In-Depth: Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to support Cuban players in Major League Baseball (MLB) and thereby take a help towards normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations:
"Under current law, Cuban baseball players must renounce their citizenship, denounce their government, and abandon their families in order to play professional sports in the United States. The Baseball Diplomacy Act would eliminate these barriers and allow Cuban players to enter the United States on non-immigrant visas for the duration of the season to play baseball and then return to Cuba with their earnings when the season had ended. Opening the door to Cuban baseball players will help relations between Cuba and the United States at the personal level. The Cuban players would be able to participate in the great melting pot of professional baseball and learn about the United States first hand, while Americans would get to experience the great talent of Cuban players. The Baseball Diplomacy Act does not change other aspects of our relationship with Cuba or alter other existing laws on immigration. It merely offers Cuban baseball players the same opportunities as athletes from other countries, by allowing them to get visas for the duration of the baseball season and to return home for the off-season."
In the summer of 2015, President Barack Obama announced that official diplomatic relations with Cuba would be reinstated — leading to speculation that the travel ban and trade embargo would be lifted entirely as sanctions are eased.
Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE) supports baseball diplomacy, which it praises as an attempt to use sports to "reconcile what politics divides."
There are no cosponsors of this bill in the 116th Congress. In the 115th Congress, it had one cosponsor, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN). In the 114th Congress, it had 15 cosponsors in the House, all of whom were Democrats.
Of Note: Baseball is an immensely popular sport in Cuba, and the allure of playing in the world’s best professional baseball league has led many Cuban baseball players to come to America in the hopes of making a Major League Baseball roster. This has made baseball an important tool for normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations.
On the MLB’s 2015 opening day, 18 of the 868 total players on MLB rosters were Cuban, or about two percent. Most of these players had to defect and abandon their lives in Cuba to pursue their careers in the U.S. Typically these players are able to sign as free agents or enter the MLB draft if they successfully defect, but the process of defecting is complicated and sometimes dangerous.
In 2014, there were five Cubans who were selected for the MLB All-Star Game, and there are two Cubans participating in the 2015 World Series — Kendrys Morales from the Kansas City Royals and Yoenis Cespedes from the New York Mets.
MJIL reports that Cubans in the MLB are currently subject to onerous requirements:
"Over 200 Cuban baseball players have defected from their home country to play professional baseball. Cubans are subjected to more complex MLB rules than other baseball players for several reasons. First, Cubans are forced to defect from Cuba to play professional baseball. The MLB bars 'the discussion or negotiation with anyone in Cuba regarding the signing of any player in Cuba.' Ergo, no scouts or team representatives can contact any Cuban player while they are in Cuba. This policy essentially forces Cubans who have MLB aspirations to abandon their home and establish residency in another state. Second, most of these players opt to obtain citizenship in a country other than the United States due to MLB draft rules. Players usually command a much more lucrative contract in free agency than through the draft. But if a Cuban player is granted asylum directly in the United States then they are required to enter the MLB draft rather than sign a contract in free agency like other foreign players. Finally, if a Cuban player enters the draft and is passed over then they are unable to obtain free agency."
Summary by Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Ellison)