THE PRIDE OF HAVANA: A Hystory of Cuban Baseball

THE PRIDE OF HAVANA: A Hystory of Cuban Baseball

Marty Linsky

By Roberto Gonzilez Echevarria.Oxford Univ. Press. 464 pp. $35

Read Time:
6m 16sec

troversies: his earlier work, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case, enraged the American Left by demonstrating that Alger Hiss was in fact a Soviet agent. Vassiliev is a former KGB agent. Based on thousands of classified Soviet documents, their book suggests that New Deal Washington was riddled with Americans spying for the Soviet Union. Congressman Samuel Dickstein, Treasury official Harry Dexter White, State Department official Laurence Duggan, FDR’s personal assistant Laurence Lauchlin—these are just a few of the dramatis personae who figure in Weinstein and Vassiliev’s narrative. The American Left, foremost among its champions the Nation magazine, long maintained the innocence of suspects such as Duggan. But by drawing on Soviet documents, the authors are able to show definitively that Duggan and other spies delivered numerous secret government documents to their Soviet handlers, thereby giving Stalin a window into the workings of official Washington.

While Weinstein and Vassiliev’s book is solid fare, Haynes and Klehr’s is better. Haynes, a historian in the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress, and Klehr, a professor at Emory University, Atlanta, offer a superbly detailed and scholarly examination of Soviet espionage. The authors focus on American decryptions of Soviet cables during World War II. These cables, only recently declassified, indicate that the Communist Party of America did not, as revisionist historians maintain, act independently of Moscow, focusing on social work. Instead, according to Haynes and Klehr, the Venona transcripts "expose beyond cavil the American Communist party as an auxiliary of the intelligence agencies of the Soviet Union."

Defenders of Hiss and other spies argue that the Soviet cables cannot be trusted. They say that the agents, trying to impress their bosses back home, embellished or downright invented sources. Haynes and Klehr say this is bunk. They detail the intricate recruiting process and note that "a faked or exaggerated source would show up quickly and might entail severe consequences for the offending officer. In most cases Moscow expected the delivery of actual or filmed documents of reports written personally by the source."

The implications of these findings are not trivial. Had American spies not handed over atomic secrets, Haynes and Klehr argue, Stalin would not have been able to build the bomb so quickly and might have hesitated before authorizing North Korea’s incursion into the South. What is more, the authors contend, President Harry S. Truman’s efforts to ferret out spies during the late 1940s were no overreaction, but a necessary corrective to years of indulgence toward Soviet skullduggery.

Neither of the books succeeds in plumbing the motivations of Moscow’s American spies. Surely one reason for the readiness of Americans to betray their country was the naive belief that the Soviet Union was the only power in the 1930s standing up to fascist Germany. Nevertheless, these two books shatter the fable of communist innocence in America.

—Jacob Heilbrunn

THE PRIDE OF HAVANA: A History of Cuban Baseball.

By Roberto González Echevarría. Oxford Univ. Press. 464 pp. $35

As a boy in the late 1940s and early ’50s, I whiled away my time poring over sports magazines and baseball books, soaking up the lore and memorizing names, dates, and sta-

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tistics. As a long-suffering Boston Red Sox fan, I continue to follow the game and live through the curse that has plagued the team ever since the Babe was sold to the hated New York Yankees. But sometime in the 1960s, politics replaced baseball as my favorite diversion, and I now while away more time with C-SPAN than with ESPN.

González Echevarría, a scholar of Latin American literature at Yale University, has served up a tureen of politics and baseball, with a little foreign affairs to spice the mix, that would have been on my menu had my obsessions coexisted. The Pride of Havana is a massively detailed chronicle of the history of baseball in Cuba, written with the passion of a fan of the country and of the game.

González Echevarría makes a convincing case that America’s national pastime is also Cuba’s national pastime. Baseball was played on the island as early as it was played in the United States, and by the turn of the century, it had replaced bullfighting at the center of the Cuban psyche. It has been organized in clubs, schools, and leagues both amateur and professional. At various times in the last hundred years, Cuban baseball has been a professional opportunity for African American ballplayers who were then barred from the U.S. major leagues, a threat to the majors (which, facing the possibility of a competing professional league on the American continent, used their congressionally granted monopoly power to try to drive Cuban baseball out of business), a spring training and barnstorming site for American teams, and a breeding ground for future American stars. It has also been a calling card for a Cuban who ultimately made his mark outside sports: Fidel Castro, who, according to the author, hardly played at all and was decidedly mediocre.

Cuba has always shown a fascination with things American (if not a preference for them), and the story of Cuban baseball is as much a metaphor for the love-hate relationship between Cuba and the United States as it is a sports story. Indeed, it appears now that baseball may become the wedge toward normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations in the same way that table tennis was for U.S.-China relations. The idea that the United States and Cuba share a national pastime will make the frosty relations look sillier than ever.

González Echevarría’s book is part baseball history, part U.S.-Cuban relations, part race relations, part sorry tale of American arrogance and power, and part memoir and love story. Perhaps that’s the problem. The author cares deeply about his subject, but the detail ultimately overwhelms the story. In the end, I fear, González Echevarría will have pleased neither his academic colleagues nor the maniacal fans of Cuban baseball, mostly because he has tried so hard to please both.

—Marty Linsky

The American Left, the Cold War,
and Modern Feminism.

By Daniel Horowitz. Univ. of Massachusetts Press. 400 pp. $29.95

In The Feminine Mystique (1963), Betty Friedan identified a malaise among American women, a frustration stemming from the isolation and intellectual emptiness of postwar suburban life. Friedan urged women to transcend their roles as wives and mothers and seek additional fulfillment in purposeful work. The Feminine Mystique served as a catalyst for the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and its author was founding president of the National Organization for Women and went on to achieve fame as a speaker and writer in behalf of women.

Friedan has said that the book grew out of her own frustrations with suburban domesticity, but Horowitz, drawing on archival sources and interviews with Friedan’s friends and associates (though Friedan herself, among others, declined to cooperate), insists on different origins. He maintains that Friedan’s ideas about women’s equality stemmed from her left-wing labor journalism in the 1930s and 1940s, and that her freelance writing for women’s magazines in the 1950s continued to show glimpses of this radicalism.

A historian at Smith College who has written about American consumer culture, Horowitz carefully delineates the links between the Popular Front feminism of the Old Left and the New Left feminism of the 1960s, thereby casting doubt on the claims

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