October is fast approaching and for most people that means fall weather, Halloween shenanigans, and the end of baseball season. That last part isn’t true for everyone though, for a large chunk of baseball fans October’s arrival is fantastic news. Yes, the Major League Baseball playoffs mean that season is coming to an end but it also means that the international winter (for those of us in America it’s winter at least) scene is about to kick-off! The baseball season will continue in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Taiwan, Panama, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, and other countries.
For me, this is an especially great time of year because I love this baseball season more than any other. High-quality baseball being played in multiple countries culminating with two distinct international tournaments: Serie Latinoamericana and Serie del Caribe. The winter ball being played in the United States, Australia, and Taiwan is great. I watch a lot of those games, but the Latin American leagues draw most of my attention from October through February. The key ingredient is that outside of affiliated players being involved it is essentially an MLB free zone. The stuffiness and uniformity that rankle so many MLB fans give way to the spontaneity and enthusiasm that makes baseball fun.
This year a wrench has been thrown into the mix. That wrench comes in the form of sanctions by the United States government against Venezuela. I will warn you right now if you don’t like politics in your sports don’t even bother reading the rest of this article. I understand that sports and politics are entwined and that one cannot exist without the other. Sports and politics are such fabrics of everyday life that to think that sports should be kept out of politics or vice-versa is foolhardy. Baseball is a very political game and this year MLB and the United States government are doing their best to remind everyone just how political baseball can be.
In August the Commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred, delivered an edict that all players under contract to an MLB organization were banned from playing in the Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional during the 2019-2020 campaign. The ban comes about because Donald Trump, who likes to masquerade as the President of the United States of America, issued an Executive Order banning US companies and individuals from doing business with the Venezuelan government. It just so happens that the Venezuelan government is Socialist and the US imperial machine has a big problem with a Socialist government not willing to play ball with them.
Manfred acted as should have been expected. His only interest is to line the pockets of the owners and to kowtow to those who outrank him so there was never any actual chance of MLB defying the ban. By instituting a ban of their own MLB started a waterfall effect for its players and coaches, as well as the Venezuelan government and the LVBP. Manfred and his cronies aren’t affected by this ban, they are sitting high on their MLB money. Those most affected by the ban are the minor leaguers who depend on playing winter ball every year to supplement the below livable wages they earn from their MLB overlords. Coaches and some players already at the MLB level are affected as well. Instead of getting to enjoy playing baseball in Venezuela they have lost a major source of work.
Not so fast, what about all the other winter leagues? The Australian Baseball League, Asia Winter Baseball League, and unaffiliated American winter leagues are out because they are all developmental leagues who either do not regularly use affiliated players or simply do not have the means to pay what a league like the LVBP usually does. The remaining leagues throughout Latin America are also out. This past week Juan Francisco Puello Herrera, the Comisionado de Béisbol Profesional del Caribe announced that all Latin leagues would honor the contracts of the LVBP. Basically that means that even though affiliated players have been banned from playing in the LVBP the contracts some players have with LVBP teams are still going to be honored and those players are not allowed to sign with other winter league teams.
The above is a death knell to many affiliated players. However, it’s even more of a blow to the economy of Venezuela and to the Serie del Caribe. It’s unclear, at this stage, if there will even be an LVBP season this year. If there is it is unknown whether they will play at a high enough level to remain a viable part of the SdC this season. If not, perhaps they could find their way into the Serie Latinoamericana, but even that is not a given. The citizens and government of Venezuela depend on the LVBP to help boost the countries economy on a yearly basis. It’s a winter league only because of when it takes place in the calendar year, in every other way it is a regular league that is held as the highest standard of baseball in Venezuela. The LVBP is essential not just to the Venezuelan economy, but to the way of life of countless Venezuelans, and to the greater Latin American landscape.
There is no doubt that the mistreatment that Venezuela and the LVBP are experiencing this year is but another example of misguided US Imperialism with the bootlicking MLB organization more than happy to do what they are told. It’s no coincidence that Venezuela is one of the Latin American countries that has most pushed back against US and MLB involvement on their land. MLB, especially, has spent years exploiting Latin American players and countries at every turn. Venezuela is one of the countries that said no to MLB and now MLB is all for turning a blind eye to what is being done to the LVBP. Venezuela and the LVBP are victims of US imperialism, but hey, politics and sports don’t mix, right?
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – JAM Media