Cuba not only reigns as the world's Olympic baseball champion, its citizens enjoy superlative professional play at bargain prices in ballparks largely free of commercial gimmicks and hype.
But an economist now weighs in with research showing that Cuba's government-run baseball system exploits its players, while offering its fans less-even competition between teams than in the market-driven United States.
"The organization of baseball in Cuba offers a stark contrast to that of baseball in the U.S.," said Katie Baird, an economist at the University of Washington, Tacoma, and author of the new study on Cuban baseball. "Cuba's system makes a great case study of how organizing sports through non-market rules has unintended consequences."
According to Baird's research, to be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, Cuba's pro players despite their modest $15-a-month salaries generate little profit for the state. Except, that is, for the dozens of stars who have been allowed to accept foreign contracts since the 1990s under a program to cut defections. The Cuban state collects about 80 cents of every dollar they make from their foreign teams.
"Exploitation means that someone other than the laborer receives the value gained from work performed," Baird said. "These foreign contracts are a clear case of exploitation."
Cuban fans griped so much about the exodus of baseball talent that authorities clamped down on the overseas deals. But forcing players to stay in Cuba, Baird said, exploits them in a different way it prevents them from making money in foreign baseball leagues that are keen to hire Cuban talent.