Logan Sparkman – MLB Relations with Cuba

Baseball is commonly known as America’s favorite pastime, yet many of the athletes who compete in the Major Leagues here in America are from foreign countries. Players come from a variety of places like Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Curaçao, etc. One country where it is difficult to immigrate to the United States and achieve dreams of playing Major League Baseball, however, is Cuba. Currently, there is an embargo placed on Cuba by the United States which was put in place by the Kennedy administration in 1963. This embargo makes it illegal for any major business to be done between the two countries and makes it harder for athletes to immigrate to the states (St. Pierre 801). Some of the top athletes in the game come from Cuba and have had to defect from their countries just to be able to follow their dreams. Defection can be dangerous, yet it is the only way that many players can get away to achieve their dreams since immigration can be such a long and difficult process. When they defect, these players are then considered traitors and are no longer allowed to return, sometimes leaving family behind (St. Pierre 806).

One example of a player who had a dangerous road to defection is the late Jose Fernandez. He was born in Cuba and was left there as his father defected when he was 13 years old. Two years after his father left for the US, Jose and his mother decided to join him in the States. They left on a boat on course to Miami, but their first three attempts were unsuccessful as members of the US Coast Guard found their boat and sent the defectors back to Cuba. Fernandez was sent to prison for a year. On their fourth attempt, the family decided to head for Mexico instead of Miami. The family made it to Mexico, crossed over the Texas border, and traveled to meet his dad in Tampa, Florida (Conn). Later, after years in America and in the MLB, Fernandez stated that the day he finally became a citizen of the US was the best day of his life. When he was asked why, Fernandez was quoted as saying “That’s what I risked my life for” (Diaz).

Jose Fernandez did not defect specifically to play baseball, but he would not have been able to live out his dream if his family had not taken the treacherous journey of defection when he was a teen. Fernandez is just one of many stars who have taken the dangerous path for a better life. Stars of the game such as Yasiel Puig, Yulieski and Lourdes Gourriel Jr, Aroldis Chapman, and Yoenis Cespedes have all defected from their countries to be able to play in the Major Leagues (Vargas). If we want more stars like these to come to our country to play baseball and work for our amusement, shouldn’t we make it easier for them to be able to do it? These players have to sacrifice much, like their lives and their families, to be able to achieve one goal, when they should be able to have it all like players from other countries can currently afford to do.

I propose that the MLB make a deal with the Cuban government to give athletes an option other than defection in order to immigrate to the US. This proposal could include terms which give Cuban players work visas and gets them safely to America. Talk of an agreement has already begun between the MLB and Cuba, so why not secure safety for future stars in a deal that could mutually benefit both parties? Some of the most beloved stars in the game already come from Cuba, so finally allowing scouts to go and legally look for players who know they can move to the US without fear of being considered a traitor and leaving behind loved ones could only be beneficial. It would produce many more big names for the MLB and give Cuba the pride of producing such talent. If the MLB really does want these players to come to the US to play baseball for our entertainment, they should work towards a deal to ensure the athletes are protected for their journey over (Neal).

The terms necessary for a deal like this have already been put in place for players signing in other foreign countries, which can be used as an easy template for terms of an agreement with Cuba. The players can be given work visas in the same way that they are already given them by teams. With the current rules, it is illegal for scouts to go to Cuba in order to look at players for free agency or to negotiate any terms with them. Under my proposal, the Cuban athletes would be considered free agents just like other foreign players and could enter negotiations with teams without having to defect from their country (St. Pierre 803). The athletes would be able to receive all of their signing bonuses and live without risk of being arrested or having to leave behind their families and not return to them. The terms that should be used in an agreement have already been laid out, so as long as Cuba and the MLB are willing to come to an agreement, the issue can be fixed.

Talk has already begun between the MLB and Cuba in order to try and move toward this change. A few months back, a decision was made by the Obama administration which considered the Cuban Baseball Federation separate from the Cuban government. This decision was a big part of the reason Cuba and the MLB could even begin to make a deal because it meant that the embargo did not have to end in order to make an agreement. In fact, the two had agreed on creating a deal where players would not have to defect and could participate in negotiations, as well as freely sign with teams. The Trump Administration, however, deemed that the Cuban Baseball Federation was indeed a part of their government, which stopped the deal from coming to full fruition. Both sides have recognized that this deal is important, with the Cuban Baseball Federation even tweeting “The agreement with MLB seeks to stop the trafficking of human beings, encourage cooperation and raise the level of baseball.” The US government has also stated that they want to work with the MLB to ensure the safety of these players and their ability to display their talents (Yomotov and Fritze). The final part of this deal since there is already a template of terms and agreement between parties on both sides is getting the politics to line up in order to allow the agreement to be made between the two bodies.

By deeming the Cuban Baseball Federation a part of the Cuban government, Trump has changed the course of a deal which could be monumental. This decision was a bad move because it continues to put Cuban athletes in danger by making them defect to America, and it also hurts the sport which we consider our favorite pastime. We could be neglecting some of the best talent in the game by not allowing their safe journey here. Though Trump maintains that the Cuban Baseball Federation is a part of their government because it falls under the National Sports Institute and money would go to the Cuban government, it is actually a part of the International Olympic Committee and the money would go towards Cuban baseball which has a dwindling budget (Spetalnick).

A deal must be put into place for the safety of players from Cuba, so they will no longer have to defect or jump through hoops in order to achieve their dreams. It is not their fault they were born or raised in a country where they are not given equal opportunity as players from other foreign nations. If we want these stars who can potentially change the game and make history to be able to play the game as we know it, there must be a change. Personally, I would love to see more amazing talent in the game and hate to think that because of an embargo from 50 years ago, we are denying athletes an equal opportunity. Both sides recognize that the deal would make a positive impact, so work should be done on both sides in order to complete it as quickly as possible. This deal not only ensures player safety, but it also ensures a better future for the players and their families and the game of baseball in America as a whole.


Conn, Jordan Ritter. “From Cuba With Heat.” Grantland, 16 July 2013, http://grantland.com/features/marlins-rookie-pitcher-jose-fernandez-journey-cuban-defector-mlb-all-star/.

Diaz, George. “José Fernández Reflects Hope, Heartbreak of Cuban-American Dream.”   OrlandoSentinel.com, 30 Sept. 2016, www.orlandosentinel.com/sports/baseball/os-jose-fernandez-cubans-george-diaz-0930-20160929-column.html.

Gartland, Dan. “The Incredible Story of Jose Fernandez’s Defection.” SI.com, 25 Sept. 2016, www.si.com/mlb/2016/09/25/jose-fernandez-marlins-cuba-united-states-defection-story.

Neal, Al. “There’s No Major League Baseball without Immigrants.” People’s World, 21 June 2018, www.peoplesworld.org/article/theres-no-major-league-baseball-without-immigrants/.

Spetalnick, Matt. “U.S. Nixes Deal for Major League Baseball to Sign Cuban Players.” Thomson Reuters, 9 Apr. 2019, www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-usa-baseball/u-s-nixes-deal-for-major-league-baseball-to-sign-cuban-players-idUSKCN1RK27U.

St. Pierre, Alyson. “America’s Past-Time and the Art of Diplomacy.” Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, vol. 25, no. 2, July 2018, pp. 797–816. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2979/indjglolegstu.25.2.0797

Vargas, Andrew S. “5 Of the Most Harrowing Cuban Defection Stories From MLB History.” Remezcla, 2017, remezcla.com/lists/sports/Cuban-baseball-defection-stories-mlb/.

Yomtov, Jesse, and John Fritze. “Trump Administration Cancels MLB’s Deal with Cuba.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 9 Apr. 2019, www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2019/04/08/mlb-cuba-agreement-cancel-trump-administration/3403971002/.