The Washington Post
Saturday, May 20, 2000; Page A22

Playing Ball With Cuba

                  THE BALTIMORE Orioles don't need a foreign policy; they need some
                  relief pitching. Nevertheless, as it struggled without much success to get
                  back to .500 this week, Peter Angelos's team seemed to be dabbling in
                  international politics with the issuance of a statement that indicated it would
                  not sign ballplayers who come here from Cuba.

                  Syd Thrift, vice president for baseball operations of the club, which played
                  a home-and-home series with the Cuban national team last year, told the
                  Washington Times: "After the good will created between the two countries
                  by the visit, we--Mr. Angelos in particular--feel it best to not do anything
                  that could be interpreted as being disrespectful or . . . encouraging players
                  to defect."

                  Questioned later about the statement, Mr. Thrift said it enunciated a
                  "concept" rather than a policy, and whatever it was, Mr. Angelos amended
                  it soon afterward by saying the Orioles would consider signing Cubans but
                  "would not solicit or encourage anyone to defect--rather we would
                  discourage that."

                  Mr. Angelos spent some time in the company of Fidel Castro during last
                  year's venture in baseball diplomacy, but even so it's hard to understand his
                  sensitivity about disrupting the order of things in Cuba. The Orioles' owner
                  is a very successful lawyer-entrepreneur whose father emigrated to this
                  country like millions before and after him to make a better life here. Among
                  the emigres in this century have been numerous Dominican outfielders,
                  Venezuelan shortstops and Japanese pitchers. From Cuba, however, you
                  don't generally emigrate--you escape. Then you have to "defect" (an
                  increasingly archaic verb).

                  Most people in this country regard it as a triumph when a talented man
                  such as Orlando Hernandez makes it through a sea of adversity to pitch for
                  the Yankees and earn his fortune in America. They certainly don't consider
                  it something to be discouraged.