When I lived in Miami, I often wondered how delicious food like puerca frita and croquetas jamon served in Cuban restaurants around the city weren’t more widespread elsewhere in the US. Soon, baseball GMs may be asking themselves the same thing about Cuban players.
The history of baseball in Cuba goes back an almost astonishingly long time. Baseball has been played on the island since the 19th century, but with rising stars Yoenis Cespedes, Aroldis Chapman, and now Yasiel Puig making headlines, we may be entering the golden age of Cuban baseball in MLB.
Cubans have played in the major leagues since 1911, though those opportunities were obviously limited before 1947. The discussion here will focus only on those post-integration years, but Cuban legends such as Dolf Luque and Jose Acosta certainly made their mark in organized baseball in the 1910s and 20s.
The number of Cuban-born players in the majors spiked right after Castro’s revolution, reflecting both the wave of Cuban immigrants to the U.S. as well as Cuba’s decision in 1961 to ban professional baseball on the island. These boom years brought players like hall-of-famer Tony Perez, and the 1965 Minnesota Twins, led by Zoilo Versailles, that year’s Most Valuable Player.
The fluctuations in the graph above also seem to mirror current government policy decisions and cultural and political exigencies. The early 2000s, for example, show a slight dip at the same time the U.S. tightened its travel restrictions on the Cuba trade embargo. Recent developments such as President Obama’s easing family and cultural travel with Cuba and Fidel Castro’s declining health may also be leading to the current rise we’re seeing.
But how are these players performing in comparison to the boom years of 1962-1967? Yuniesky Betancourt notwithstanding, very well.
|Years||Cuban Career Average wRC+||Cuban Career Average FIP-|
Acknowledging a small sample size here, but today’s Cuban-born major league hitters are producing well above the MLB average. Yasiel Puig’s career wRC+ will likely not stay at 185, but even looking at the number of players within those 5-year spans, you get almost double the number of players from 2008-2013 that produced above 100 wRC+, despite that several more Cuban-born players appeared in the majors between 1962-1967.
The upward trend of players defecting to the states and the way rising stars like Cespedes, Puig, and Jose Fernandez have performed indicates that we may in fact be heading for a golden age for Cubans in American baseball, along with highly anticipated prospects like Jorge Soler and the recently defected Misael Siverio. And if cafecitos and media noche sandwiches follow behind in the cultural expansion, well, ok.
Country of birth data is from baseball-reference.com.
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