have been that hard to make a killing in Cuban ballplayers, especially for the one man outside Cuba with perhaps the most information about them. But that just begged the question: What did Gus Dominguez think he was paying for? He admitted that hed wired $225,000 into the account of a smuggler turned U.S.-government witness named Ysbel Medina-Santos. He admitted, more damningly, that the money wasnt his: he didnt have that kind of cash. Hed borrowed it from the account of a client, Henry Blanco, the Chicago Cubs catcher. Blanco said he didnt mind. Gus is like my brother, he told me. And in any case, Dominguez had refinanced his house and replaced the money before Blanco even knew it was gone.
But why had he done it? The more you looked at the numbers, the less sense they made. At the time, Dominguez kept no more than 5 percent of a players signing bonus and 4 percent of his contract as long as it was above the league minimum. Simply to recoup his investment Dominguez would have needed the players to be worth something more than $5 million to big-league teams. There was never much hope that these players would ever make that kind of money. The U.S. government needed the jury to believe that the American best informed about Cuban ballplayers didnt know which ones were worth stealing; that hed refinance his house to smuggle the wrong guys; that Cuba was a mysterious black hole, about which this sort of ignorance was plausible. And it did! After listening for seven days the jury quickly reached its verdict: guilty.

Thats it, albiet an extract. The printed piece is easily 5,000 words

Here’s the link, I just noticed there’s 12 pages

That guy on pg 2; Leslie Anderson is the lad the Yanks would nearly invade for.

Another lad was already on US Soil with a 40m deal; but got homesick. A year later the arm was done.