Craig Calcaterra

Students march carrying Cuban flags during a march against terrorism in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. Youths marched today through downtown Havana in protest against the United States policy towards the island nation and demanding the that U.S. free three Cuban agents imprisoned there. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Associated Press

Agent Bart Hernandez arrested on human trafficking charges

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In the past several years we have heard a number of harrowing stories about how Cuban baseball players have made their way from their home country to jobs in Major League Baseball. Due to the nature of Cuba’s restrictions on emigration, the United States’ immigration laws and Major League Baseball’s free agency rules, the easiest most lucrative path between Cuba and the big leagues is through a third country. This complex process typically involves a third party: human smugglers or other shady figures who are in it to take a cut of the ballplayer’s future earnings. The story of Yasiel Puig’s journey is instructive in this regard.

Today, Jeff Passan of Yahoo reports that major league agent Bart Hernandez was arrested on charges arising out such a scheme involving the smuggling of Seattle Mariners outfielder Leonys Martin into the United States from Cuba in 2010. It is alleged that Martinez and his associates held Martin hostage while his multi-million contract with the Texas Rangers was negotiated. Which, of course, led to a cut being taken by Hernandez and others. Hernandez faces anywhere from three to 20 years in prison.

This is obviously significant with respect to Hernandez, Martin and everyone involved in this specific case. But it also speaks to how hopelessly corrupt the current system in place with respect to Cuban baseball players is. It’s a system which forces them into dangerous situations and requires them to pay usurious fees to criminals in order to get to the United States to play baseball. It’s a system that would not and could not exist without the incentives and disincentives in place by virtue of the United States’ laws regarding immigration from Cuba and Major League Baseball’s rules regarding free agency and draft eligibility.

Simply put: there are TREMENDOUS disincentives in place for someone trying to leave Cuba to play baseball here to take the safest path possible and huge incentives for them to put themselves in the hands of bad people in order to make their journey. Here’s hoping the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba changes the incentive structure and that Major League Baseball likewise can do things which similarly steer young men away from the hands of criminals.

 

Jhonny Peralta is in The Best Shape of His Life

Jhonny Peralta
Associated Press
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Cardinals infielder Jhonny Peralta has been pretty consistent over the past few seasons, but back in his Cleveland days he used to have a pattern in which he’d show up to camp a bit chunky some years, svelte in other years and his performance at the plate would improve or decline accordingly. It was kind of annoying for Indians fans, but they got used to it, even if they wondered what things would be like if he was consistently committed.

Things got better once he got to Detroit. He wasn’t always great, but he looked the same from year to year at least, so expectations were never such that Tigers fans, like Indians fans before them, felt as if he could, if everything broke just right, be an MVP candidate. There’s something to be said for predictability I suppose.

Maybe The Cardinal Way is rubbing off on him then, because after two very nice seasons, he’s poised for . . . something big:

https://twitter.com/Frank_Cusumano/status/700701755441553408

Check back in October and we’ll see how that went.

Aroldis Chapman is not unique. Every team has employed a bad dude at some point.

Aroldis Chapman Getty
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Jeff Passan of Yahoo wrote a column about how the Yankees are in an awkward position given the presence of Aroldis Chapman, and his recent domestic violence incident, on the roster. He talks about how in acquiring Chapman and in doing so with a built-in discount due to his offseason incident, the team has abdicated any moral high ground it has historically claimed. He further notes how the words of Yankees people — notably Joe Girardi — clearly conflict with their deeds as a baseball club.

I don’t disagree with most of that. It is strange and a little unfortunate to see a seemingly very decent man in Joe Girardi have to walk the tightrope between an anti-domestic violence policy he no doubt believes in and having to support a key player on his team who has run afoul of it. And I feel bad for my friends who are Yankees fans who are going to spend the next year or two rooting for the saves Chapman notches without feeling, on some level, like they’re rooting for the man as well. No one wants to root for a jackass.

Thing is, though, we have all rooted for jackasses. Or, more to the point, the teams we root for have all employed jackasses and bad people in the past. And they all have done so knowingly, I guarantee you. There is not a single team in baseball that has a blanket “we do not tolerate bad characters” policy, enforced by cutting them or avoiding them altogether, irrespective of the quality of the player or the size of his contract. It’s always a sliding scale on which a certain amount of bad deeds and bad character are tolerated given a certain amount of production. If your moral high ground is so subjective, you don’t have a moral high ground. You have situational ethics.

Milton Bradley was employed by eight clubs, and they almost all knew of his violent acts and temperament. People most fans considered to be good guys like Kirby Puckett committed heinous acts. Josh Lueke was employed by multiple teams and it was his ineffectiveness as a pitcher, not his monstrous crimes, which persuaded teams to stop doing that. Former Yankees Chad Curtis and Mel Hall are rotting in jail for indescribably awful crimes which occurred after they left the team. Did a switch flip on guys like Puckett, Hall and Curtis later, after their playing days ceased, or was it clear to anyone earlier, at least on some level, that they were terrible human beings?

None of this is to excuse Aroldis Chapman or to tell any fan who cannot abide him or other players accused of domestic abuse that they are wrong for feeling that way. If I were a Yankees fan I would have a difficult time with all of this, just as I have had a difficult time rooting for Braves players who were demonstrably bad people too. I still don’t know what to think of Bobby Cox, for example. A Hall of Fame manager who led my team to its greatest glories but also a man who, as he was doing so, was arrested for hitting his wife. I try to be a person who, as the saying goes, separates “art from artist” and do not personally endorse Cox when I talk about his accomplishments, but it’s a lot messier than that in practice.

The point here is that however we as fans choose to approach these matters, let us not for one instant pretend that teams haven’t been walking this same tightrope since the game began. For the most part they have chosen to look past immoral, unethical, abusive and even criminal conduct by their players if that conduct did not get in the way of winning baseball games. To suggest that now, in 2016, this is a new area of consideration for them or that now, for the first time, the are abandoning some set of ideals they allegedly had in the past is naive in my view.

Finally, don’t take any of this as acceptance. I am not resigned to the idea that teams will always and must always employ bad guys. I think they should do less of that and that fans should persuade them to stop. I do not think that basing such an argument on a false premise — that they have just NOW abandoned some moral high ground and how dare they? — is a productive way to begin that conversation. Rather, I think it requires the greater acknowledgment and understanding that sports have always tolerated and protected bad guys and that, for sports to stop doing this, some very large assumptions need to change.