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The Big Red Machine
S.L. Price
March 03, 2008
Thanks to Fidel Castro, Cuba is a dysfunctional nation—and a sports power
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March 03, 2008

The Big Red Machine

Thanks to Fidel Castro, Cuba is a dysfunctional nation—and a sports power

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In the end, the most visible accomplishment of Castro's reign may well be the sports program that served as a quaint contrast to the athletic factories in the U.S. As the final of the 2006 World Baseball Classic—Cuba versus Japan—showed, Cuban baseball remains strong. Visiting Americans love going to Cuban games because with no free agency, no franchise movement and no owners blackmailing cities for new stadiums, it all smacks of 1950s America, ignoring the inconvenient fact that such a fantasyland is only possible in a dictatorship. There's a reason raft traffic in the Florida Straits goes only one way.

His legacy? That will take decades to sort out. But it's clear which one Castro preferred. After news broke in 2006 that he might have had intestinal cancer and the world waited to hear whether he was dead or alive, the Cuban regime released the dramatic first photos of its ailing leader. He wore neither the famous military fatigues of his youth, nor the dark business suits he adopted in the 1990s. No, to demonstrate his vigor, Fidel Castro chose instead a sweat suit from the Cuban national team, and for the first time he looked truly pathetic, just another wannabe denying what was obvious to all. Still alive, went the unspoken message. Still ready to play. But his game was done.

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