|Bricks from the Warehouse|
The Orioles' exhibition game against Cuba (to be followed by one in Baltimore) has dominated the news for the last week or so; had it not been for the tragic death of Cal Ripken Sr., it would have gotten even more coverage. But what did it all mean? Well, it gave sportswriters a chance to pontificate about Something Important, while giving real journalists a chance to do some lightweight sports coverage. But other than that?
If there's one word that describes the game from our perspective, it was "anticlimax." After all the hoopla, the speeches, the Analysts Who Provided The Big Picture, it all came down to a baseball game. Once the game started, could you really tell the difference between this game and any other spring training game where you can't recognize the names of half the players? Sure, the umpires did a better job than MLB umpires do, and the soft Cuban ball didn't seem to carry very well, but other than that, it was just a normal game. If Jon Miller hadn't brought up the political issues during the broadcast, you wouldn't have been able to tell it was anything out of the ordinary.
What was gained? National and international exposure for MLB; in a weekend normally dominated by college basketball, baseball actually led off news and sports segments on television news broadcasts. And more specifically, Cuban exposure for the Baltimore Orioles. As other teams have been aggressively expanding their international scouting (Boston, for instance, has been extremely active in Korea), the Orioles have been standing by the wayside. And what makes their inaction worse is that the Orioles' biggest rivals, the Yankees, need do nothing in order to attract talent. As Orlando Hernandez and Hideki Irabu demonstrate, if there's one thing foreigners know about MLB, it's how to say "I want to play for the Yankees." Maybe the next time a Cuban player defects, he'll consider the Os first. (The value of this is somewhat limited by the likelihood that MLB is going to adopt a worldwide draft in the next few years, but until that happens, it could be helpful to the team.)
What was lost? Well, there was controversy, and not the good kind, like "Who's better, A-Rod or Garciaparra?" Anti-Castro feelings still run quite strong in large portions of the U.S., and many condemned MLB in general and the Os in particular for this trip. Being blasted by members of Congress probably doesn't matter a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but being criticized by Cuban-American ballplayers is a different story. If the Orioles alienated current major leaguers in their attempt to corner the market on potential major leaguers, that seems like a bad deal.
Our own feelings on the controversy, since everyone else has provided their two cents: nobody wants to be seen as an apologist for Fidel Castro, a brutal communist dictator. Lending him legitimacy is hardly a desireable goal. But on the other hand, this was a baseball game, not an international arms deal; whether this game was played or not was not going to have any impact on Castro's reign. It's not like he's going to lead a Cuban expedition to overthrow Mexico with the proceeds from this game. What harm does a goodwill game do? Castro wouldn't be one step closer to defeat without this game, and his hold on power won't be any tighter now that it has been played.
What about more mundane issues -- what else was lost? Well, it's too early to
judge, but this seemed awfully disruptive, coming in the last week of spring
training when teams are trying to make their final decisions and get their
players into final shape. Plus, the game was just generally a no-win situation
for the Os. If they won, it was what was expected; if they lost, it would have
been an embarassment. It was closer to the latter, although the Os did pull it
out in the end. But we're sure that if the team starts out the season slowly,
Ray Miller will find a way to shift blame to this disruption, rather than on his
own poor managing or the roster's weaknesses.