- Fidel Castro and Baseball: The Untold Story by Peter C. Bjarkman
Once again, Peter C. Bjarkman has solidified his position as the pre-eminent voice on postrevolution Cuban baseball. Fidel Castro and Baseball: The Untold Story is a thorough history that takes readers through over a half-century of U.S.–Cuban relations through the lens of baseball, with the main character being the highly controversial Fidel Castro. Bjarkman’s primary motive is to dispel many misconstrued notions of Castro’s role in baseball from the mid-1950s to early 2010s. The root of these misconceptions can be traced to American sources, ranging from journalists to Washington politicians or even Major League Baseball (MLB) executives. Amid this assertion, Bjarkman does not employ an overt political agenda but, rather, as any scholar should, sets out to provide an accurate historical account of Castro’s passion for baseball and the ways in which this love was reflected in Cuba’s evolving identity, notably in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Bjarkmain aims to complete four tasks: (1) dismount the near-mythical accounts of Castro as a potential big-time hardballer, who, if through another career path in baseball, would have changed the path of twentieth-century Western history, (2) reconstruct the demise of professional baseball in Cuba, where Castro is not the sole character responsible for its collapse, (3) reconsider our understanding of political propaganda through baseball, and (4) recognize the United States’ role in feeding the ongoing mythology of baseball’s relationship with Castro and Cuba.
Fidel Castro and Baseball brings a new voice to the discussion on many traditional Cold War conversations, specifically imperialism, communism, and capitalism. Although there is an apparent geopolitical narrative between the United States and Cuba, Bjarkman assesses baseball’s role as an export of nationalistic ideals through the lens of both nations. As Castro received much criticism for using baseball to exude a communist agenda, Bjarkman injects that nearly every other nation, especially the United States, projected its own brand of patriotism through sport. Yet, especially in the early years of the Cuban Revolution and the Second Red Scare sweeping through the United States in the same years, Castro was the perfect figure to pinpoint the ailments of professional baseball in Cuba.
Bjarkman organizes his text chronologically, beginning with Fidel’s rise to power to recent efforts by the Obama administration to bridge an economic and ideological gap with Cuba, under the guidance of Fidel’s brother, Raúl. The book is divided into three parts: “The Myths,” “The Transformation,” “The Legacy.” In the first part, Bjarkman unpacks the exchanges between American journalists and Castro’s closest personal allies, Theodore Draper and Herbert Matthews, during the earliest years of the revolution. With Castro’s rise to international fame, many journalists hastily jumped to paint an image of the Cuban Revolution and its notorious leader. In seeking commentary on anything Castro-related during the late 1950s and early 1960s, baseball became a vehicle of analysis for many Americans, who found it to be a mutual point of interest to interpret Castro’s political movement. Once the Havana Sugar Kings left Cuba for New Jersey, many blamed Castro [End Page 80] for the swift exodus of MLB’s main tie to the Caribbean island and the demise of baseball in Cuba. In the second part of the text, Bjarkman unpacks this claim by shifting focus to the baseball culture created in Cuba for subsequent decades, ultimately producing a perennial powerhouse national squad, which dominated the international tournament scene for decades. The final part brings the narrative to near-present day, highlighting the impact defectors had on U.S.–Cuba relations but also critically analyzing the role of both governments, as well as MLB ballclubs and player agents. Bjarkman notes this to be the collapse of Castro’s baseball empire, which paved the way for MLB’s (and America’s) win in the longue durée of conflict between the two nations that played...