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Yasiel Puig’s experience inspires Florida lawmakers to pressure MLB on its Cuban player policy

Apr 23, 2014, 9:08 AM EST

Yasiel Puig Getty Getty Images

Last week we read a couple of stories about Yasiel Puig‘s harrowing journey to the United States from Cuba. Because of Major League Baseball’s rules about Cuban players and the draft, that journey required a stop in Mexico in order for Puig to be declared a free agent. And that stop in Mexico is what added some dangerous steps to Puig’s already dangerous journey from Cuba. Specifically, instead of merely evading the U.S. Coast Guard, Puig’s smugglers had to deal with drug gangs and Puig was basically held for ransom for a time.

Now two Florida lawmakers are trying to do something about that. Currently there is a bill aimed at providing funds for renovation and upkeep of pro sports facilities in the state. The representatives are filing an amendment to it to pressure Major League Baseball. From the Miami Herald:

Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Matt Gaetz are filing an amendment to a stadium funding bill that would require the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays demand Major League Baseball change its Cuban player policy if they want state money for stadium construction or renovations . . . The amendment would also require the Florida teams demand Major League Baseball report any information they have on Floridians involved in human trafficking or smuggling of Cuban players to the state attorney general.

It would be largely symbolic, of course, because I’m guessing Major League Baseball has zero intention of making it any easier for players to become free agents no matter their circumstances. Indeed, if MLB could wave a wand right now and change things they’d make all foreign-born players subject to the draft instead. That would eliminate the bad incentives here too, but it has its own set of problems and wouldn’t necessarily be in baseball’s best interests over the long term.

But symbolic is better than noting. More attention needs to be paid to this. As it stands, escaping Cuba is already a dangerous proposition, even if the only goal is to get straight to the United States. Leaving incentives in place that lead Cuban baseball players to make their journey even more dangerous is not the wisest thing.

  1. aresachaela - Apr 23, 2014 at 9:12 AM

    These two lawmakers have now garnered the title “HEROES”!!

  2. chill1184 - Apr 23, 2014 at 9:22 AM

    If these government stooges were actually interested in making it easier for Cuban players (or regular Cubans for that matter) they tell the District of Criminals to end the Cuban embargo. In turn stick a huge middle finger to the Cuban lobby and Pat Buchanan types who still want this outdated relic of the Cold War in law

    • Old Gator - Apr 23, 2014 at 9:34 AM

      I don’t believe there is a Pat Buchanan “type.” He’s like one of those little dead-end branches on the evolutionary chart they used to have up on the wall at the Museum of Natural History – a bug-eyed journalistic anomaly adapted to the niche he occupies, which is the ideological equivalent of the Burgess Shale.

  3. rbj1 - Apr 23, 2014 at 9:29 AM

    ” Currently there is a bill aimed at providing funds for renovation and upkeep of pro sports facilities in the state. ”

    I didn’t realize that professional sports were so poverty stricken that they needed tax dollars to fund their facilities.

    “would require the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays demand Major League Baseball change its Cuban player policy”

    Compelled speech. In violation of the First Amendment.

    To paraphrase Wolfgang Pauli, this bill isn’t even wrong.

    • raysfan1 - Apr 23, 2014 at 10:28 AM

      You left off ” if they want state money for stadium construction or renovations.” Not compelled speech, extorted perhaps, but not compelled.

  4. bobwheel - Apr 23, 2014 at 9:29 AM

    Why don’t Cuban legislators introduce a bill to give their citizens the freedom to leave their country whenever they’d like to?

    • fleaman1381 - Apr 23, 2014 at 10:02 AM

      That would be great. But the US would have to lift their embargo too. While the tension between the two countries is easing I doubt either of those things will happen any time soon since both are too busy playing the “you first” game. And I may be wrong on this, but I don’t think government officials from either country are technically allowed to meet? I’m too lazy to look that up right now.

      • geno714 - Apr 23, 2014 at 12:46 PM

        Don’t put this on the U.S. Does Mexico or any Central American country have an embargo against Cuba? No! So why won’t Cuba let people leave to go to those countries? It’s because they are under a terrible dictatorship that doesn’t acknowledge human rights. Maybe Michael Moore should do a documentary on this? He won’t because it doesn’t fit his agenda that the we are the bad guys.

      • koufaxmitzvah - Apr 23, 2014 at 1:13 PM

        So if we’re not the Bad Guys, then why do people in Cuba end up with better health care than people in America? Or is that just movie magic?

      • goskinsvt - Apr 23, 2014 at 1:23 PM

        Koufax – are you really trying to compare the quality of life for a Cuban vs. someone born in the USA and saying that someone born in Cuba has it better? If so, you are either criminally uninformed or certifiably stupid.

      • fleaman1381 - Apr 23, 2014 at 1:50 PM

        Geno, I actually agreed that Cuba needs to allow their people to leave if they want. It was the first sentence of my comment, where I said it would be great.

        And I hope Michael Moore doesn’t make another documentary. Ever. The guy is an idiot.

      • skids003 - Apr 23, 2014 at 4:40 PM

        I can’t believe people actually pay to watch any of Moore’s crap. He’s gotten rich off the very people he “champions”.

    • Old Gator - Apr 23, 2014 at 2:33 PM

      bobwheel: Cuban legislators introduce the bills they’re told to introduce by the politburo, which is essentially Raul Castro and one or two others directly below him – all of which must be cleared by Fidel. They’re partially for show, partially to distribute work load. They don’t “legislate” as we understand the term. In fact Cubans can leave the country on vacations and on business, though they need to apply for permission – and as long as they’ve got relatives or other material interests on the island that they know would be pressured or that they’d lose if they decided not to come back, or have no history of dissent or other suspicious activity, they’ll probably get that permission. Last time I was in Cancun, which was not all that long ago, I saw a Cubana A-320 unloading a planefull of vacationers heading for the beach. Party members, most likely, and their families – but it’s not quite the prison colony it’s been made out to be.

      • bobwheel - Apr 23, 2014 at 4:51 PM

        OG- Thank you for your reply. But, my question was asked with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Craig’s suggestion that a symbolic gesture is better than nothing makes about as much sense as believing that the Cuban politburo would relax travel restrictions for their most valuable “export.”

        If both countries would just engage in meaningful dialogue, and stop the pissing contest….

      • Old Gator - Apr 23, 2014 at 9:41 PM

        Fair ’nuff. As far as the embargo, the reality is even uglier than the appearance. On this side, our politicians – never especially noted for their courage or integrity under the best of circumstances – for the most part couldn’t give a flying fark at a rolling donut about the Cuban people, platitudes and perorations notwithstanding. What they care about is a very large state’s compliment of electoral votes in a country in an approximate state of political equilibrium, and it is precisely this equilibrium that allows the Cuban-American tail to wag the foreign policy dog even though the embargo demonstrably does Cubans no good whatsoever and their horrible government no harm whatsoever. On the Cuban side, our mindless hostility generates a boogyman they can use to rally the faithful, cow the dissident, and go whining bullyboy to a largely sympathetic Latin America at large.

  5. chargrz - Apr 23, 2014 at 9:40 AM

    Just send Puig back. Problem solved.

    • ilovegspot - Apr 23, 2014 at 1:23 PM

      They should send you back to whatever hole you crawled out of.

  6. grumpyoleman - Apr 23, 2014 at 9:55 AM

    So having them enter the country illegally is the plan?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Apr 23, 2014 at 11:00 AM

      Please familiarize yourself with U.S. immigration policy with respect to Cuba and come back later.

      • grumpyoleman - Apr 23, 2014 at 11:11 AM

        Please be snarky

      • grumpyoleman - Apr 23, 2014 at 11:12 AM

        How about explaining instead of being a butt

      • fleaman1381 - Apr 23, 2014 at 11:26 AM

        grumpyoleman

        “wet-foot, dry-foot policy”

        Meaning if we catch them at sea trying to get to the states they get sent back. If they make it to US soil they are allowed to stay.

      • grumpyoleman - Apr 23, 2014 at 11:32 AM

        Thanks fleaman, just read up on that. Didn’t know we had to be experts in immigration law to be able to comment on a baseball blog.

      • crpls - Apr 23, 2014 at 11:53 AM

        You don’t have to be an expert, but you shouldn’t comment about it if you don’t know.

      • babyfarkmcgeezax - Apr 23, 2014 at 12:08 PM

        Don’t get too down on yourself, grumpy. There are so many unwritten rules Craig and his lapdogs try to enforce on here that it’s hard to keep up.

      • stlouis1baseball - Apr 23, 2014 at 2:23 PM

        Seriousl C.C.?
        “Please familiarize yourself with U.S. immigration policy with respect to Cuba and come back later.”

        That is your response?

        More and more, it is becoming apparent the TV time is going to your head.

      • skids003 - Apr 23, 2014 at 4:42 PM

        We don’t have an immigration policy, at least it’s not enforced. Just come over the Mexican border, we’ll take anybody.

  7. jimmyt - Apr 23, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    End the stupid ass embargo. Fifty years is long enough to hold a grudge eh? Besides, I want my damn cigars!

  8. rcali - Apr 23, 2014 at 11:14 AM

    I don’t know, you make it easier for Cuban players to come to the U.S. and the mass media losses a week of programming about the story.

  9. peymax1693 - Apr 23, 2014 at 11:17 AM

    Bill Plaschke would be against any legislation that makes it easier for Cuban players like Puig to enter the US, as according to him Puig has managed to single-handedly destroy the pristine integrity of MLB.

  10. ud1951 - Apr 23, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    Yes because politicians getting involved always makes things better.

  11. mikhelb - Apr 23, 2014 at 2:38 PM

    Craig I think you have not read all the articles, the stop in México has nothing to do with the narcotrafickers, they run the smugglers ring so even if they stop in Haiti, the Dominican Republic or even the US, they will keep on having contact with players; Puig is one of the few that have defected to México, the majority defects to other countries but unlike in México, in those other countries very little is known of the smugglers.

    Puig contacted smugglers connected to narcos because of his past (denounced other smugglers and people who wanted to defect, in echange for benefits by doing that), and promised them a cut of his MLB pay to “convince” them he was “worth” the trouble. There are more stories of smuggled players who didn’t make it to the majors and mexican teams refused to sign them when they knew of their connections with the zetas.

    The narcos have a strong presence in the US, so strong that the zetas were trained by the FBI and CIA, and buy their high caliber guns from the DEA (check the “Fast and Furious” fiasco). To selectively ignore it, is not precisely going to fix a huge problem (specially when narcos get 40-50 years in jail in México, but only 5 years or liberty in the US when extradited and cooperate, it serves as a macabre incentive even).

  12. rohlo - Apr 23, 2014 at 2:52 PM

    regardless this foreign players are free agents stuff is bull sh#$ !! you should be required to be drafted regardless if you are a new player entering a new league!!! its not an even playing field with the players being free agents!!!! tha would be like saying lebron james had he been born in the bahamas would have been a free agent when he came into the league since he wasnt born in america!! MLB has alot of things that need fixing, salary cap,this free agent foreign player thing, etc…. MLB is the league where it truly is not a level playing field across the board!! there is no skill in just saying i have the most money so i can sign who ever… the nfl and the nba gm’s and owners have skill besides money..drating the right players and building your young players is a lost art in baseball!!!!

    • Reflex - Apr 23, 2014 at 6:25 PM

      Better solution: Abolish the draft, all players start as free agents.

  13. granadafan - Apr 23, 2014 at 5:11 PM

    Let the multi billionaire owners of the teams pay for their own stadiums and stop giving them handouts.

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