O's won't pursue Cuban defectors

Thrift says stance is `concept,' not policy

May 18, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Orioles owner Peter Angelos reportedly has adopted a policy that prohibits the club from bidding on players who defect from Cuba, the Washington Times reported yesterday.

The Times quoted Orioles vice president in charge of baseball operations Syd Thrift as saying, "After the good will created between the two countries by the visit, we - Mr. Angelos in particular - feel it best to not do anything that could be interpreted as being disrespectful or ... encouraging players to defect."

The Orioles played a historic home-and-home series against Cuba's national team last year. The March game in Havana was the first time in 40 years that a U.S. team has played on Cuban soil.

About a dozen Cuban players have defected to the United States over the past decade.

The Orioles apparently are the only one of the 30 major-league clubs with a no-defector policy, but Thrift backtracked slightly on his quote when approached about the issue yesterday at Edison International Field. "It's not a policy," he said. "It's just a concept. It [the trip] was supposed to be non-political. It was supposed to be just baseball."

The decision not to pursue Cuban defectors carries political baggage whether the club likes it or not. The Orioles run the risk of being portrayed as accommodating Cuban dictator Fidel Castro at a time when Cuban-American relations are again strained by the Elian Gonzalez immigration controversy.

The Clinton administration granted a waiver allowing the Orioles to visit Cuba as part of an adjustment to the economic embargo that Washington has maintained against the communist nation since 1962.

Last year's final game, which the Orioles lost, 12-6, at Camden Yards in May, ended with the defection of a former Cuban pitcher who had helped to coach the Cuban national team.

Thrift grew testy when questioned further about the club's policy.

`The heck with the past," he said. "We've won one of our last eight games. Let's talk about the future."

Wire reports contributed to this article.

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