Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Cuba Excluded from World Baseball Classic

The United States has determined that Cuba will not play in the inaugural World Baseball Classic this spring. NPR's sports commentator calls the declaration "both petty and ham-handed."

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Commentator Frank Deford is mulling over another decision in baseball. The United States has determined that Cuba will not play in the inaugural World Baseball Classic next spring.

FRANK DEFORD:

In the midst of old Havana, a couple of blocks away from El Sora Vita(ph) where the daiquiri was introduced to a thirsty world is Park Central(ph). It's not like New York's Central Park nor just a plaza but most hours of the day, Park Central is distinguished by a group of noisy and animated men doing nothing but sitting there and arguing baseball. Such passion. Why, you've never even seen its likes in Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. Oh, I would love to be in Park Central this March when the 16 most prominent nations of the diamond play in the first World Baseball Classic. Only, of course, now our government has decreed that whereas Cuba can compete in the Olympics and the World Cup and all other international sports tournaments, no, we won't let them play in the matches that involve our national pastime. Some Americans simply cannot abide the idea that somewhere, somehow, Cuba might make a couple lousy Yankee dollars.

Now I am not one of those who subscribe to the fantasy that simply by playing games among countries, all politics fades away, that sport automatically produces peace, love and brotherhood. But the fact is, international sport usually has some benefits. And sometimes, it really does demonstrably work for good. Remember the initial pingpong diplomacy with Communist China? By all but forcing his way into South Africa's Tennis Open, Arthur Ashe first cracked the apartheid curtain and it never could be fully closed again. But in a declaration that is at once both petty and ham-handed, the Treasury Department has decreed that it must apply the same US policy that hasn't worked for almost half a century and refuse to allow Cuba to play against the other baseball nations of the world.

In a way, this posture is even more distasteful than when those anti-Semitic countries refused to play Israel. At least those nations have the strength of their convictions sufficient to take themselves out of the games. We're just being the bully. `No, it's our bat and our ball, and you can't play.' Ironically, too, if we simply let Cuba into the classic, we might even win some political points because then Fidel Castro might be afraid to let his team go to Puerto Rico, where Cuba's first games are scheduled, for fear that some of his players would defect. How would the gentlemen of Park Central like it if their own friendly dictator refused to let Cuba play baseball?

But, no, the way it is now, once again, we'll be the villains before the world. Is there no sensitivity left in Washington, no sense of proportion whatsoever? These are games. If our dim, shortsighted government maintains this stance, there is only one reasonable alternative. All of these athletes must stand together with their baseball brethren of Cuba and tell the United States government, `We're out! Everybody plays baseball or nobody plays baseball.' World Baseball Classic, called on account of American hubris and stupidity.

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford. He's senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated and joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford