- The Quality of Home Runs: The Passion, Politics, and Language of Cuban Baseball
Anthropologist Thomas F. Carter has written an informative and thoughtful analysis of baseball in contemporary Cuba. Based upon field work done, Carter provides us with less of a history of Cuban baseball than an ethnographic study of Cuban baseball fans. In the process, Carter may frustrate readers who want their baseball stories told in straightforward and easily digestible chunks. He may also frustrate those who need their Cuban stories told from ideological perspectives unvarnished by nuance.
The Quality of Home Runs is not an easy read. Clearly, Carter has been heavily influenced by cultural studies. Often insightful but often obscure in presentation, cultural studies has fixed its attention less on social reality and more on how people through a variety of cultural institutions and practices represent that social reality. Cultural studies scholars insist that race is a “social construction” and that nations are “invented.” Of course, they acknowledge that an objective reality exists—that people in Cuba play and watch baseball. But they would also insist that Cuban baseball has been open to various and conflicting interpretations. For example, Cuban exiles in the U.S. would regard the experiences of the Cuban national team in recent years differently than those living in Castro’s Cuba, while the later may experience baseball in a manner that the Cuban state would not always favor.
Accordingly, Carter’s book is filled with learned references to cultural studies demigods such as Michel Foucault, Benedict Anderson, Edward Said, Michael Taussig, and Dick Hebridge. As such, The Quality of Home Runs might prove irritating to many readers. But with a little patience a reader might be rewarded with a fair minded book, which neither demonizes nor generously writes about Cubans surreptitiously watching the final game of the 1997 World Series—a game pitting the Cleveland Indians against the Florida Marlins and their young pitching ace, Liván Hernandez, who had three years earlier abandoned the Cuban national team in Mexico for decidedly greener pastures in the U.S. Cuban baseball fans were committing a crime against the state, but to Carter they were asserting their love of baseball and their love of Cuba.
Carter focuses more on Cuban fans than on players and management. While it includes some significant historical background, The Quality of Home Runs generally focuses on Cuban baseball at the end of the twentieth century. In the process, Carter argues that through baseball Cubans have been trying to define Cuba as a nation and what it means to [End Page 293] be Cuban or Cubanidad. Historically and today, baseball has meant different things to different Cubans depending upon whether they were anti-colonial revolutionaries, pro- Castro revolutionaries, anti-Cuban exiles, rural Cubans, Habanos, or officials in the present Cuban state. However, Carter makes clear that for at least male Cubans, loving baseball has been an integral aspect of being Cuban and that sport may not be so much of a diversion from politics as a way for Cubans to express themselves politically.
Carter does a fine job in steering readers away from homogenizing or essentializing Cuban baseball. Still I would have liked to have seen mote emphasis on how race and class might have complicated the way Cubans have played and watched the sport although this is not to say that Carter ignores race and class. I am, however, curious as to what Cuban women have thought about their husbands, fathers, and brothers defining themselves and their Cubanidad through baseball. The book helps little in this respect.
For Carter, Cuban baseball, as perhaps baseball anywhere it is played and watched, expresses the ability of people to crisscross sometimes treacherous cultural terrain. Yet the “home run” expresses their desire for return or at the very least a place they can call home. This and other paradoxes embraced by baseball possibly help to explain its hold on much of the world.