Bjarkman: As go the Gurriels, so goes Cuban baseball?

From SABR member Peter C. Bjarkman at La Vida Baseball on March 3, 2017:

The death knell for Cuba’s national pastime has been prematurely rung many times, though some recent high-profile defections are ringing that bell again. There is little doubt that the glory years of Cuba’s once-proud baseball empire are a thing of the past, as a decade-long crisis for the sport hit a near free fall in the past two years. An eventual open player exchange with MLB is almost inevitable if U.S.-Cuban relations truly thaw.

By winning 159 straight games in top international amateur events between 1987 and 1997, Cuban teams built one of the sport’s most invincible legacies, and top Cuban players were the island’s greatest celebrities and unmatched heroes. Though they had the talent for potential windfall contracts in the majors, top Cuban stars of the past like Omar Linares, Víctor Mesa, Lourdes Gurriel Sr. and countless others were isolated from MLB by Cold War politics.

Cuba’s baseball prominence has faded recently for several reasons, the biggest being a dilution of talent via more easily accomplished routes to the big leagues, as seen in the loss of players such as Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Céspedes and José Abreu. Sagging economic conditions leading to ramshackle fields and equipment on the island likely conspired to make those defections more likely.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: March 3, 2017. Last Updated: March 3, 2017.