January 29, 2014
Baseball, the quintessential “American pastime,” has a history in Latin America that dates back nearly as long as the game has existed. Because of the widespread appeal of baseball and its general ability to unify people, it has been used as a political force in dictatorial regimes throughout the sport’s history. Latin America was routinely strip-mined of baseball talent beginning in the 1930s because it was a source of low-priced, talented ballplayers; it is disappointing that this situation seems to have improved only marginally, with “baseball academies” operating in Venezuela that hoard the best of the country’s young teenage talent and often deprive them of an opportunity to go to school. Cuba has taken its own route, but since the defection of star pitcher Rene Arocha shook the island in 1991, talent has been trickling into the U.S. through circuitous routes (often with a stopover in the Dominican Republic to avoid the embargo issue). What can be done to stop these ballplayers from taking dangerous risks in order to join the MLB? Unfortunately, there are no real answers — there is much more money to be made for American agents and franchises in the current imperfect system than there ever could be with a reformed one.