World Baseball Classic Hinges on Cuba
When the United States baseball team failed to qualify for the 2004 Athens Olympics, Washington threw a tantrum, but Major League Baseball (MLB) already had an alternative up its sleeve–The World Baseball Classic- with the deck stacked in its favor.
Previously there had been some doubt in baseball circles whether the proposed tournament would become a reality, but the sponsors led by MLB fixed a date for the 16-team, 4-division contest for March, 2006.
When the US team didn’t even qualify for the semifinals at the 2005 World Cup Amateur Baseball Tournament played in Holland (it finished seventh behind Cuba, Korea, Panama, The Netherlands, Japan and Nicaragua) there was even more reason to go forward with the parallel tournament where more big leaguers would participate for the United States.
With everything designed to help the USA team win and to please the corporate sponsors, the competition was conveniently arranged in March, at a time of year (off-season for MLB) that doesn’t affect its financial interests. Another big advantage is being the only team to have all its games at home as well as the semi-finals and final.
Former Toronto Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez was chosen to lead Team USA, expected to be loaded with talent such as San Francisco's Barry Bonds, Houston's Roger Clemens, the New York Yankees' Derek Jeter and Derrek Lee of the Chicago Cubs.
But no, that wasn’t enough for the best team money can buy or a president obsessed with a Caribbean island.
They didn’t expect Olympic and World Cup Champions Cuba to participate because of threats of harassment from right wingers from Miami and scouts to hound its players. Fidel Castro’s surprise announcement that the island would field a team left the US government in a quandary.
"Yes, of course, we accept the challenge —said the Cuban president— count on us at the party."
Could the White House allow for the possibility of getting beat at their own game on their own turf? Hell No!
IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ‘EM, EXCLUDE ‘EM
The next ploy used by the administration was ordering the Treasury Department to ban Cuba from playing because the nearly half century US blockade on the island “prohibits entering into contracts in which Cuba or Cuban nationals have an interest."
But the Cuban Baseball Federation one upped Bush again reminding everyone that Cuba has never played ball for money and that any proceeds would be donated to victims of Hurricane Katrina, who have suffered from US government negligence.
Even Major League Baseball and the MLB Player’s Association, event organizers, are pleading with the administration to rescind its ruling and allow Cuba to attend. Otherwise, they fear its claim that the World Baseball Classic is in fact a world class event is in jeopardy.
If the Treasury Dept. ruling is not reversed, Dick Pound, an International Olympic Committee member from Canada said, "it would completely scupper any bid" by the United States for future Summer or Winter Games.
"We are very disappointed with the government's decision to deny the participation of a team from Cuba in the World Baseball Classic," said Paul Archey, the senior vice president of Major League Baseball International, and Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
LEAVE POLITICS OUT
"Sports should be separated from politics," U.S. Soccer Federation president Bob Contiguglia told Associated Press. "We've played Cuba in sport on many occasions and it's never been a problem. We've had teams go to Cuba and they've come here. So it seems kind of shortsighted that the administration would do that."
MLB reapplied to the Treasury Dept. for a license a fortnight ago so Cuba can participate. To date, silence has been the only reply.
Rep. Jose Serrano, a New York Democrat, maintains that politics should be left out of this matter. He has circulated letters to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Treasury Dept. asking that Cuba be allowed to play.
Wayne Smith, a former head of the US Interests Section in Havana under the Carter administration, recently wrote: “not granting a license for a Cuban baseball team to participate in the World Baseball Classic planned for March was deeply disappointing but hardly a surprise.”
Smith said the decision “was in keeping with the Bush administration’s policy of trying to seal off all contact with the Caribbean island,” blocking American scholars, athletes, musicians, religious leaders etc. from visiting Cuba and visa versa with their counterparts from the island.
Edwin Zerpa, the president of the Venezuelan Baseball Federation told the press, “We hope that the United States’ government changes its position,” adding that his country could host part of the tournament if all else fails.
Puerto Rico's baseball federation has sent a letter to the International Baseball Federation declining to host any WBC games as scheduled if Cuba is banned from playing by the United States.
Even if the Bush administration gives in and offers to let the Cubans play, they could still set up roadblocks to make it difficult for the team to arrive on time for pre-tournament practice or allow the radical right of Miami to make their stay as difficult as possible.
Playing with a stacked deck even when you hold all the aces reminds me of Richard Nixon. Despite having his wartime reelection in the bag he decided to wiretap the Democrats to gain even further advantage. That all backfired for Tricky Dick a couple years later.