Bjarkman, the senior writer of the Baseball de Cuba website, engagingly probes the sensational influx of Cuban baseball defectors who brave everything to get those mega-buck paydays in American major-league baseball, causing a talent drain on the island. The real-life stories behind Cuban refugees’ stellar appearances in American ballparks often involve greedy big-league scouts, speedy cigarette boats, and illegal smuggling and kidnapping financed by Miami crime syndicates and operated by deadly Mexican drug cartels. Stories of baseball dynamos Aroldis Chapman, Leonys Martin, Yasiel Puig, and others are cautionary tales of betrayal, peril, desperation, and corruption as racketeers and agents shake down the naive, talented, poor youths for a share of their multimillion-dollar salaries. The writer moves the reader through a summary of Cuba’s baseball history from the first game in 1874 to the excellence in the Cuban League under Castro’s regime, a prime distraction from El Jefe’s grand social experiment. Bjarkman writes expertly of the raiding of local talent and the rapid thawing of political wills of America and Cuba, and he proclaims that the proud island 'will steadfastly remain the jealous owner of its domestic baseball destiny.'
— Publishers Weekly
After the integration of major league baseball in 1947, Cuban ballplayers such as Minnie Miñoso, Pedro Ramos, and Sandy Amorós dotted rosters throughout the National and American Leagues. Later, legends including Tony Pérez, Tony Olivia, and the incomparable Luis Tiant left Cuba before the start of the country’s revolution in 1953 prevented future stars from entering American baseball. Since that time, several players defected to the United States. The numbers increased as Cuba’s economy declined; from 23 in 2009 to 36 in 2013, including Yasiel Puig and Aroldis Chapman. Cuban baseball, with a proud and fascinating history of its own, has suffered from these losses. Now that U.S.-Cuba relations have warmed, prospects for the game’s future in the latter have seriously declined. In clear prose, Bjarkman details the shift of Cuban stars to the major leagues at the expense of Cuban baseball. His latest book is a revelation, specifically its documentation of the often shady U.S. role in recruiting top talent. VERDICT Bjarkman presents an original social history for sports enthusiasts and readers interested in past and future Cuba-U.S. ties.
— Library Journal
Bjarkman is senior writer for BaseballdeCuba and the author of many books, including A History of Cuban Baseball, 1864-2006. In great depth, this volume examines the story of the 59 Cuban defectors who played in Major League Baseball through 2015—comprising 31 percent of all ‘Cuban big leaguers.’ Based on primary research and 20 years of travel to Cuba, Bjarkman describes how the Cuban baseball system achieved great international success, and discusses the impact of the historic relations between the US and Cuba on recent limited athletic contacts. He analyzes how and why star players illegally left their country to play baseball overseas, for reasons such as mistreatment by coaches, the lure of millions, and a desire to test themselves against the best at the price of leaving families behind. Some defected while on overseas tours, but others left on dangerous boat trips, leaving these individuals beholden to gangsters who helped finance trips. Bjarkman is very critical of the entire process and fears for the future of Cuban baseball. The book is thorough… [and] does contain illustrations and endnotes.
Summing Up: Recommended. . . .Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; general readers.
— Choice Reviews
Peter Bjarkman is scrutinizing exceptional athletes such as Gourriel and the forces that push and pull them, allowing readers to draw conclusions about the future of Cuban baseball. Bjarkman — probably the foremost expert of Cuban baseball in the United States who is close to many of the players he writes about — doesn’t spare the corporate machine that is U.S. Major League Baseball either. He points out how the official MLB policy of forcing Cuban players to cut all ties to their homeland not only triggered the stream of talent, but also produced tales of human trafficking and violations of Cuban law. And it contributes to the destruction of the Cuban model. Bjarkman draws an unusual conclusion for the future of U.S. baseball: 'Baseball’s salvation as a twenty-first century sport depends on the continued health of alternative baseball worlds' — such as the Cuban one. A big-league book!
— Cuba Standard
When Peter Bjarkman writes about Cuban baseball it is always a 'must read.' One may agree or disagree with his premises, but his decades of study and presence in the stadiums of Cuba confer on him a knowledge about this subject that cannot be denied, one born from his first-hand knowledge and closeness to his subject. (translated from the original Spanish)
— el Nuevo Herald
Some readers might assume a book about Cuban baseball defectors would take the Hollywood approach, shining a light on Puig and other stars who’ve risked life and limb for political freedom and major league glory. But Peter C. Bjarkman’s new book, Cuba’s Baseball Defectors: The Inside Story, offers a more skeptical view of that narrative, as well as a scathing critique of the agents who turn a blind eye to the human trafficking that’s behind many defections. He’s focused less on the star players and their sensational escapes and more on the sum total of those defections, and the impact they have on a community left behind. . . .The 'inside story' promised by the book’s title is essentially one of a special vantage point, of an isolated institution looking outward. Bjarkman, an American, gives the impression that he’s adopted this 'alternate baseball universe' as his own, in the process renouncing his former allegiances, not in political terms but simply as a fan who’s grown in love with a certain brand of baseball. Maybe it’s the natural result of someone attending hundreds of Cuban games as the author has, both those on the island and abroad in international competition. It’s clear that after visiting the island more than 50 times since 1997 and reporting extensively on Cuban baseball, he brings expertise to the subject.
— Baseball America
If you have an interest in Cuban baseball, then this is the book you need. Bjarkman is the end all, be all authority on Cuban baseball. He knows every inside story on every player in the country and understands the Cuban culture, which allows him to understand the mindset of the players. He is the man ahead of the headlines and shares with his readers the back stories of the players that have come into the U.S over the past few years, how Cuban baseball factors into the lives of those who live in the country and how baseball has aided in helping the relations between Cuba and the U.S. This is a very comprehensive work and Bjarkman is second to none on his knowledge of the Cuban game, their players and the proud society of Cuba. If you want to learn about Cuban baseball, I will say it again, you need not look any farther than here. Bjarkman has spent 20 plus years on this subject and it shows through in this body of work.
— Gregg's Baseball Bookcase
From a baseball standpoint, Bjarkman convincingly illustrates the one-sided nature through which MLB executives imagine total US control over Cuban labor and consumer markets in the development of academies, exhibitions, memorabilia, and television broadcast rights.... [T]here is much to appreciate in Bjarkman’s thorough treatment of the current plight of Cuban baseball.
— Sport in American History
Cuban baseball is largely unknown to most American baseball fans. What most do know are the current crop of players from that island, like Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman and Jose Abreu. They all have fascinating backstories, and author Peter Bjarkman, one of Cuban baseball's foremost authorities in the US, has put together a fascinating look at the island's baseball history in Cuba's Baseball Defectors: The Inside Story.... If you enjoy Cuban baseball, Cuba's Baseball Defectors is a book you must read. Bjarkman goes into some minute details about it, and at the end of the book lists not only the Cubans who have played in MLB since 1871, but has a comprehensive list of all players who have defected from the island since 1980. There are plenty of stats, but there's even more intrigue and cloak-and-dagger stuff behind those men who left the country for various reasons to play ball in America.
— The Mighty Quinn Media Machine
As usual, Peter Bjarkman is the go-to guy for the best information about all things baseball cubano. He has seen these players long before most of us ever heard their names. This is a fabulous read!
— Eric Nadel, award-winning radio announcer for the Texas Rangers
This is the book we fans of Cuban baseball have been waiting for! Insightful, intriguing, and filled with invigorating stories. Author Peter Bjarkman bats 1000 with this one!
— Byron Motley, author and photographer of Embracing Cuba
Cuba’s Baseball Defectors is a detailed account of the hundreds of players that have left the island over the past quarter century and decimated the country’s powerhouse national teams. But more important, it is an up-to-date narrative of the role baseball plays in the new political dynamics between the United States and Cuba. This is a must-read book for anyone interested in contemporary Cuba.
— Milton Jamail, author of Full Count: Inside Cuban Baseball
Nobody knows more about the intertwining of politics and baseball in Cuba than Peter Bjarkman—he is the dean of information on this topic. Bjarkman has traveled to Cuba for many years and has formed relationships with officials in both these areas.
— Omar Minaya, Senior VP of Baseball Operations, San Diego Padres
Peter Bjarkman is the ultimate chronicler of Cuban baseball. His latest book takes an inside look into the wave of player departures that has rocked the game both in Cuba and the U.S., while providing historical perspective on the complicated relationship between the countries.
— Jorge Ortiz, USA Today
Peter Bjarkman is the only authoritative commentator on baseball in post-revolution Cuba. Cuba’s Baseball Defectors combines scholarship and the author’s insights gained from his close personal ties to Cuban players, officials, and ordinary Cubans. Defectors is not only a great book about Cuban baseball, but an important book about contemporary Cuba.
— Kit Krieger, Cubaball Tours
No American understands baseball’s role in Cuba better than Peter Bjarkman, and in Cuba’s Baseball Defectors he is our guide behind the headlines. With a historian’s eye, he both charts the game’s past and explains why baseball matters to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of Cuba today.
— Ben Strauss, coauthor of Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA
Daring, honest, exceptional… Peter C. Bjarkman has written a must-read primer for anyone considering the truth behind Cuban baseball’s impact on Major League Baseball. Read this book and learn from one of the best.
— Ray Otero-Alonso, director of BaseballdeCuba.com