Big Idea: Aesthetics v. Politics in Cuban Baseball

It’s borderline old news now, but, in the event that you’re interested, you might consider reading Christoper Rhoads’ WSJ profile of Cuban-baseball enthusiast/apologist Peter Bjarkman.

Bjarkman, a retired Purdue University linguistics professor, is at the center of what you might call — were you so inclined — a controversy. For while he’s become basically the leading English-speaking authority on Cuban baseball, authoring the definitive A History of Cuban Baseball, 1864-2006, he’s simultaneously decried in some circles as a Cuban propagandist.

From Rhoads’ article:

“Bjarkman echoes government propaganda, so I have nothing to say about him,” says Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, a literature professor at Yale who grew up in Cuba and wrote a history of the game.

The bespectacled Mr. Bjarkman, who lives in Lafayette, Ind., with his second wife and two cats, says he’s interested in Cuban baseball, not politics.

“It’s a wonderful, alternative baseball universe,” he says, citing the lack of commercialism, free agency and high ticket prices that mark the modern U.S. game. He says its pastoral nature recalls American baseball of the 1950s, when he was growing up following the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Some of Bjarkman’s arguments in favor of the Cuban game ring hollow. For example, when he suggests in the video above that being close to the game is imperative for him, one wonders why Bjarkman couldn’t receive the same (or, at least, similar) pleasure by driving the hour or so southwest, to the intimate confines of Victory Field, and watch the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians play.

But ultimately, what we appear to have here is a legitimate case of aesthetic and moral (or political) interests reaching an impasse. On the one hand, Bjarkman’s argument is valid: the Cuban game — from what we can see of it — appears to be legitimately compelling. On the other hand, there’s the distinct possibility that people — Cuban baseball players, specifically — are sacrificing some amount of wellbeing to create this aesthetic marvel.

How one ultimately feels about the matter probably depends on how intimately one relates to the Cuban ballplayers themselves.

Consider, by way of analogy, the achievement that is the Egyptian pyramids. Though I’ve never personally visited them, it’s my impression from people who have that it’s impossible not to be humbled in their presence. Yes, people suffered to build them, but they suffered, like, three-thousand years ago. It’s not really within the human emotional repertoire to empathize with people who suffered over a millenium ago.

It is possible, however — especially for people who have left Cuba, like the above-mentioned Echevarria — to understand what it might be like for those baseballers who’re paid considerably less than their free-market value.

H/T: Vin Scully Is My Homeboy

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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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