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Notable Cuban Ball Players Who Defected During Fidel Castro’s Reign
- Updated: November 28, 2016
On August 13, 1926, Fidel Castro was born in Biran, Cuba, and 33 years later the world saw Castro rise to power and take over his native land. Prior to Castro’s Presidency, Cuban ball players were allowed to play in the American Negro Leagues and in Major League Baseball. But after the revolution, the U.S and Cuban relationship began to suffer and as a result Castro ended professional baseball in Cuba and stopped allowing Cuban ball players to play overseas. As a result, ball players started to defect from their homeland just to be able to live their dreams of playing professional baseball, with many stories of those being captured and sent back and imprisoned for their efforts.
Some managed to reach the United States mainland through other countries, looking for the opportunity to impact the game in a big way. Many managed to live out their dreams but with the cost of leaving their families behind.
After Castro took over power and prior to his death on Saturday, 97 ball players have defected in the past 56 years, starting with Rogelio Alvarez, who actually made his MLB debut in 1960, but was banned from continuing his professional career, so he defected through Mexico in 1963.
Alvarez enjoyed the pre-Castro years playing in the Cincinnati Reds system while finally playing in the MLB in 1960 and 1962, but after he defected, he only managed to play minor league baseball, splitting time between the Reds, Chicago White Sox and the Mexican League. He retired from the game in 1973.
It took 17 years before another soon to be MLB player would defect from Cuba as Barbaro Garbey, traveled the deep waters between Cuba and the United States to his freedom and an eventual major league career. After his defection in 1980, Garbey made his MLB debut on April 3, 1984 with the Detroit Tigers and seven months later was standing on top of the world as a World Series Champion as the Tigers won their first title in 16 seasons. Garbey played in 1985 with Detroit and then one season with the Texas Rangers in 1988. After a few seasons in the minors and the Mexican Leagues, he retired from the game in 1994.
After pitcher Rene Arocha defected in 1991, an influx of players started the trend in 1993 that saw 94 players arrive in the United States between 1993 and 2016.
Out of the list that have defected, ten have become MLB all-stars, while others have made huge impacts to their MLB clubs. Take a look at the following pages as we highlight a few of the former and current Cuban MLB ball players that made and continue to make their presence known on the big league diamond.
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