Island of criticism greets O's hands-off Cuba policy

ON BASEBALL

May 21, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Once again, the Orioles found themselves in the middle of a public relations nightmare this past week when vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift confirmed what some player agents have suspected for quite some time.

The Orioles, he told the Washington Times, would not pursue or sign players who have defected from Cuba.

The reaction was predictable. The club was blasted on conservative talk radio for kowtowing to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. One agent who represents Cuban players wrote a letter to commissioner Bud Selig demanding that he step in and order the policy reversed."Besides being an insult to the principles on which this country was founded - and likely violating the collective bargaining agreement and/or various federal, state and local statutes - the Orioles' policy reeks of discrimination that cannot and should not be tolerated by Major League Baseball," wrote agent Joe Kehoskie, who represents four players who defected from Cuba."Quite simply, the Orioles' position regarding Cuban defectors is no less outrageous than a ban on hiring black people or Jewish people or any other group of people deemed politically inconvenient. Their policy - or `concept,' as Mr. Thrift, clearly backtracking, called it in the Baltimore Sun, is a disgrace to MLB that clearly warrants a full investigation by your office."

Of course, that won't be necessary, since even owner Peter Angelos knows a loser when he sees it. He later told the Washington Post that the club can pursue good Cuban players, but he does not want to be seen as encouraging players to defect from the island nation.

That is news to Kehoskie, who says he invited the Orioles to several workouts in which his clients were put on display for major-league scouts. The Orioles were one of only three major-league clubs - and the only large-market club - that did not send a scout to at least one of the workouts."I would say that my phone has never rung from the Orioles," Kehoskie said. "I read where Peter Angelos said that Cuban players would be judged on their own merits, but I don't see how you could judge them without even coming to see them. ... I had suspected that there was some sort of policy in place."

Apparently, it was just a big misunderstanding, the kind that crops up occasionally in an organization with little sense for what's really going on outside the Law Offices of Peter Angelos.

The Orioles owner paints in broad strokes. The Cuba initiative was a bold move that only Angelos could have pulled off. He should be congratulated for having the guts to go forward with the goodwill overture, when it would have been safer to steer clear of such a controversial situation.

If only he had more of a sense for how the smaller things he does are perceived both in Baltimore and across the nation.

Ten-second editorial

Frankly, I can't understand why anybody would be surprised about this supposed Cuban embargo. The organization has - for all practical purposes - long pursued the same policy with regard to every other hotbed of Latin American baseball talent.

Bleachergate

No doubt, there will be some hell to pay for the melee that broke out in the bleachers at Wrigley Field on Tuesday. Catcher Chad Kreuter and his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates should never have entered the stands to pursue an unruly fan and they will be disciplined accordingly, but the incident should be a wakeup call for all of baseball.

The crude and rude behavior of fans in the bleacher areas of several parks - most notably Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium and Wrigley Field - has been winked at for years. It's time to take real steps to curb alcohol abuse in those areas and to secure the field for the protection of the players and the fans."It's a situation not about the fans, but about alcohol," Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone said. "It's about drunkenness at the ballpark. If they're not drunk, I don't think this would have happened. The Dodgers don't condone what happened. We're not happy about this but it was self-protection."

Dodgers officials complained that there were few uniformed security personnel in the area where the mini-riot broke out. Chicago Cubs officials, including manager Don Baylor, pointed to the Dodgers for making a bad situation into a near-disaster. There probably is enough blame to pass around to everybody involved.

Not the first time

Kreuter certainly wasn't the first major-league player ever to jump into the stands. Volatile outfielder Reggie Smith did it twice during his career with the Dodgers, once at Wrigley Field and once at Candlestick Park.

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