Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What Could Castro's Health Mean For Sports?

In case you haven't heard, Cuba's president(dictator), Fidel Castro, has been hospitalized. The residents of Cuba seem to be pretty excited. One thing I haven't heard much about is how Castro's failing health could impact the sports world.

Obviously this is just speculation, but should Castro lose power, and a new democratic government gets installed, there could be a number of Cuban sports prospects free to come to the United States. Instead of having to brave shark infested waters on a dining room door, they could fly over on real planes with working landing gear.

For the most part, baseball would probably be the sport that would benefit the most. Some of the most famous Cuban athletes who defected went on to play major league baseball. They include:

Rene Arocha: Due to injury problems he didn't have a spectacular career(18-17, 4.11 ERA), but he was the first Cuban defector to sign a major league contract. He essentially showed other MLB hopefuls that it could be done.

Rey Ordonez: He played 9 seasons, and racked up 3 gold gloves. Ordonez defected to the United States in 1993 at the end of the World University of Games.

Michael Tejera: He defected in 1994 while traveling through the Miami International Airport on his way to the World Championships in Canada. Tejera started his major league career in 1999 with the Marlins. He was also part of the '03 Marlins team that won the World Series. His career numbers are 11-13 with a 5.14ERA.

Livan Hernandez: He defected in 1995 while playing for the Cuban National Team in Mexico. Hernandez started his career with the Marlins in 1996, and won both the NLCS MVP and World Series MVP in 1997. He was also voted to the All-Star team in both the '04 and '05 seasons. Currently, he plays for the Washington Nationals, and his career stats are 110-104 with a 4.11ERA.

Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez: Quite possibly the most famous Cuban athlete that has successfully defected to the United States. Hernandez made it to the U.S. via the Bahamas in 1997. He began his career in 1998 with the New York Yankess. Hernandez has been a part of three World Series winning teams(NYY '99, NYY '00, CHW '05), and won the ALCS MVP in 1999. Currently, he's a starting pitcher for the New York Mets, and has lifetime stats of 77-57 with a 4.20ERA.

Rolando Arrojo: He defected in 1996 while playing in the Summer Olympics for the Cuban National Team. In 1997, he was signed by the Devil Rays, and was an All-Star selection in 1998. His career ended after the '02 season, and his lifetime record is 40-42 with a 4.55ERA.

Danys Baez: He defected while playing for the Cuban National Team at the 1999 Pan American Games in Canada. Baez started his career with the Cleveland Indians in 2001. In '01 he went 5-3 with a 2.50ERA, in '02 10-11 with a 4.41ERA and 6 saves, and in '03 2-9 with a 3.81ERA and 25 saves. While with the Devil Rays in '04-'05 he went 4-4 with a 3.57ERA and 30 saves, and 5-4 with a 2.86ERA and 41 saves respectively. In January of 2006 he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and in July of 2006 traded to the Atlanta Braves.

Andy Morales: He successfully defected on his second attempt in 2000. The Yankees signed him to a $4.5 million dollar deal in March of 2001. However, Morales is probably most famous for lying about his age, and having the Yankess stop payment on the multi-million dollar deal. He has yet to play in the majors.

Jose Contreras: He defected in 2002 while playing for the Cuban National team in Santillo, Mexico. Contreras started his major league career in '03 with the Yankees where he went 7-2 with a 3.30ERA, but missed about two months due to injury. In July of '04, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. Between the Yankees and the White Sox, Contreras ended up with a 13-9 record and 5.50ERA for the 2004 season. In the 2005 season he went 15-7 with a 3.61ERA, and helped the White Sox win their first World Series title since 1917.

While Major League Baseball has benefitted from the successful defection of a number of Cuban athletes, there are other sports where the defectors have flourished.

Boxer Joel Casamayor defected in 1996 while in Mexico. He went on to win the NABF and WBA Super Featherweight titles. Diobleys Hurtado is another boxer who successfully defected, and was at one time ranked in the WBC's Top 10 Welterweights.

Should Castro relinquish power, and a democratic government is able to be established in Cuba, then Cuban athletes will have new opportunities that were once only attained after long struggles. For every athlete that has made it to the U.S. there are probably a number who have tried and failed(even some of the successful ones had to try more than once), or who were too scared to try at all. Baseball, boxing and a variety of other sports could see an influx of talented Cuban athletes that want nothing more than to pursure the "American Dream".


Boski93 said...

You can not tell me that there are not at least 16 teams with boats, choppers and commandos ready to go at moments notice if things go funny in Cuba. They will make sure that no hard throwing left handers and good middle infielders are left behind.

Josh Q. Public said...

What Could Castro's Health Mean For Sports? The Havana Marlins, that's what.

Erik Mann said...

great topic, keep up the great posts, MMA

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