History of baseball in Cuba

From BR Bullpen

The history of baseball in Cuba dates to the the mid-1860s when the first bat and ball were brought to Cuba. Soon thereafter, the first baseball club was formed. In 1878, the first baseball league outside of continental North America was founded - it would eventually become known as the Cuban Winter League. The league was the top Latin American circuit for its entire history and served as the winter home of many Negro League stars in the 1930s and 1940s. Meanwhile, Cuba was very much a part of the North American organized baseball infrastructure, much like Mexico, with the Havana Sugar Kings being one of the mainstays of the International League until the Cuban Revolution, and Cuban players, who had first played in the major leagues in the 1910s, being the most important group of foreigners in professional baseball. After professionalism was outlawed by Fidel Castro in 1961 a new amateur national league was formed.

The Cuban national team dominated international play for three decades after that, until defections began sapping the team's strength and morale. These were largely prompted by economic difficulties that transformed ballplayers from a somewhat privileged elite until the early 1990s to a group of men who were both badly under-compensated and subjected to even more surveillance than other citizens under a totalitarian regime, as economic conditions on the island collapsed with the fall of the USSR and the withdrawal of its economic subsidies. A one-off series of two games between the National team and the Baltimore Orioles in 1999 promised a thaw in relations between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation, but no concrete improvement followed. In the 2000s, as the trickle of defections became a flood and conditions in the Cuban league deteriorated due to lack of investment, Cuban authorities tried to stem the tide by creating a legal path for certain older players to play abroad - although not in the United States. A historic visit to Cuba by President Barack Obama shortly before Castro's death in 2016 led to an agreement with the Cuban Federation allowing for a legal way for players to move to the United States, but this was quickly reversed by President Donald Trump, who returned to the policy of forcing isolation on the island that had failed to produce results for five decades.

Further reading[edit]

  • Peter C. Bjarkman: A History of Cuban Baseball, 1864–2006, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2007. ISNB 0786428295
  • Cesar Brioso: "How Fidel Castro's revolution ended professional baseball in Cuba", USA Today Sports, November 28, 2016. [1]
  • César Brioso: Last Seasons in Havana: The Castro Revolution and the End of Professional Baseball in Cuba, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2019. ISBN 978-1-4962-0551-3
  • Roberto González Echevarría: The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball, Oxford University Press, New York, 1999. ISBN 0195146050
  • Katie Krall: "Community, Defection, and equipo Cuba: Baseball under Fidel Castro, 1959-93", in Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 48 Number 2, Fall 2019, pp. 5-9.

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