You’re on a flight on a journey to the United States. A new life awaits, far from Cuba in so many ways but actually only 90 miles from your former home. You’re stricken with anxiety that you won’t make it to Chicago in time to accept a $68 million contract offer from the White Sox, a deal that would set you and your family up for life and allow you to pay off debts you incurred trying to get there. You will do whatever it takes to acquire the money you need so desperately. You have been told you need to make the first page of your passport disappear if you are to be allowed into the country, so you order a drink on your flight to help you swallow the bits of paper.
Last week, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association announced some new rules and rule changes, designed to streamline the flow of games and hopefully shorten game times. This came the day after a report surfaced stating that Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was forced to eat a page of his passport en route to America in 2013, or else risk losing a lucrative contract offer from Chicago. Since he had already promised 25 percent of the money to the agents that helped smuggle him into the US, Abreu had no choice.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred seems more concerned with making games shorter than the welfare of current or potential major league players. His motive for attempting to shorten games is an effort to appeal to a wider range of viewers. He believes that the average attention span is too short to enjoy a full game of baseball in its current form. But I think Manfred’s first priority should be his players. No players, no game, right?
The traumatic events that happened to Abreu should never have happened. It’s an unfortunate reality that many foreign players, especially those from Cuba, face a similar situation when trying to get to the United States.
We can look at Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig for further evidence. He tried defecting from Cuba at least four times before making the journey to Mexico successfully… almost. Puig’s arrival in Mexico was assisted by Los Zetas, a famous drug cartel who held the Cuban native hostage before eventually selling him to an agent for a large sum. Puig was able to sign a contract with the Dodgers and come stateside (after surrendering a percentage of his $42 million contract to his agents), but the trauma he experienced was completely unnecessary and accompanied by outrageous debts. Puig’s testimony is responsible for more than one arrest and imprisonment for human trafficking, both for the wrongs done to him and those done to others.
What steps can MLB take to reduce the frequency of these kinds of stories?
The league could participate in the investigations, or run an investigation of its own to see what all could have been done to prevent the poor treatment of Abreu and Puig. Obviously looking back doesn’t change what happened, but hindsight is often 20/20. Perhaps by reviewing the cases, MLB could find something that should have been handled better and prevent it from happening to future major leaguers.
Current MLB players have opinions on this too. The league could talk to its players and see what changes they would like to see instituted, either in the handling of foreign players or in the game of baseball itself. It’s quite clear the players are unbothered by trivialities like the new intentional walk rule, and would much rather see changes to things that affect the game in a more significant sense. Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, for one, would like to see a crackdown on performance enhancing drugs — a topic with the potential to affect every player and every game. For comparison, the intentional walk rule will affect approximately one in three major league games.
I don’t know what the right answer is. What I do know is Rob Manfred is throwing around his authority by fixing things that aren’t broken and ignoring those that are. If MLB is to compete with other leagues such as the NFL or the NBA, the glaring issues need to be addressed ahead of the superficial, made-up ones. As a fan, I couldn’t care less about pace of play. But when the actual players are in danger, or in an unnecessarily stressful situation, I get protective. There’s a lot more that could be done to help the people and Manfred’s actions make him seem unconcerned.