Must-click link: Jose Abreu and the journey out of Cuba

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White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu is the heavy favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award on Monday, marking the culmination of a mysterious journey out of Cuba last year.

Jared Hopkins of the Chicago Tribune has written an excellent piece on the dangerous and corrupt system that Abreu and others have faced in order to come to the United States to play baseball. Details on Abreu’s defection are murky and he has never acknowledged that he paid to be smuggled out of Cuba, but the process is commonplace.

Cuban exile Rider Reyes, who recently finished a six-month prison sentence on charges related to smuggling, said he helped people involved with moving players into Mexico. He said the smugglers treat players like prisoners, despite their voluntarily leaving, and do not release them until they are paid.

“Those people are all about the money; they don’t care about the players,” Reyes said.

Nieto, a White Sox catcher, said paying the smugglers appears simply to have become another step in the process of Cubans reaching the majors.

“It has become a business, pretty much, with guys that do this and do that,” he said. “You have to give them a percentage when you sign. It’s a risk, and for a lot of guys, it has paid off for them.”

Alfredo Arias, a trainer and player agent who co-owns the Arias and Goodman academy in the Dominican Republic, told the Tribune that Abreu was “dragged out of there in a boat” and “risked his life” in order to establish residency in Haiti and eventually come to the United States. He signed a six-year, $68 million contract with the White Sox last October, which stood as the record contract for a player from Cuba until Rusney Castillo’s seven-year, $72.5 million deal with the Red Sox this August. Yasmany Tomas, a 23-year-old outfielder, defected from Cuba earlier this year and could top Castillo’s contract this offseason.

Yasiel Puig’s harrowing defection story has gained the most attention via a detailed piece from Jesse Katz of L.A. Magazine earlier this year. That drama is still playing out in a $12 million federal court case.

Larry Walker to wear a Rockies cap on his Hall of Fame plaque

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I guess this came out the day he was elected but I missed it somehow: Larry Walker is going to have a Rockies cap on his Fall of Fame plaque.

While it was once solely the choice of the inductee, for the past couple of decades the Hall of Fame has had final say on the caps, though the request of the inductee is noted. This is done to prevent a situation in which a cap truly misrepresents history. This issue arose around the time Wade Boggs was inducted, as he reportedly had a deal with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to pick their cap on his plaque which, to say the least, would’ve been unrepresentative.

There have been some mildly controversial picks in the past, and some guys who would seem to have a clear choice have gone with blank caps to avoid upsetting the fan base of one of his other teams, but Walker’s doesn’t seem all that controversial to me.

Walker played ten years in Colorado to six years in Montreal and two years in St. Louis. His numbers in Colorado were substantial better than in Montreal. His MVP Award, most of his Gold Gloves, most of his All-Star appearances, and all of his black ink with the exception of the NL doubles title in 1994 came with the Rockies too. Walker requested the Rockies cap, noting correctly that he “did more damage” in a Rockies uniform than anyplace else. And, of course, that damage is what got him elected to the Hall of Fame.

Still, I imagine fans of the old Expos will take at least some issue here. Those folks tend to be pretty possessive of their team’s old stars. It’s understandable, I suppose, given that they’ve not gotten any new ones in a decade or two. Add in the fact that Walker played for the 1994 Expos team onto which people love to project things both reasonable and unreasonable, and you can expect that the Expos dead-enders might feel a bit slighted.

Welp, sorry. A Rockies cap is the right choice.  And that’s Walker’s cap will feature.