Prior to 1947 Major League Baseball was open to only white players, but then Jackie Robinson crossed the colour line and opened professional baseball to not only players of colour but to players from around the world.
On December 19, that realm just got a lot safer for incoming players from the island nation of Cuba.
In the past, Cuban born players had to defect or have a trafficker smuggle them into a non Communist country before bringing them to the United States where they could join a baseball team.
Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have forged an agreement with the Cuban Baseball Federation to allow Cuban baseball players a safe and legal way to come to America and play baseball.
This is the fourth time such an agreement has been made with foreign entities to allow the game of American baseball to become an international league. MLB and the MLBPA also have such agreemenrts with Korea, Japan, and China.
Cuban born right fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers spoke on the new agreement saying, “to know future Cuban players will not have to go through what we went through makes me so happy. I want to thank everyone who was involved in making this happen and thank them personally for allowing an opportunity for Cuban baseball players to have the ability to come and show how talented they are. Thank you.”
According to the new agreement, the Federation of Cuban Baseball must release all Cuban born players who are at least 25 years of age and have a minimum of six years of professional baseball experience and allow them to sign with one of the 32 major league teams. The FCB may also release younger players if they choose.
According to Major League Baseball these players are known as “Foreign Professionals”.
Released players may then remain in Cuba to negotiate contracts with MLB teams. Any player who has signed with a team will be given a work visa to play in the the United States…or Canada…and the FCB will receive a release fee.
MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr spoke on the new agreement saying, “for years, Major League Baseball has been seeking to end the trafficking of baseball players from Cuba by criminal organizations by creating a safe and legal alternative for those players to sign with Major League Clubs. We believe that this agreement accomplishes that objective and will allow the next generation of Cuban players to pursue their dream without enduring many of the hardships experienced by current and former Cuban players who have played Major League Baseball.”
MLBPA Executive Director and former player Tony Clark added, “establising a safe, legal process for entry to our system is the most important step we can take to ending the exploitation and endangerment of Cuban players who pursue careers in Major League Baseball. The safety and wellbeing of these young men remains our primary concern.”