Stop the nonsense. No more mention of how Jose Abreu isn’t really a rookie and shouldn’t be considered for the American League rookie-of-the-year award that he has a tighter grip on right now than Vladimir Putin has on Russia.
And speaking of dictators, more than a half century after Cuban boss Fidel Castro attempted to lock the doors of his island to prevent his best baseball players from escaping to pursue careers in the game, it seems to be as big a sieve as ever.
Rookie & Refugee
Abreu is 27, a refugee from Cuba who defected in order to make the millions of dollars that he couldn’t earn from sugarcane. He is just the latest prominent big-leaguer to follow the same route of starring on the national team and then defecting.
If Castro had been of a different mindset and his brother Raul, dictator-of-the-moment, was also, then Cuba would be like the Dominican Republic, producing top-notch players regularly and still having them for international competition. Instead, every player who somehow eludes authorities to play Major League baseball leaves loved ones behind, officially becomes a pariah, and is prohibited from returning to the country of his birth.
In exchange, many of the players get rich and in Abreu’s case this season, the husky first-baseman for the Chicago White Sox, gets to pound the bejesus out of other AL teams.
Going into Sunday’s play the 6-foot-3, 255-pounder who wears the distinctive No. 79 on his uniform, had blasted a league-leading 31 home runs with a league-leading 84 runs batted in while batting .310. He had a 21-game hitting streak rolling and had reached base safely on 10 consecutive at-bats.
Some whiners have indicated that Abreu should be ineligible for rookie-of-the-year honors, but under the criteria he is eligible. Yes, he is older. Yes, he played internationally for Cuba. But he never played in the majors before. Case rested. It is the same situation voters and fans faced when Ichiro Suzuki arrived from Japan in 2001 as a fully formed star.
Ichiro was also 27. During his first season with the Seattle Mariners he led the league in batting (.350), stolen bases (56) and hits (242). He was rookie-of-the-year and the Most Valuable Player. There was some grumbling at the time that Ichiro was not a true rookie either.
There were no guarantees that Ichiro was going to succeed so spectacularly, just as the same applied to Abreu before this season. Not every player who makes the leap from Japan to the majors becomes an All-Star. Not every player who defects from Cuba becomes a team leader in the U.S. Certainly, Ichiro was a gem and Abreu is shaping up that way, too.
If it wasn’t for an arm injury sidelining him for weeks the other top American League candidate for rookie-of-the-year would have been New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, another Japanese transfer. The contest for the award between Abreu and Tanaka might have been as hot as any pennant race.
At this moment of the season, regardless of his background, with the challenge from Tanaka dissipated, Abreu is the AL’s top newcomer. Oh yeah, and Abreu is the White Sox's gain and the Castro brothers' loss.