Caught Stealing: The Risky Business of Smuggling Cuban Baseball Players

Aaron Zelenkofske Butler University
Faculty Sponsor(s): Vivian Deno Butler University
In 2017, baseball agent Bartolo Hernandez and trainer Julio Estrada were each sentenced to a minimum of four years in federal prison by a South Florida judge for their involvement in a human smuggling operation that brought Cuban baseball players to the United States. This operation was considered to be highly dangerous to those leaving Cuba as it involved the aid of Los Zetas drug cartel in the process. This high-profile case raised new questions about the way Major League Baseball (MLB) operated regarding players from the small island ninety miles from Key West. Since Cuba’s Revolution in 1959, the United States has revised and implemented special policy regarding immigration from this Caribbean island. Such laws have made life difficult for Cubans looking to go professional and make it to the MLB, where contracts are substantially more lucrative than those available in their home country. Since 1960, young Cuban prospects have illegally defected from Cuba in order to make it to the big leagues where players like José Abreu and Leonys Martín have become stars despite U.S. immigration policy regarding Cuba. "Caught Stealing" delves into the “smuggling” operations, like those Hernandez and Estrada used to transport high-profile Cuban players to the MLB, and the dangerous consequences that arose from them, in addition to the influence of U.S. regional politics. This project looks into the history of immigration policies with Cuba, and how the MLB traditionally navigated and ignored them to collect great baseball talent.
Oral Presentation

When & Where

02:00 PM
Jordan Hall 278