Fidel Castro, Baseball Writer

(Editor's Note: This commentary was filed before Cuba's recent loss to Japan in the World Baseball Classic.)

by Jeff Siegel

Tucked away in a corner of the cyber-ether, on the Cuban Escambray newspaper website, is a 297-word column about the World Baseball Classic. The byline identifies the writer, a one-time college pitcher, as Comrade Fidel.

That Fidel Castro is a baseball fan is no revelation. There’s even an urban legend that he once had a tryout with a major league team (usually identified as the Washington Senators). And baseball in Cuba is probably even more popular than Fidel — check out Tom Boswell’s essay in his book, How Life Imitates the World Series, and you’ll see what I mean.

The question, then, is two-fold: Why is Fidel writing about baseball? And is he any good at it? The answer to the first is probably related to Castro’s health-induced semi-retirement and the current tenor of Cuban politics, including brother Raul’s recent purge of party leaders. How better to show that Fidel has given complete authority to Raul than writing about baseball while the political world is in an upheaval? It has an almost Koestler-esque feel to it.

And, frankly, Fidel is not a bad baseball writer. He’s no Boswell, but assuming that Castro really wrote this (and the Cuban expert I asked said he probably did) and allowing for the vagaries of the translation, he understands the sport and even stretches the boundaries of socialist-inspired sports writing.

Because most socialist sports writing is quite crummy. Granma, the Cuban Communist party newspaper, runs baseball stories all the time, and most of them sound like they were written by a third apprentice undersecretary in charge of boredom, and then edited by a committee of 37 people who had never seen a baseball game. A story advancing the baseball congress included this gem: “.… He extolled the fact that the team was selected from the very best Cuban ballplayers and chosen for their technical level, competitive results and, above all, for their human quality and patriotism.” That’s because the point of Granma’s coverage is not to glorify the individual or even report the outcome, but to reinforce baseball’s role in preserving the revolution.

Fidel, on the other hand, actually seems interested in whether the players can play. His analysis of Japan, one of the favorites to win the tournament, is knowledgeable, and his take on Japan’s best player, Ichiro Suzuki, is dead on: “dangerous and emblematic.”

Castro’s discussion of strategy is equally adept. He criticizes Japan manager Tatsunori Hara for bunting with one out with his second-place hitter, a tremendous faux pas that would probably get a U.S. manager fired if he did it more than once. And Fidel rips the Cuban team — naming names — for sloppy play, including “an irrational advance towards second base.” Who’d have thought socialist baseball would emphasize fundamentals?

The only thing missing was one of Fidel’s famous broadsides at the U.S. and its corrupt baseball system, where the players get paid. Maybe he’s saving that for the next column.

(For more background on Fidel Castro, please see: "Predicting the End of Fidel Castro;" and "Cuba: Raul Castro Officially Takes Command.")

(The photo shows Fidel Castro at a ceremonial at-bat before the Cuban provincial baseball championships in Havana in 1977; the photo is from Prensa Latina, Cuba's official state wire service and is in the public domain.)

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PJ Kehres said...

Castro hates bunting. Nice. I wonder if he reads Bill James?

Jeff Siegel said...

He hates bunting with one out with a good hitter up. It might be a little early to call Fidel a sabermetrician.

I'll be curious to see what he says, if he says anything, about the managing in tonight's Cuba-Japan game.

Lopa said...

This is a great post.


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