July 1, 2007


Ballplayers from Cuba are now flee agents: The 'cottage industry' of smuggling exposes lax rules in the big leagues. (Kevin Baxter, July 1, 2007, LA Times)

Joe Kehoskie, a Syracuse, N.Y., sports agent who has represented more than a dozen Cuban athletes, said the smuggling of baseball players "has become a cottage industry," an example, he said, of "bare-knuckles capitalism."

A rash of defections by prominent ballplayers during the 1990s prompted Castro's government to impose restrictions on Cuban players and teams engaged in international competition. Those restrictions became most severe after the 2002 defection of pitcher Jose Contreras, now with the Chicago White Sox.

Cuban authorities ordered widespread suspensions of players seen as defection risks. Since then, only one is known to have defected at an international event — while smuggling has soared.

"It's like somebody threw a switch," Kehoskie said. "They stopped defecting at tournaments and they all started taking speedboats to Miami."

The timing of changes to Washington's policy added to favorable conditions for smuggling.

Since the mid-1990s, Cuban immigrants — like others from Haiti or elsewhere — have been turned back if intercepted at sea, but they are allowed to remain in this country legally simply by reaching shore anywhere in the U.S.

The unique rule for Cubans has led to some rough landings. One smuggling run in the summer of 2004 ended when the pilot ran his boat full-throttle onto a Florida beach, saving his passengers a return trip to Cuba.

Major League Baseball's rules are more complicated, but equally arbitrary as they apply to Cubans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 1, 2007 7:36 AM
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