The empire of liberty and the World Baseball Classic

Robert Shenkkan’s new play, Lewis and Clark Reach the Euphrates, begins with Lewis and Clark’s travels through the Louisiana Purchase, a parcel of land acquired in 1803 under the presidency of Thomas Jefferson that doubled the size of the United States. Jefferson was fond of referring to his young country as an “empire of liberty,” a contradictory term mixing imperialism and democracy. When Lewis and Clark encountered tribes in the new land, they informed them that they now had a “Great White Father in the East.”

In Shenkann’s version, the trip takes a few unexpected twists and turns. After their first wrong turn, Lewis and Clark end up at San Juan Hill in Cuba fighting with Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish American War somewhere around 1898. Another wrong turn places them in the Philippines. After the end of the Spanish American War, Spain sold the Philippines to the US for $20,000,000, at least the Louisiana Purchase was cheaper at $15,000,000. After a third time-warp wrong turn, Lewis and Clark are in Vietnam and, finally, they make it to the Euphrates River in Iraq where they unwittingly become the source of bad intelligence that provides evidence of weapons of mass destruction thereby giving the U.S. its excuse to invade Iraq.

What starts out as a trip to announce the arrival of democracy to unsuspecting citizens in the Louisiana Purchase, ends with a role in the exportation of democracy to Iraq. The term “empire of liberty” could just as well have come straight from the mouth of George W. Bush.

After the Spanish American War, the U.S. occupied Cuba until it managed to get its independence four years later. When Fidel Castro overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista forty-five years ago and established a Communist state, Cuba became a pariah in the U.S. Batista was a friend of the U.S government; a dictator is acceptable as long as he is not a Communist. The U.S. imposed an embargo on Cuba in 1962.

And now you know why Cuba cannot play in the first edition of the World Baseball Classic to be held in March 2006.

Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association are the organizers of the sixteen-team tournament that will be played in Japan and the U.S. While it might be nice to think that they organized the tournament to make up for the calling their championship the World Series despite the fact that the world is not invited, the real reason has more to do with expanding Major League Baseball’s global market.

The U.S. Treasury Department has told the organizers that Cuba can’t play in the tournament because the embargo forbids Cuba from earning money in the U.S. This has parallels to the embargo of South Africa during apartheid with one important difference – the U.S. is the only country enforcing the embargo. The United Nations has repeatedly asked the U.S. to end it.

The Cuban baseball team did play a home and away series against the Baltimore Orioles in 1999. The Orioles got around the embargo by donating all proceeds to sports programs in both countries. Last July, Cuba qualified for the Concacaf Gold Cup, a soccer tournament, and played games in Seattle and Foxborough, so it’s possible that a compromise can be reached.

The World Baseball Classic is a good idea, it could grow into an event similar to the World Cup soccer tournament and heaven knows the U.S. could do with some positive P.R. at the moment. Instead, they are punishing a tiny neighboring country that is so crazy about baseball that it has won the last nine Baseball World Cups, an event organized by the International Baseball Federation, a group based in Switzerland under whose rules the World Baseball Classic will be played. Which brings up the question: why is the MLB organizing a new international baseball competition when one already exists?

Last Friday, Jim Rome interviewed David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, on his radio show. When Rome asked Stern if there was something he wanted to do beyond basketball, Stern replied: “to demonstrate that sports has the potential that has been little used in terms of being a force for good on a global basis, … if I had my druthers, we would improve our business then be able to improve what we do about using that business in a much more socially effective way.”

Stern is being a bit shortsighted here. The Olympics have been an important force for good relations on a global level for a long time and traveling exhibitions of sports teams have been instrumental in improving relations between countries much as cultural exchanges have been helpful.

He also doesn’t say exactly how he would carry this idea out but he might want to place a call to a high government official who is a former part owner of the Texas Rangers and spell it out.