Peter C. Bjarkman: “Cuban Baseball Authorities Are Facing a Most Difficult Situation”

NB: The following interview was first published in Spanish on the Reynaldo Cruz MLBlog.com site (Universo Béisbol). Here is the original English-language version of the full interview.

RC: You have been involved with researching and spreading the word about the history of Cuban baseball. When, how and why did you first become interested in this topic?

 Peter C. Bjarkman y Yadier Pedroso
 Peter C. Bjarkman (l) and pitcher Yadier Pedroso (r). (Photo by Yosvani Torres/ Courtesy of Peter C. Bjarkman)

PCB: Let me give you a short answer to a long story. Having undergone several major “life changes” in the late 1980s, I left the academic world (I was a professor of linguistics at Purdue University) to pursue a passion for writing about baseball. One of my early successes was a history of the sport in Latin America (my academic training and doctoral studies had focused on Spanish linguistics) and that book was published in 1994, the same year as the big league players’ strike. The 1994 strike had largely turned me off on the MLB (major leagues) version of the game and I was looking for a new outlet for my baseball passions. On the eve of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics my colleague and friend Mark Rucker approached me with a proposal to travel to Cuba with him and collect materials for a coffee table book illustrating the island’s rich baseball history. That is where we began, at the Atlanta Olympics and with a first road trip to Cuba in February 1997. I was immediately enamored of the island, its people, its revolutionary society, ist music, and its baseball, and that love for Cuba has remained a centerpiece of my life ever since.

RC: When was the first time you attended a baseball game in Cuba? Do you remember the details of that first game?

PCB: On that first February 1997 trip with Mark Rucker. I saw several post-season games at the end of the National Series #36 season. The first was in Capitan San Luis Stadium (Pinar del Río) and it was the opening post-season quarter finals match between Pinar and Industriales. We had traveled out to Pinar in an old rickety Lada with our two hosts from INDER and sat in the ground-level INDER reserved seats behind home plate. There are some photos of that game taken by Mark that appear in our coffee table book SMOKE, and I also write about some of the rather remarkable adventures on that first road trip in the introductory chapter to my book A HISTORY OF CUBAN BASEBALL, 1864-2007. Perhaps what I remember most about the game was a failure of the stadium’s electrical power system that delayed the game more than an hour, during which time we chatted with Omar Linares in the INDER stadium office (Linares was injured and not playing that night). That first game set the stage for so many colorful adventures to follow.

RC: There is the common debate, which grows stronger and stronger when those involved live in separate worlds, in Cuba and in the US. Do you think the history of Cuban baseball can be written overlooking either Cuban baseball prior to or after 1959, or dismissing the contributions of Cuban players abroad?

PCB: Of course not. Both halves are important chapters in the story. This was essentially the theme of my own major Cuban baseball book (A HISTORY OF CUBAN BASEBALL, 1864-2007), and most reviewers of that book picked up on the fact that mine was indeed the first historical volume to give equal treatment to both sides of the story (unlike Roberto González Echevarría, who largely dismisses Cuban baseball after 1962). But where I most strongly disagree with González Echevarría and others is in my view that the Gold Age of Cuban baseball definitely comes in the last several decades and not with the limited professional Havana winter league of the first half of the 20th century. Why? The Cuban players are bigger, faster, and more talented now than they were fifty years ago (just as they also are in the American big leagues). This is the natural upward evolution of all sport. The game may not be as pretty or aesthetic but the athletes are better without doubt. One could never imagine the top Cuban stars in 1950 competing against top major leaguers the way Cepeda, Paret and company did in the first Classic in 2006. Even with all the current political roadblocks, Cuba sent more new players to the big leagues (nine) this very summer (2014) than in any previous season in history. The Cuban players (and thus Cuban baseball as a whole) are much, much better over the past couple of decades than they were before 1960. And also post-revolution Cuba now has a true nation-wide league whereas pro baseball on the island before Fidel was largely restricted to only four teams in the city of Havana (and more than half the players in that old winter league were actually Americans and not even native-born Cubans).

RC: Speaking of that, do you think there can be a point at which historians from Cuba and elsewhere agree on compiling all possible data and events of Cuban baseball regardless of era and place? How far do you think it is from happening?

PCB: Yes, that will definitely happen. Of course all the data from the pre-1962 era is largely available in the works of scholars like the late Severo Nieto in Havana and American-Cuban Jorge Figueredo in Tampa. The work that now needs to be done is to amass the data from the post-1962 league that is available only piecemeal in the erratically published and often inaccurate INDER Cuban League Guide Books. The problem has been that INDER records seem to be inconsistent and incomplete, and Cuban newspapers have not had much in the way of detailed stats or box scores over the last several decades. But the work will slowly get done. My colleague Ray Otero and I are trying slowly to flesh out much of the data for recent seasons on the new version of our website at www.BaseballdeCuba.com.

RC: In the mid 1980's, up to the emergence of players like José Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro, there was a time without much Cuban activity in the Major Leagues. Why do you think that happened? Do you consider that to be a dry age?

PCB: What happened? That is easy …. Politics! The Cold War divide between the two countries for several decades kept the Major Leagues off limits to Cuban players, unless they “defected” – which few or any (until the 2000s) were willing to do. For MLB fans in the USA that was a “dry age” regarding Cuban baseball since the Cuban scene was entirely invisible to North Americans. But it certainly wasn’t a “dry age” back in Cuba itself. Canseco and Palmeiro, by the way, did not really mean any true Cuban presence in the big leagues since although they are technically “Cuban players” (born on the island) they were in fact American ballplayers and not legitimate Cuban ballplayers. They never touched a bat or ball in Cuba and learned their baseball entirely in Florida. They are “horses of a different color” altogether. During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s the top Cuban players had little motive or desire to leave home … they were huge heroes on the island, the national teams almost never lost, and the players were motivated by patriotism and loyalty to the system that raised them. Omar Linares was the poster boy for that attitude. But now with the sagging economy in Cuba and the headlines about all the dollars being thrown at stars like Abreu and Alexei Ramirez (and also at players who were not even the very best in Cuba like Chapman, Puig, Rusney Castillo and Alex Guerrero for example) all that has changed.

RC: So far, the Cuban Baseball National Series has had countless different structures, and some of them have been more competitive than others. Which one do you think has been the better one?

PCB: This is a very tough question for INDER and Higinio Vélez to answer, and it is a very tough question for me to answer. I very much like the system in place for most of the past quarter-century, with teams in every province and all teams playing all others an equal number of times. This is true national baseball, it provides a genuine “national sport” for all the island’s fans, and one played in or near their home towns. And it gives opportunities to many young players to develop. But I also understand (and largely agree with) the argument that the amount of talent has slid downward and thus a collapsed eight-team league would be much more competitive and do more to develop the national team (which is the main purpose of the Cuban League in the first place). The problem is that cutting down to eight teams robs half the island’s provinces of their home teams and therefore diminishes the fan base in many corners of the island.

What I don’t like is the Commission’s decision to try to have it both ways and to do both at the same time (in other words, the current split-seasons with 16 teams playing 42 games and then only 8 qualifying teams playing 45 games). This new split-schedule has so many drawbacks. Statistics (and comparing stats from year-to-year) now becomes a nightmare. The vital tradition of having players remaining with the home province (perhaps my favorite aspect of Cuban baseball) is now destroyed. And the smaller rural provinces (like Las Tunas, Guantánamo, Holguín or Isla) may lose baseball for half of each season. It is a difficult problem to solve and I don’t know what the best solution actually is.

RC: Seeing that the Cuban team came second in the opening 2006 World Baseball Classic, how do you think the late 1980's and early 1990's powerhouse Cuban Team would have fared against Major League competition if the WBC tournament had been celebrated earlier?

PCB: Baseball fans of course love such debates and everyone has a firm opinion. And no one can ever win such debates (perhaps why they are so popular) because there is no metric for measuring one epoch against another. I have my strong opinion like everyone else and I mentioned it above. I think the players in Cuba over the past ten years were the best ever and the 2009 and 2013 WBC Cuban teams were the most talented Cuban teams ever (even though they didn’t get to the finals like the 2006 squad which had some lucky breaks along the way). We saw what Cepeda and Abreu and Bell and others can do against big league pitchers. The earlier-era stars like Linares, Kindelán and Pacheco won their endless victories against university teams and using aluminum bats. That doesn’t mean that if they had been given the chance to use wooden bats against better competition they might not have eventually had similar success. There is simply no way to know. I didn’t see Marquetti or Muñoz in their primes but I did see Linares and Kindelán. To me Cepeda was perhaps the best-ever overall Cuban hitter against top-level pitching, as was Abreu, and many MLB scouts agree with me on that. The bottom line here is that Abreu and Puig and Cepeda (etc.) are PROVEN quantities now. Linares, Kindelán Capiró and company will remain forever a merely matter of idle SPECULATION. That is one of the beauties of baseball fandom. So I say, let the debate continue.

RC: There is a very heated debate going on about whether the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame should be built in Havana or in Cuba's oldest ballpark at Palmar de Junco (Matanzas). Where do your alliances lie and why?

PCB: I would love to see a true Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on the island (I know that filmmaker Ian Padron and others are working on this) and I have talked of donating (after I am no longer around to enjoy it) a large part of my extensive Cuban uniform collection to such a museum once it has a permanent home building with adequate security. As to where it should be located, I don’t have any strong preference. Havana would make sense practically since that is a center of population and tourism. But I would not want to see it in a tiny room in Latin American Stadium. It needs its own building like any other genuine national museum. Palmar del Junco in Matanzas would make sense from historical perspectives (it is the mythical equivalent of Cooperstown). But I believe it will be a long time down the road before we see such a museum in Cuba, unless the government decides to do it. There are simply no private investment funds available for such a project, and there are too many other things in the sagging Cuban infrastructure that need to be repaired first.

RC: Of course the debate increases when it comes to exiled players. Some people consider they should be included in the Cuban Hall of Fame, whereas some consider they shouldn't, and others go farther by saying that those who stayed in Cuba should be ruled out. Where do you stand in that argument? Can you explain?

PCB: If you are going to have a Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame, then every player (at least every native Cuban) who played on the island should be eligible for inclusion. Any other decision or system is based on narrow politics and should be ruled out. Now that being said, I do have my preferences for how such a Hall should be set up. There should be two qualifications: being born in Cuba and having played at least for a brief while in Cuba. I would NOT include Americans who played in Cuba before the revolution (like Rocky Nelson or Oscar Charleston) because it should be a Cuban Hall of Fame (i.e. Cuban players) in my view. I would also exclude those Cuban-born players who never played in Cuba; there should be no Cuéllar or Canseco or Palmeiro, since none of them played in any league in Cuba. But Tony Oliva and Luis Tiant, yes, since they played at home as youngsters and learned baseball in Cuba. And clearly guys like Camilo Pascual and Pedro Ramos should be automatic inductees, since they were stars both in Cuba and in the major leagues.

RC: Do you think the lack of understanding between journalists and historians in Cuba and abroad is one of the causes why there is no institution similar to SABR or the BBWAA in Cuba? If not, what do you think is the cause?

PCB: The BBWAA is the outgrowth of an economic and commercial baseball structure surrounding MLB (more a business than a sport) that does not exist in Cuba. Every newspaper in every big league city (and now every internet outlet also) has one or more fulltime “baseball beat writers”. For years Cuba had only Sigfredo Barros at Granma and a sometime shifting series of single baseball writers at Juventud Rebelde. Newspapers in the other provinces may have had someone writing about the baseball team for the local press but no one traveling fulltime with the provincial team. There are ten times more fulltime baseball journalists in the city of Chicago alone than there are on the entire island of Cuba. Hence there is no Cuban version of the BBWAA.

SABR is originally a grass roots organization that was founded by a small group of casual fans who wanted to further pursue and share their interest in baseball statistics. It is of course now a big-time business organization with 7,000 national members including annual dues, yearly conventions, numerous publications, etc. It again comes down to the Cuban social structure and economic realities. Small groups of fans do organize in a similar way around the Cuban countryside, in the local Peña Deportivas. But they don’t have the full resources (especially the luxury of spare cash to devote to a hobby, or home computers and internet connections to keep in regular communication) or the time away from daily preoccupations to expand their interests into an elaborate overblown “hobby” diversion (with monthly fan publications, annual and monthly meetings around the country, etc.) after the fashion of SABR. As with everything else in Cuba, it starts and ends with issues of the third world economy.

RC: You have been closely connected several Cuban ballplayers in the Island and in the Majors. Can you tell us something curious about the personalities of some of them?

PCB: Yes some of the players (both still in Cuba and also now in the big leagues) are among my closest Cuban friends. I have spent intimate times and have had great personal experiences with a dozen of more – especially Cepeda, Bell, Yulieski Gourriel, Yadier Pedroso, Yosvani Peraza, Ariel Pestano, Pedro Laso and a handful more – both in Cuba and overseas at international tournaments. I am planning to tell some of these tales in the book I am currently writing and that I mention at the end of this interview, and therefore I don’t want to steal my own thunder from that book in this piece. But I will mention only a few things here. My saddest moment in life was the tragic death of my close friend Yadier Pedroso a few days after the 2013 Classic. Pedroso was one of the most fun-loving and genuine men I have ever known; I was the last non-team member with him at the Tokyo hotel (in Cepeda’s room) before they left Japan to return home. I would never see Yadier again after that final “temporary” farewell in Tokyo, and that still haunts me.

On a lighter note, Cepeda is my true role model and image of an ideal human being, as I mention again below. Freddie is a true saint and they don’t make athletes or any other humans from a better mold. Yunieski Maya is a “true loose cannon” (a genuine fun-loving kid) and is addicted to “papas fritas” (a story I will tell in the forthcoming book). And Yulieski (Gourriel) is a true introvert who doesn’t party, stays out of the public view, and does not drink even a drop of alcohol. Cepeda and I have a running joke about searching for Yulie’s beers (Coca Colas) in the team hotels in Europe and also in Sancti Spíritus.

RC: It is no secret to anyone that the exodus of Cuban ballplayers is one thing that affects the National Series while also posing a problem of human trafficking for the US authorities. Do you envision an ideal scenario in which both parties can be benefited?

PCB: If there was an ideal scenario both sides would likely already have found it. I certainly don’t see what it is. The ideal scenario from the big league perspective is that all Cuban players who wanted to sign with MLB clubs would be allowed to come directly and freely to the USA. But that would ruin Cuban baseball because there would be no players of quality left at home. And by the way, the players and their agents don’t want that solution either (the one with players freely entering the US), because it would mean that Cuban players would then have to enter the amateur player draft (they could not be free-agents) and thus could not sign for anything more than $250,000 under current regulations. It would stop the human trafficking to be sure (once the players were worth only $250,000), but both Cuban baseball and the players themselves would be big losers.

The ideal scenario from the Cuban perspective would be that Cuban players could play in the majors, earn lots of dollars, bring that money back to Cuba in the winter, and then play in the National Series. That can’t happen either, precisely for the reasons explain elsewhere in these answers. OFAC might drop its embargo someday (although I am not holding my breath) and allow MLB dollars to flow back to Cuba. But big leaguers are never any longer going to be allowed by MLB clubs to play full winter league schedules in Cuba or anywhere else. Nor will players like Abreu, earning $68 million, themselves want to play an additional 90 games in the winter after playing 160-plus in the summer.

RC: Do you think that the National Series would be better if all Cuban players could go to the MLB and then return to Cuba even if they didn't play for their provinces anymore? Why?

PCB: The National Series would be better only if those players going to the majors would come back in the winter and play in the Cuban League (like big leaguers once did in the 1950s or 1960s). But times have changed with the drastically changing economic structure of organized baseball and this is simply no longer possible. If Abreu and Chapman and Rusney Castillo come back to Cuba in the winter months and just sit at home and don’t play in the National Series that would not in any way help the league at home improve.

RC: Cuba has created strategies to try to keep players from departing. Is there something you think they should have done and so far have failed to do?

PCB: Cuba’s baseball officials are facing a most difficult situation. They want to better reward their players with higher pay and with the opportunity to earn salaries overseas, but not at the expense of dealing with MLB, since sending players to the States would mean they could not return to Cuban for winter play and would be lost to the national team as well. (MLB will simply not allow its players to risk injury in winter league play and the US embargo also prevents players who go to the US from returning home or taking any of their earnings back to Cuba.) The position of the Cuban Federation is a reasonable one and one I sympathize with. Cuba does not want to lose their strong national baseball the way Venezuela, the DR and Puerto Rico already have (there is no quality domestic baseball in those countries now that MLB has raked all the talented out of those locations and placed it in organized baseball). But given the sad economic situation in Cuba and the barriers caused by MLB and OFAC (US Treasury Department) regulations, there is little more than Cuban officials can do. The only possibility would be a more extensive working agreement with the Japanese leagues, but I doubt that will be sufficient to turn around the current player drain.

RC: In the 1990's only a handful of Cuban players had participation in The Big Show. To what do you attribute the recent wave of success – disregarding the amount of players – of Cubans in the Majors?

PCB: The reason for the success is clearly the raw talent of the players involved. It has been little secret to some of us following Cuban baseball (and I was telling this to everyone a decade ago) that while the National Series might be overall a Class AA league compared to organized baseball, nonetheless there were are least forty Cuban players (just about everyone on the national team) who could step right in to a big league lineup. And also that 10 or 15 Cuban players were could enough to be superstars. Many doubted me on that claim (including many ex-patriot fans in Miami who are now suddenly jumping on the bandwagon) but now I have been obviously proven correct. There wasn’t as big an impact in the 1990s because the earlier players to leave (excepting El Duque, Liván and Contreras) were not the island’s best players. And some of the early pitchers who “defected” – like Rolando Arrojo, Rene Arocha and Osvaldo Fernández – had all suffered damaged arms throwing inferior seamless Batos balls to hitters with aluminum bats. But now that several of the better players have departed the island and entered the big leagues the quality of the Cuban players has become obvious. Had Cepeda and Gourriel and Pestano left Cuban in 2004 we would have seen this same thing happen ten years earlier.

RC: Do you agree with the idea that the numbers of Cuban players fleeing the island are likely to increase? Why?

PCB: Yes, it will increase, although perhaps not as rapidly as some might project. The INDER policy changes of September 2013 have not (and will not) stem the tide because most young players believe they have little or no chance to be selected among the small trickle of top stars assigned to Japan). The bad economy at home and the sensational stories about the successes and instant wealth of players like Abreu, Puig and Castillo will be just too much temptation for many young Cubans. There is also another important factor here. Ten years ago the biggest heroes on the island were the stars on a national team that won virtually every game and every tournament. Now the national team struggles to win against better competition and the heroes everyone are following are Abreu, Puig and Chapman in the big leagues and not Freddie Cepeda in Sancti Spiritus or Alfredo Despaigne in Granma. That fact alone will tempt more young players to follow the model of Abreu and not the model of Cepeda. The rewards no longer seem to be found in Havana or Santiago but rather in Los Angeles and Chicago.

RC: Do you have an all-time favorite Cuban ballplayer? Who is it?

PCB: Hands down, FREDDIE CEPEDA (if you hadn’t already guessed that). Not only is Cepeda one of the most entertaining and skilled hitters in Cuba, but they just don’t make human beings any better than Frederich Cepeda. He is an institution in Cuba and a huge, huge credit to both Cuban baseball and to Cuban society.

RC: Now that the Cuban talent has been proven to be for real, we are sure that a lot of "what if" questions are being asked. Can you name at least a dozen Cuban players who decided to stay in Cuba and who you consider may have succeeded in the majors and why?

PCB: This group for starters … Note that I am also leaving out many stars from the 1970s and 1980s because I didn’t see them play personally and therefore it is hard for me to judge those guys based on anything more than hearsay.

Ariel Pestano (absolutely at the top of my list; Hall of Famer Orel Hershiser once told me that Pestano was the best and the smartest catcher he ever saw on a baseball field.)
Omar Linares (everyone agrees on this one, so I don’t have to go into details … a true five tool player and an awesome hitter in his prime, even if he did swing only an aluminum bat.)
Freddie Cepeda (just about every MLB scout I talked with in the mid-2000s told me Cepeda was the number one Cuban hitter at the top of their list … the most disciplined hitter from both sides of the plate I have ever seen, in Cuba or in the big leagues.)
Yulieski Gourriel (could play anywhere in the infield and even though he has never reached his full early promise, most MLB scouts still love him.)
Pedro Luis Lazo (I always thought that Pedro Lazo was a notch above his Pinar teammate José Contreras; St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols commented at the 2006 Classic that Lazo had the most devastating forkball he had ever seen in his life.)
Orestes Kindelán (aluminum bats aside, raw power alone would have brought him a $25 million deal in the late 1990s – and that’s probably $100 million in today’s market … If Yasmani Tomás is worth that kind of money, then what about Kindelán?)
Victor Mesa (if the scouts and fans love Puig today, what might they have thought of Mesa? … one of the most talented and easily the most colorful player in National Series history.)
Germán Mesa (easily the best Cuban shortstop ever … future big leaguer Rey Ordónez left Cuba largely because he knew he could never play regularly on the national team as long as Mesa was there.)
Eduardo Paret (perhaps a step behind Germán Mesa on defense, but a much better hitter than either Mesa or big leaguer Rey Ordóñez.)
Faustino Corrales (a superb southpaw and you know how much good lefties with top control are valued in the big leagues.)
Norberto González (the same thing can be said here that I just said about Faustino Corrales.)
Norge Luis Vera (he proved himself in two Classics and several Olympics … I long thought Vera was the most durable and talented pitcher on the island for almost a dozen years and he matched El Duque’s lifetime winning percentage while pitching almost a decade longer … if Miguel Alfredo González and Yunieski Maya could be big leaguers, than Norge Vera clear was also.)
Alexei Bell (immediately after the 2008 Beijing Olympics many scouts told me he was the best outfielder in Cuba … before he got hurt several times, his only downside might have been his small size … a big league outfield arm, on top of all that clutch hitting against big-league quality pitching.)
Alfredo Despaigne (I was asked repeatedly in 2010 and 2011 at international tournaments who I thought was the better hitter – Despaigne or Céspedes – and I always chose the former. Most MLB scouts on the scene quickly agreed with my opinion on that.)

RC: Speaking of favorite players. Making an all-time, all-leagues, all-star selection of Cuban players is tough, but I would like you to give me at least two of the best Cubans—in your opinion—by each position, disregarding when or where they played?

PCB: I will make just a rough stab here, and what I do this week I might do differently next week. Also remember what I said above about the virtual impossibility of comparing players from different decades or different eras. So this list is based on the historical impact of various players and doesn’t mean that these are necessarily the most talented individuals overall at those various positions. (If that were the case – merely raw talent – then all my players on the list would likely come from the last ten years, when the players were physically bigger and better than ever before.)

Catcher: (2) Ariel Pestano, Juan Castro
First Base: (2) José Abreu, Rafael Palmeiro
Second Base: (2) Yulieski Gourriel, Alexei Ramírez (he started there in Cuba)
Third Base: (2) Omar Linares, Yulieski Gourriel
Shortstop: Germán Mesa, Eduardo Paret
Outfielders: (6) Tony Oliva, Orestes Miñoso, Yoenis Céspedes, Alfredo Despaigne, José Canseco, Yasiel Puig
Pitchers: (6) Adolfo Luque, Luis Tiant Jr., El Duque Hernández, Pedro Luis Lazo, Miguel Cuéllar, Norge Luis Vera
Designated Hitters: (2) Freddie Cepeda, Osmani Urrutia

RC: Is there something you have been wishing to do regarding Cuban baseball that so far you haven't been able to accomplish? What?

PCB: There is only one “province” and one league ballpark I have not visited and that is Isla de la Juventud and Nueva Gerona’s Cristobal Labra Stadium. It is definitely on my agenda. I would also like to get to the league All-Star Game and to the final game of the championship playoffs; I have seen both events numerous times on television but would like to get there in person. I would also like to see the national team play in Taiwan (never been there) and I have that penciled in as a possibility for next (2015) November.

RC: Would you like to share any of the future projects you have going on at the moment?

PCB: Yes I am currently writing two important books which I hope to complete in the next few months in time for publication in 2015. The first is my personal memoirs of almost two full decades of traveling in Cuba and also in Europe, Asia and Latin American following the Cuban national team at international tournaments. That book will be published by McFarland and is tentatively titled THE “YANQUI” IN CUBA’S DUGOUT: TRAVELS INSIDE FIDEL CASTRO’S BASEBALL EMPIRE. The second book is the story of recent Cuban baseball players “defecting” to the majors (CUBA’S BIG LEAGUE BASEBALL “DEFECTORS” – AN INSIDER’S ACCOUNT OF BASEBALL’S HOTTEST STORY) but since an official contract is not yet signed I cannot at the moment reveal the publisher of that second book. I am also still working on a long-overdue history of the Cuban national team (for McFarland Publishers).

Author Note: Peter Bjarkman has authored two important books on Cuban baseball – SMOKE: THE ROMANCE AND LORE OF CUBAN BASEBALL (with Mark Rucker, 1999) and A HISTORY OF CUBAN BASEBALL, 1864-2007 (recently re-released in paperback from McFarland Publishers). He is the Senior Baseball Writer at www.BaseballdeCuba.com. As a widely noted expert on Cuban baseball history and expert commentator on the current Cuban baseball scene, Bjarkman has appeared regularly in the mainstream US and international media. He guided TV Chef Anthony Bourdain around Havana on the Travel Channel episode of NO RESERVATIONS CUBA in 2011, and he will soon appear on the ESPN 30-for-30 documentary “Brothers in Exile” (the Liván and El Duque Hernández Story) scheduled for airing in November 2014. His personal website is found at www.Bjarkman.com.