Since the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the baseball relationship between the United States and Cuba has worsened significantly. Once a hot-bed for Major League talent, few players in the MLB now hail from Cuba. When Fidel Castro solidified his power atop the Cuban political hierarchy, he abolished baseball’s status as a profession; the Cuban National Team, among the world’s best baseball teams, became an amateur club. Of course, baseball players in Cuba are provided with travel opportunities and food rations that exceed those of their peers. But in comparison to the benefits provided to players in the United States, who make millions every year, there is no comparison. The disastrous relationship between Cuba and the USA in terms of baseball politics is outlined in this feature article by Michael Lewis (the writer of Moneyball), which you can read here. One of the major takeaways: if you’re an American scout looking for Cuban talent, you probably want to stop, unless jail-time appeals to you.
Things are much different in Venezuela, however, despite the United States’ often-hostile relationship with the country’s dictator, Hugo Chavez. In a paper published all the way back in 2000, the President of the Venezuelan Baseball Players Association, Angel Vargas, discusses the American’s infiltration into the farthest corners of Venezuelan society, where scouts search ruthlessly for young baseball talent. Though this paper was published a full twelve years ago, it seems that little has changed in the Major League youth academies structure. For instance, players as young as twelve are taken from their homes, only to be hidden in MLB youth academies, so that other scouts cannot find the best players. These youth ballplayers then train under difficult conditions, completing workouts suited for men, until they can be signed at 16 or 17. Few players, will make it to the Show, and those that don’t are sent back to Venezuela from the United States, often lacking a sound education. About mid-way trough his article in the Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, Vargas states “Let me make clear that MLB knows, and has known for a long time, that these problems exist; but to date, it prefers the current system because it produces cheaper talent.” You can read the whole thing here.
Venezuela has some outstanding players in the Majors, from Jose Altuve on the Houston Astros, to the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval and reigning AL MVP, Miguel Cabrera. But don’t let this small set of successful players overshadow some of the major question marks related to Major League ethics.