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Monday, March 20, 2006

'Defect'-ive

There are two prevailing stories in baseball this spring. There's the triple-story of Barry Bonds, the all-time homerun crown and steroids. Then there's the World Baseball Classic.

The CHB, who to date has acted the proverbial one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest when it comes such timely stories as Jim Rice's winning personality and Keith Foulke's thoughts on Burger King employees, finally gets around to writing about the WBC.

Of course, he doesn't study the merits of the contest. Nor does he capture the excitement of it -- and those who saw Alex Rodriguez' shock and dismay after the United States lost to Mexico or Jason Varitek's soft-spoken gratitude for the honor of representing his country know what I mean.

Instead, he writes back-to-back columns about what a wonderful team the Cubans have. And in doing so he obliterates reality and common sense. It's like watching a slow-motion car crash.

Let's roll the tape.

Sunday: "No 25 guys/25 cabs for the Cuban national team. It's all for one, all the time," he wrote. As if a Cuban player would even be allowed in a cab.

Today: He describes what a great time the players are having: "It's obvious the players are having fun. They travel, eat, practice, and play as a unit."

As usual, Dan contradicts himself mid-story without even realizing it. Is it the fun that binds the players together, or is it the "security guards near their rooms in the team hotel and representatives from the Department of Homeland Security stand[ing] guard?" Or maybe it's the presence of Antonio Castro, Fidel's son, who just happens to be the team doctor "and often can be seen standing next to [Cuba's manager] during games."

Can those who are considered threats to defect be seriously described as "having fun"? Fun is what I had while out on St. Patrick's Day, and the last thing on my mind was hopping a boat to Havana. Per Article 216 of Cuba's Penal Code, the penalty for any attempt to leave the country without prior government approval is up to three years in prison.

Some don't get off so easy. Truth is, potential defectors face a life-and-death decision. In his childlike ignorance, The CHB apparently is unaware that on July 18, 1978, Cuban baseball star Pedro José Rodríguez was assassinated by Cuban agents while in Colombia for a exhibition series. He was thrown from the 5th floor window of his hotel room for attempting to defect.

Moreover, as Cuban law (Article 90 of Law No. 16, June 28, 1978) mandates, "The promotion of athletes to higher categories takes into account not only their athletic achievements, but also their social and political attitude." In short, you want to play, you gotta pray at the altar of Fidel.

What was that about the cabs, Dan?

Here's where Dan truly goes off the deep end. "Baseball truly is a religion in Cuba. ... Players pledge allegiance to Fidel and none has defected since José Contreras went AWOL in 2002 [SIC!]." Let's forego the pure MGH-bound craziness of that non sequiter and focus on the "none has defected since 2002" comment. That is, pure and simple, wrong.

In October 2003, Cuban baseball stars Maels Rodriguez and Yobal Dueñas defected, hoping to make it to major leagues, according to Baseball America.

And in a New York Times article on March 6, 2006, Jack Curry wrote: "Joe Kehoskie, an agent who has represented Cuban defectors since 1998, said he knew of several players who would like to defect. He estimated that more than 40 players, none as renowned as Contreras, have defected in the past three years."

So what happened in 2002? Cuba began negotiating with foreign teams for its best players. As economics professor Katherine Baird noted in her paper, Cuban Baseball: Ideology, Politics, and Market Forces, in 2002, two top Cuban players, Omar Linares and Germán Mesa, were sold to Japan teams. Notes Baird: "In all likelihood, the Cuban government received significantly more than 80 percent of Linares’ earnings. While it is less clear if the average Cuban player is exploited, those who are able to play overseas are clearly exploited by the Cuban goverment." There's something about being able to leave (mostly) on your own that sort of undermines the need to defect.

Ignorance is bliss, ain't it Dan?

Say what? watch: The CHB says the Cubans are "one victory away from being true champions of the world." Ooooookkkaaayyyy.

Selective memory watch: "Lazo made the lead look huge. No one-inning relief stint for him. The big righty threw 4 2/3 innings of relief, which we all know is not the American way." Is it me, or was Dan among those who screamed bloody murder three years ago at the closer-by-committee concept, under which extended high-leverage relief appearances would be acceptable? We need only turn to April 1, 2003, when he wrote: "Let's start with a memo to Bill James: Perhaps the seventh inning is not the most important inning to hold a lead."

Selective memory watch, redux: Do you think there's pressure to win? Dan did last year, when covering the Red Sox-White Sox playoff series last Oct. 8 he wrote of Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, "There's little pressure in life after you've already stared down Fidel Castro."

Plagiarism watch: The NYT's Jack Curry, on March 6: Yulieski Gourriel, a 21-year-old infielder who carries himself with the swagger of Derek Jeter ... ."

Dan on March 19: "Gourriel -- the Derek Jeter of Cuba ... ."

Thank God they're a two-newspaper company: Curry again: "Kehoskie speculated that the young pitchers Danny Betancourt, who was dazzling in the Athens Olympics, and Frank Montieth were excluded from the Classic because they were viewed as threats to defect."

The CHB (quoting Velez): "If someone says that we have them under control because they might want to leave, they might want to run away, it's not true. You know very well that if you want to run away, if you want to go to another place, you can do that whenever you want. You can just leave the stadium, grab a cab, leave the hotel, and that's it. They don't want to do that." (Propaganda 1, The CHB 0.)

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Except for Ichiro Suzuki of Japan, all of the major league millionaires have gone back to their teams..."

Um, and Akinori Otsuka, the Japanese pitcher who played the last 2 seasons in San Diego, and was traded to the Rangers. Just a little factual error. (And yes, Otsuka's made over a million dollars in his career.)

jenny said...

Leave it to Dan to say he's rooting for Cuba and then, in his justification, accidentally enumerate a bunch of reasons why you should NOT root for Cuba.

FWIW, though, I am anyway.

dbvader said...

Kendry Morales defected in June, 2004. I know this will come as a surprise, but Dan overlooked one of the top prospects in baseball.

The Chief said...

Rick is right. It even says so on Kendry Morales' page on mlb.com.

Here's the link.

Anonymous said...

Globe corrections coming any day now. No, really (rolls eyes) ...

dbvader said...

The best part is boston.com published this article less than three weeks ago:
http://www.boston.com/news/world/latinamerica/articles/2006/03/05/possible_cuban_defections_hang_over_world_baseball/

"In June 2004, first baseman Kendry Morales fled Cuba in a motorboat and now plays for the Los Angeles Angels. Seattle Mariners shortstop Yunieski Betancourt also left Cuba by sea in 2004."

Robert said...

It seems like young baseball observers are being hyper-critical of a true Red Sox loving columist. Dan is not afraid to tell it like it is. He's not afraid to say that management ,this winter,are acting like the Oakland A's.

As Dan would say,this has been a "nuclear winter" with the Sox, and it has been. They have taken a 3rd place team and made it worse. Dan points out that the soccer team, the race cars, and the fact that Henry is a billionaire, makes anyone quesion his priorities.

The Sox had two major holes to fill. A productive RFder,and a quality 4th starter. Nickel and diming over Kuroda,and letting him slide to the Bronx s is being stupid,and or cheap. Allowing Pap to walk, a future HOFer was unbelievable. Giving us Cody Ross,when there were so many options availble? Letting spark plug, Marco Scutaro go for virtully nothing. Creating a shortage on the bench if Aviles has to play short. On and on

Scut's salary was very reasonable. They would have been a better club by keeping him and using Aviles as the RH platoon partner for Sweeney. So many players that could have helped were passed over.

Dan has been an entertaining collumist since before some of you were born. He's not concerned with John Henry'personal wealth and calls this salary cap a croc. And many of us agree with him.