Monday, March 20, 2006

Letter to the Herald's Kevin Baxter - UPDATED

Original email to Mr. Baxter:

Dear Mr. Baxter,

I was in my car listening to XM and I caught the tale end of your interview today. I tuned in apparently right after the host asked you about possible defections. Now I don't know that there will be any defections or what the possibilities of defection are given the tight security around the team, but I was surprised by your response that there would be "no reason" for a player to defect. You said that they would be returning home as heroes, which they certainly would, but it doesn't change the fact that Cuba is a totalitarian country where the rights of the individual are subordinate to the rights of the state. I think freedom is certainly a reason that one might defect. And some of those players have several million reasons to defect as well. Of course that's easier said than done since Cuba has never been known to shy away from ostracizing the remaining family members in Cuba. It just strikes me as odd to hear someone who writes for the Herald, and is presumably aware of the real situation in Cuba, speak about defection as if it were something as casual as asking for a trade.

Henry L. Gomez

Mr. Baxter's Prompt Response:

my point was the players could have defected at any time in the last 12 days. And they didn't. Apparently haven't even tried. So I don't know what has changed in the last 24 hours that would make them want to leave now.

Certainly there are reasons why the players would--even should--defect. But it would strike me as odd that they would do so now rather than earlier in San Juan when, despite the heavier security, it would have been easy to do so

My response to him:

Thank you for the quick and thoughtful response. Here's my thinking on it. There might be several reasons to delay defecting (if one was inclined to do so). First of all they are baseball players. I'm sure the idea of winning the tournament appeals to all of the players regardless of their feelings about staying in the US. So it may be that they are waiting for the tournament to end just to see how it comes out. Another thing is that you assume that the Cuban players know that they have the same rights in Puerto Rico as they do in the US. I don't know that it's a safe assumption to make.

Defecting is a personal decision that requires a lot of reflection. I'm sure they have been told what might happen to their family if they attempted. As long as the tournament continued for the Cuban team, someone who is on the fence about what to do can defer his decision, even if it's for one more day. Have you ever given notice at a job. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, you wait until the moment is right or otherwise your hand is forced. When this tournament ends at about 1:00 ET today, the window for these players to defect will be sliding shut. The immediacy of that, may cause one or more to jump.

Again, I don't know that it will happen, but I don't think it's realistic to expect a guy to defect the minute he gets off the airplane in San Juan.

And lastly his response to my response:

I agree about the Puerto Rican thing. I believe the Cubans tried to hammer home the point to their players than Puerto Rico wasn't really the US--although in 1993 46 Cuban athletes and journalists defected during the Central American and Caribbean Games.

Another point that butresses your thinking: Before the tournament the Cubans didn't really know if they could compete at this level. They obviously know that, of the 100 or so baseball players to defect, less than a quarter of those made the majors and, of those, only a handful have been successful. And after they struggled to beat Panama then got blown out by Puerto Rico, Im sure they were doubting themselves.

Now, however, after great games in which they dominated future Hall of Famers some of these guys have got to be convinced they could make millions if they stay. I would imagine some players have had their minds at least opened to the possibility.

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