NEW YORK–The upcoming World Baseball Classic, heralded as the greatest international baseball tournament ever, will probably be missing one of its most attractive participants: Cuba.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury denied Major League Baseball permission to let Cuba participate, the Miami Herald first reported on its website Wednesday. The news was confirmed to Baseball America by MLB president Bob DuPuy, who wrote in an e-mail message that he was “disappointed,” and that both MLB and the Players Association, joint coordinators of the tournament, were “continuing to try whatever channels may be open.”
An official announcement was forthcoming, DuPuy said. Officials from the U.S. Treasury Department were not immediately available for comment.
If Cuba is not permitted to play, a possibility for which World Baseball Classic officials have long prepared, it is expected that either Nicaragua or Colombia will be invited as the 16th participant.
Because Cuba would reap financial benefit from having a team participate in the World Baseball Classic, a license must first be approved by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees the United States’ economic embargo against Cuba.
According to the Herald, several Cuban-American members of the Congress urged the Treasury Department to decline the license. The paper quoted a letter from Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart of Miami as claiming that Cuba’s participation would “allow a state sponsor of terrorism to use U.S. currency to finance its machinery of oppression.” The Herald reported that Díaz-Balart wrote to MLB commissioner Bud Selig last week claiming, “It is difficult to believe that major league baseball would have invited a team from apartheid-era South Africa to participate in a tournament.”
Meanwhile, New York Rep. José Serrano had issued a statement supporting Cuba’s inclusion. “Let’s keep politics out of this,” he said.
The possibility of allowing players who have defected from Cuba, such as new Diamondbacks pitcher Orlando Hernandez and Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez, has been discussed. However, it is not clear whether such players would be interested in representing their former homeland. Livan Hernandez now lives in Puerto Rico and has stated his interest in representing that country in the Classic.
Any team from Cuba would have been considered a strong one, but not necessarily on par with powerhouses such as the United States, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Cuba has dominated all levels of international competition throughout the 1960s through the 2000s, continuing to win virtually every international tournament even after the inclusion of professionals. Its lone loss in medal-round play since 1999, when the U.S. began to send minor leaguers to international tournaments, was to Ben Sheets in the 2000 Olympic gold-medal game. The March 3-20 World Baseball Classic will be open to and mostly populated by major leaguers, however, almost certainly eroding Cuba’s longtime edge.