Cuba-O's should be lesson: Castro's guys are too good

December 16, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

Everybody's lining up to criticize the U.S. Treasury Department for refusing to grant a permit for the Cuban national team to participate in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, but I think it was the right decision.

Does anybody remember the last time we let those guys come over here to take part in a historic event?

Not only did the Cubans embarrass the Orioles at Camden Yards, but star pitcher Jose Contreras enjoyed himself so much he eventually defected and joined the Yankees.

Go figure. Orioles owner Peter Angelos gets accused of setting up the goodwill series to put his club in position to poach some talent from Fidel Castro's baseball-rich island nation and everybody wants to play for George Steinbrenner instead.

If the Cubans come back for the WBC, it could start the whole vicious cycle all over again.

I say, keep 'em out.

Lest anyone has forgotten, I was part of the State Department-sanctioned delegation that traveled to Cuba in January 1999 to set up the goodwill series, which began with a game at Havana's Latin American Stadium in March of that year.

Unfortunately, the Cuban officials quickly figured out that I was not really a "Special Assistant to Peter Angelos" and asked that I be excluded from the actual negotiations.

Instead, I was forced to spend several days touring Havana and trying to determine which of Ernest Hemingway's favorite bars served the best mojito. It was dirty work, but somebody had to do it.

The return trip for the game was not quite as much fun because the Cuban Interests Section in Washington made a clerical error and granted a visa to WBAL microphone monkey Jerry Coleman.

I've been told that after observing Coleman for several days, some Cuban officials reached the conclusion that the long-standing U.S. travel embargo was not such a bad thing.

Despite my sarcastic protestations, I'm pretty sure that Major League Baseball eventually will convince somebody in the government to rescind the silly ruling keeping the Cubans from participating in the 16-team international tournament.

It's the kind of thing that could come back to haunt the United States the next time an American city mounts a bid to host the Olympics.

Don't even bother with any conspiracy theories, though the absence of the talented Cubans would improve the chances of the U.S. squad. The whole point of the World Baseball Classic is to increase Major League Baseball's global appeal, so there is little to be gained from the United States dominating the event.

There isn't much danger of that, anyway. The team from the Dominican Republic will feature many of the top major league stars, including New York-born Alex Rodriguez.

Oh, and did you see the response from the Treasury Department when the Associated Press tried to find out the reasoning behind the decision.

"It is our policy that we do not confirm, deny or discuss licenses," said spokeswoman Molly Millerwise in an e-mail to the AP.

So, a government agency can make a sweeping, arbitrary decision like that and it doesn't have to give a public explanation?

(Note to self: Think up subtle way to point out irony of heavy-handed, secretive government agency denying travel permit to baseball team from country with heavy-handed, secretive government.)

The Cuba trip doesn't seem that long ago, but Sun columnist Rick Maese told me he was in school at the time ... and still has the finger-painting he made of the Cuban flag.

There's going to be some serious merrymaking tonight in Schmuckville. I'm going to the world's greatest Christmas party and then my favorite local rock band, Industry Theory, has a 10:30 set at the Recher Theater in Towson. I'm actually about 25 years too old to be listening to a cutting-edge group like I.T., but I'll worry about my midlife crisis and you worry about yours.

peter.schmuck.baltsun.com

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