Thursday, June 12, 2008


Neyer linked it yesterday and many others have today, but Michael Lewis' story about Cuban baseball players -- more specifically, the Gus Dominguez case -- is one of the best things I've read in a long, long time. I'm not blockquoting nothin', because you may not click then, and you have to click and read the whole thing because it's fantastic. Warning: it's very long. Bring a soda or something.

While we're on the subject, last April there was a story in the New York Times about how Major League Baseball is salivating at the prospect of exploiting all that new talent once Cuba opens up. No one was reading this blog then, but as I wrote at the time, I'm a bit dubious about how deep a talent pool it really is as we sit here today. Yes, some top shelf talent will certainly emerge at the outset, but I question whether it can really be a reliable pipeline like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, at least in the short term. Why? The relative lack of prosperity and the costs and time involved in the ramp-up of scouting and development.

Cuba, with a population of about 11 million, has about 2 million more people than the Dominican Republic, which suggests that it may produce slightly more players than does the latter. But the Dominican is wide open, more prosperous (which means more resources and people can be devoted to baseball as opposed to mere survival), and every team in Major League Baseball has had a training academy there for years. My guess: Even the teams that do the best in exploiting Cuban talent will only see a modest immediate uptick in the quality of their rosters, and at a great price, given the considerable work it will take to get a foothold in Havana.

Is it worth exploiting? Of course. Over time the country's love of baseball and presumable uptick in prosperity and access will yield increasing amounts of talent. But I don't think it's some untapped mother lode, and in the short term I don't think it will provide benefits that are on an order of magnitude greater than, say, putting more scouts in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, or hell, Texas.


Anonymous said...

I don't mean to sound like a narrow-minded Xenophobe but when this happens it will continue to reduce the quantity of American-born players playing the national past time.


Sony said...

I had the pleasure of catching an Industriales game in Havana and the whole experience had some interesting details (like meeting Mesa), but I definitely came away thinking these guys weren't that great. They weren't big or fast and none of them showed much power.

Now that's just one game, but also consider (1) most people there are malnourished, (2) baseball doesn't pay well so you don't see an organized effort to get good (an athlete can make more robbing tourist, which happened 3 times to our group of 12), and (3) there aren't (I was told) organized acadamies and coaching, just pick up games, at the younger level.

The dollar numbers Lewis throws around seem wildly exagerrated and probably come from that odd Canadian he accompanied. Plus, I bought 3 souvenir caps at that stadium, which he says wasn't possible.

The strangest thing was the old guy walking around selling sweet coffee in cups that he hand made by folding pieces of paper (like Oragami).

Pete Toms said...

Again, a day late.

I went to Cuba once and I ain't goin back, but I digress. As much as I didn't particulary enjoy Cuba ( I can only complain so much given that I stayed at a resort for a week ) I question the impact of the poverty on the ability to produce raw talent for MLB. I won't argue that Cuba is more impoverished ( I honestly don't know, I've also been to DR but saw nothing but the resort ) than the DR but I think we're splitting hairs. We've all heard the tales of how impoverished Sammy & Pedro were. I recall reading that the first thing the Dodgers did for Pedro were fix all the cavities in his mouth and nourish him properly. I think he gained 20 -25 lbs or somethin in the first year.

I also think MLB ( the clubs, not at the league level ) will eagerly make investments in Cuba. One of the reasons ( even Jimmie Lee Solomon acknowledges this ) that more and more players come from outside North America is that the draft is inflationary.

Clubs are also pulling out of Venezuala for obvious reasons. Venezuala was producing more and more talent for MLB.

serq said...

Interesting article, thanks for the link.

Curious about your perspective as a lawyer--if everything related in the article is true, couldn't Gus get a retrial on the grounds that his lawyer(s) didn't properly represent him?