Cuba's Baseball Defectors — The Inside Story (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers)

"Through this and other publications, Peter Bjarkman is doing for Cuban baseball what Ry Cooder has done for Cuban music ..." — Joseph Arbena

Book Description and Contents

The stellar play and fascinating backstories of exiled Cuban sluggers and hurlers in Major League Baseball (MLB) has become one of the biggest headlines in America's national pastime. On-field exploits by colorful Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, American League rookie-of-the-year José Abreu, home run derby champion Yoenis Céspedes, radar-gun busting Cincinnati fast-baller Aroldis Chapman, and a handful of others have been further enhanced by feel-good tales of desperate Cuban superstars risking their lives to escape Fidel Castro’s communist realm and chase a celebrated American Dream of financial and athletic success. But a truly ugly underbelly to this story has also slowly emerged, one that involves human smuggling operations financed by Miami crime syndicates, operated by Mexican drug cartels, and conveniently ignored by big league ball clubs endlessly searching for fresh waves of international talent.

In Cuba’s Baseball Defectors: The Inside Story, Cuban baseball expert Peter C. Bjarkman reveals the complete truth behind the wave of Cuban big league talent coming to MLB. Given rare access to Cuba and its ballplayers, Bjarkman has spent over twenty years traveling to all corners of the island getting to know the top Cuban stars and witnessing their baseball struggles and triumphs. In this book, Bjarkman places recent events—including the apparent thaw in US-Cuba relations—in the context of Cuban baseball history and tradition before delving into the stories of the major Cuban stars who have left the island. He reveals the personal histories of these players, explains the events that led them to eventually choose defection from their homeland, and details their harrowing journeys to reach US shores and achieve baseball stardom. Players whose big league dreams failed are also discussed, as are Cuba’s recent efforts to stem the defection tide through working agreements with the Japanese and Mexican leagues.

Unique in its balanced perspective of Cuban baseball and its star players, Cuba’s Baseball Defectors not only shares the author’s first-hand account of many previously misreported events, it also provides a view of the illegal smuggling of ballplayers from the perspective of Cuban baseball officials whose voices have often not been heard. With a conclusion outlining a likely scenario for future relations between Major League Baseball and the Cuban League, this book will fascinate baseball fans, those interested in the history of US-Cuba relations, and those wanting to learn more about the unsavory story of human trafficking in the name of baseball glory.

1 The Essence of "Puigmania"
2 Cuba's Hidden Beisbol Paradiso
3 Sugar Cane Curtain Fiascos
4 Ninety Miles of Sea, One Hundred Miles of "Heater"
5 Brothers in Exile
6 "The Best There Ever Was"
7 No Reservations for Cuba
8 Go East, Young Men, Go East
9 The Unsustainable Dream
Appendix 1: 193 Cuban-Born Major Leaguers
Appendix 2: Cuban baseball Defectors
References and Sources
About the Author

Critical Acclaim for Cuba's Baseball Defectors

“Nobody knows more about the intertwining of politics and baseball in Cuba than Peter Bjarkman—he is the dean of information on this topic. Bjarkman has traveled to Cuba for many years and has formed relationships with officials in both these areas.”—Omar Minaya, Senior VP of Baseball Operations, San Diego Padres

"Bjarkman writes expertly of the raiding of local talent and the rapid thawing of political wills of America and Cuba, and he proclaims that the proud island 'will steadfastly remain the jealous owner of its domestic baseball destiny.'" — Publishers Weekly (May 2016)

“As usual, Peter Bjarkman is the go-to guy for the best information about all things baseball cubano. He has seen these players long before most of us ever heard their names. This is a fabulous read!”—Eric Nadel, award-winning radio announcer for the Texas Rangers

“This is the book we fans of Cuban baseball have been waiting for! Insightful, intriguing, and filled with invigorating stories. Author Peter Bjarkman bats 1000 with this one!”—Byron Motley, author/​photographer of Embracing Cuba

“Cuba’s Baseball Defectors is a detailed account of the hundreds of players that have left the island over the past quarter century and decimated the country’s powerhouse national teams. But more important, it is an up-to-date narrative of the role baseball plays in the new political dynamics between the United States and Cuba. This is a must-read book for anyone interested in contemporary Cuba.”—Milton Jamail, author of Full Count: Inside Cuban Baseball

“Peter Bjarkman is the ultimate chronicler of Cuban baseball. His latest book takes an inside look into the wave of player departures that has rocked the game both in Cuba and the U.S., while providing historical perspective on the complicated relationship between the countries.”—Jorge Ortiz, USA Today

“Peter Bjarkman is the only authoritative commentator on baseball in post-revolution Cuba. Cuba’s Baseball Defectors combines scholarship and the author’s insights gained from his close personal ties to Cuban players, officials, and ordinary Cubans. Defectors is not only a great book about Cuban baseball, but an important book about contemporary Cuba.”—Kit Krieger, Cubaball Tours

“No American understands baseball’s role in Cuba better than Peter Bjarkman, and in Cuba’s Baseball Defectors he is our guide behind the headlines. With a historian’s eye, he both charts the game’s past and explains why baseball matters to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of Cuba today.”—Ben Strauss, coauthor of Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA

“Daring, honest, exceptional… Peter C. Bjarkman has written a must-read primer for anyone considering the truth behind Cuban baseball’s impact on Major League Baseball. Read this book and learn from one of the best.”—Ray Otero, director of

“Peter Bjarkman once again shows why he is the preeminent expert on Cuban baseball outside of the island itself. The origins of this work began many years before the latest stars appeared on the scene and Cuba once again became trendy. There is great value in one man dedicating his work to one topic, and we all benefit from the enterprise.” – Daniel Trotta, journalist and Reuters chief correspondent in Cuba 2014-2016