Saturday, December 17, 2005

America May Strike Out at the World Baseball Classic

Baseball is America’s game but it traditionally does some really odd things. For me, one of those oddities is calling the U.S.-Canadian championship a World Series. If it were truly that, we’d include other countries in a round of playoffs that would truly represent something international, perhaps like World Cup Soccer. That would probably be good for baseball as well. It’s struggling as a spectator sport.


TonyperezIn its infinite wisdom, Major League Baseball is introducing the Inaugural World Baseball Classic next year, a March celebration of baseball as it’s played and enjoyed throughout the world. It's scheduled to begin on March 3 in Tokyo and end in San Diego three weeks later. National teams will compete from the United States, Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei, China, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Panama, Italy, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Australia and Netherlands. Holland? Who knew those wooden-shoes played baseball? Sixteen teams.


Oops, make that fifteen. The Treasury Department's gotten all bent out of shape and its Office of Foreign Assets Control told Major League Baseball it will be a no-go for the Cubans. A permit from Foreign Assets Control is necessary because of U.S. laws governing certain commercial transactions with Fidel Castro's communist island nation. A permit? For baseball? Baseball is exempt from anti-trust laws in this country, but somehow constricted by foreign assets control in an international competition. Go figure.


We Americans got to see the Bolshoi Ballet in New York through all those nasty and ugly years of the Cold War, but then Russia was only Reagan's Evil Empire.  We have a particular stick up our ass over Cuba. For forty-four years this country has let a small group of exiled Cuban businessmen, who were kicked out of Cuba, dominate our public policy toward Fidel Castro’s island nation.


These guys, who used to run the casinos and brothels, the auto-agencies, hotels and sugar cartel, want their closed little network back. Then-dictator Fulgencio Batista guaranteed them a lavish lifestyle in the old days before now-dictator Castro threw them all out. These few self-important exiles are the reason Americans can no longer vacation in Cuba and the reason Cubans have suffered so under American policy. Not to mention cutting off access to their outstanding ballplayers for our leagues.


Thus a pop-gun socialist movement in Cuba was built by pressure from this bunch into a major communist threat to the security of our country. What a laugh, and we let this nonsense go on and on because we just can’t stand to be wrong and admit it.


Which would all be just another stupidity on our part, but now our failed Cuba policy has stuck its ugliness into our national sport. And, if we actually do insist upon the idiocy of Foreign Assets Control mixing with baseball, internationally we’ll look like just what we are . . . idiots. Venezuela will no doubt boycott in support of Cuba and then we’re off and running.


Cuban baseball greats in our leagues are many and include first basemen Rafael Palmeiro and the Hall of Fame member Tony Perez, outfielders Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva and Jose Canseco, along with the great pitcher Luis Tiant. Baseball is the national sport of both Cuba and America.


As a Cub fan who’s celebrating Chicago’s World Champion White Sox, I keep the hope that sports will somehow overcome national political power struggles. It seems logical to me that we now share baseball with our onetime enemy Japan and totally illogical that we let an absurdity of national pride get between us and Cuba, where baseball might have brought us together.


Of course there are those who don’t want us together. There’s always someone in the world who doesn’t want progress, sportsmanship and brotherhood.


Fortunately, the ball is still in play and how we run it out is entirely of our own choosing.
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More at my personal web site about what interests me in International Affairs.