Bjarkman: U.S.-Cuba thaw is not so hot for MLB

From SABR member Peter C. Bjarkman at The Daily Beast on February 19, 2015:

Optimists are now speculating and baseball fans are dreaming about how a promised Cuba-U.S. diplomatic accord might launch a building boom of big league academies on the long-isolated communist island and unleash a steady flow of Cuban talent onto big league rosters. But the realities of pending diplomatic relations may ironically benefit the Cuban baseball establishment far more by actually restricting the Cuban ballplayer pipeline.

After more than five decades of failed diplomacy and heated cold war rhetoric, Washington and Havana now finally seem poised on the verge of an historic diplomatic breakthrough. But a long anticipated thawing in Cuba-U.S. political and economic relations also still appears destined to move at its own snail-like pace. The fate of Helms-Burton embargo legislation still hangs in the balance, and if dialogue has commenced, the path forward nonetheless remains strewn with obstacles and unforeseen twists and turns.

Bold steps taken by the Obama administration to engage the Castro regime last December were wildly celebrated in the North American media but largely misapprehended and misinterpreted by the general public. Any notion of untold thousands of American tourists soon flooding the island ignored the realities of a depleted Cuban infrastructure. Little has in truth changed regarding legal Cuba travel for Americans, since Obama’s initiative only expands cultural exchanges and educational visits under relaxed Treasury Department general license provisions. And like so much transpiring between Cuba and the United States since the midpoint of the previous century, this breaking story of a new era in Washington’s Cuba policies has been heavily slanted and misreported on both sides of the Straits of Florida.

Central to the Cuba question for many Americans has been the potential impact of a proposed détente on “baseball diplomacy” and on Major League Baseball’s own embargoed business transactions with the single talent-rich corner of the baseball universe to which it has so long been denied access.

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Originally published: February 19, 2015. Last Updated: February 19, 2015.