By Peter C. Bjarkman*
HAVANA TIMES, Jan. 14 — Observations on the big league prospects of Aroldis Chapman that I originally published on our Cuban League website at www.BaseballdeCuba.com, then later also posted on my MLB blog (see the January 11 posting), were also republished earlier this week by the internet journal Havana Times under the title Cuba Baseball Expert on A. Chapman.
Havana Times is an additional on-line outlet for which I occasionally offer commentary on Cuban national baseball.
Two Cincinnati sportswriters have recently picked up on the Havana Times posting (although not on the original www.BaseballdeCuba.com story) and have subsequently added links to my Chapman story. Those links were accompanied with their own editorial observations on the legitimacy of my opinions about the $30-million Cuban fastball hurler.
In one sense I welcome the attention lent by these two professional Cincinnati Reds bloggers–John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer and Trent Rosecrans of cnati.com–since they bring some further notice to my own brief story on Chapman. Nonetheless, I was rather surprised by both their assumptions about my “naïve Cuban’s perspective” on Chapman, as well as their immediate knee-jerk reaction to my alleged clouding of Chapman’s talents with what they seemingly read as some kind of underlying political motivation (whatever they think that motivation might actually be).
Mr. Fay merely (and not unreasonably) reports that “the writer isn’t sold on Chapman”; however, Fay further observes that “The Times bills itself as ‘open-minded writing from Cuba'”–as though that website banner somehow explains, colors or discredits an article which I actually wrote not for The Havana Times, at all, but rather for my normal affiliation with USA-based www.BaseballdeCuba.com.
Does Mr. Fay believe this piece was penned by some Cuban journalist residing in Havana, and with a particular axe (some kind of political axe) to grind? It would seem so. My ego is not so large to expect that I am universally known in the baseball community, or that Fay should thus immediately recognize my name. But that is why we have such a modern technical marvel as “Googling.” If I were going to cast aspersions about a writer’s nationalistic biases I would certainly take the precaution of checking out what his nationality might actually be.
Rosecrans is far less subtle in his own posting. His entire commentary is as follows:
“The Havana Times is less enthused about Chapman, but it is the Cuban media, so it’s hard to tell. They’ve seen him more, but there’s also something about putting “defected” in quotes that makes me question the impartiality of the writer.”
Very clever observation on Mr. Rosecrans’s part, I suppose, but he might have been better served by getting his facts straight before shooting from the hip. “Impartiality” about what? Is any writer’s or scout’s assessment of a ballplayer’s talent or potential for immediate success/impact in the majors entirely “impartial?” Do we not all have our built-in prejudices about what the pulses and minuses of a pitching prospect might be?
Or is it possible that Rosecrans also somehow thinks that author of the Chapman piece is a Cuban-born sportswriter, and (worse still) thus a biased commentator who can not possibly judge baseball talent on its own merit but must (as an arm of the Cuban press) express some kind of sour grapes that some young prospect has turned his back on the island and on Cuban baseball.
It might help Fay and Rosecrans to know that the author of the Chapman article was not at all a member of the “Cuban media” but rather an American-based baseball historian, specializing in Cuban League and Latin American baseball; perhaps they would have responded differently if they knew he was writing his assessment only a few miles away from them from his home office in Indiana. Yes, it is absolutely true that I am a strong advocate of the spectacle of Cuban League baseball. Admittedly I prefer the Cuban-style game (with its non-professional aura and small stadiums) to the current MLB product; I do so because I believe Cuba’s game constitutes a better sporting spectacle, pure and simple–baseball as a sporting ritual and not a commercial spectacle. I admire Cuban baseball for aesthetic and not political reasons. And I evaluate players like Chapman as a baseball devotee and not a political hack.
I have watched hundreds of Cuban League games on the island over the past 15 years, have written two books on the history of the island sport, have followed the Cuban national team to dozens of IBAF international tournaments, and also write regularly (including on-the-scene reports filed directly from international tournaments) for www.BaseballdeCuba.com. That my work for this website is based here in the USA and not in Havana should be obvious enough from our .com (not .cu) address.
I am widely known and recognized within the community of MLB international scouts–many of whom regularly follow www.BaseballdeCuba.com as their main source of accurate information on Cuban League prospects–as being a competent and well-informed judge of Cuban League and Cuban national team talent. I mention all this only because I wish to stress the obvious: having a passion for Cuban baseball and devoting my attention to the island version of the sport does not in any way automatically make me a mouthpiece of the Cuban political system (or its opponent either), anymore than being a fan of the American League, or a devotee of the Cincinnati Reds, makes one somehow a mouthpiece for an American political system, or a spokesperson for USA domestic or foreign policy. I write about the game of baseball and not about any kind of political proselytizing, and those following my work likely already know that.
Regarding my use of the term “defector” in quotes, this is a deliberate decision on my part that I have consistently followed for years. Disagree if you will, but I find the term “defector” an anathema, charged with the most unfortunate of connotations. One can never know the entire motivations of any individual ballplayer (or non-ballplayer) who abandons his family and native homeland in order to seek economic improvement on North America shores. But I have been around Cuban ballplayers enough over the last dozen-plus years (having even developed close personal friendships with some who have left the island) to know that in most if not all cases their motivations for “defecting” have been economic and not at all political.
They have left home at great sacrifice to seek material rewards for their talents from the world of professional baseball; they have not taken these risks to cast any kind of vote for one political system or societal system over another. Young baseball talents flee the depressing economic realities of the Dominican Republic, or Venezuela, or Mexico for the promised riches of a big league career even more frequently than do the Cubans, but the North American press never labels them as “defectors” from their homelands. Why?
Because all too often any such case of a Cuban ballplayer seeking to better his economic condition is (for good or evil) conveniently spun by the North American press into a flag-waving drama signaling some kind of moral victory over a paper tiger Cuban socialist government. I prefer not to buy into that propaganda game, but rather to stick strictly to baseball–a sport equally enjoyed and celebrated in both rival nations. Disagree with that stance all you want, but at least understand my reasons.
I would have informed these two Cincinnati sportswriters directly about the true identity of the “Cuban media” spokesman who questioned Chapman’s big-league readiness, perhaps by personal email if that had been possible. But in order to post comment on their blog sites, or send them emails, one has to be a paid subscriber to either the digital Cincinnati Enquirer or to cnati.com. So I am left with setting the record straight here. And also with making one final observation. I can only hope that Mr. Fay and Mr. Rosecrans do their homework a bit better when they report on Cincinnati sport events than when they judge the sources of internet commentary.
Postscript: This rampant distortion of information about Cuban League baseball is an endemic problem hardly restricted to writers in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York, or anywhere in the United States. The IBAF (International Baseball Federation) website this very morning carried a link to a story published on European-based www.baseballdeworld.com and reporting on a recent showcasing for MLB scouts in the Dominican Republic by former Cuban League ace right-hander Yunieski Maya. That article reported in its opening paragraph that “The veteran right-hander defected last November at the IBAF Baseball World Cup in Europe.”
Maya of course did not “defect” at the IBAF World Cup in Europe last November. That World Cup event was actually held in September (something you might expect anyone writing for an internet site reporting on international baseball to know), while Maya had already been suspended by the Cuban Federation earlier in August, after he tried unsuccessfully to leave the country during the late summer. Maya later departed from the island of Cuba sometime in September, not from the national team in Europe.
It is vital here in such reports to get the facts straight. If the writer does not know that Maya was not even on the Cuban World Cup team–or for that matter that the World Cup tournament was not played in November–then what else can we confidently believe about the content of his report?