A recent email exchange with fellow SABR member Leslie Heaphy (an expert on both women in baseball and Negro leagues history) brought to mind a notable feature of the contemporary Cuban League which seems to merit an immediate blog entry. The Cuban League once again seems to far outpace the majors when it comes to groundbreaking innovations aimed at stripping away the sport’s atrocious record (at least at the North American professional level) when it comes to including black ballplayers, black managers, black executives, and (God forbid!) female ballplayers or umpires onto its playing fields or into its male inner sanctums.
At the beginning of the recent 2006-2007 Cuban National Series season the league welcomed its first woman umpire into its highest level of national professional baseball. Yanet Moreno Mendinueta, 32-year-old native of Santa Clara, made her league debut in the season’s lid-lifting game between Matanzas and Villa Clara on December 6, 2006. In May of 2007 she successfully completed her inaugural season with the league and all indications are that she will be welcomed back for a sophomore campaign during Series Nacional XLVII, which kicks off this coming December. A far cry from the sad saga attached to one-time MLB umpiring hopeful Pam Postema.
Yanet Moreno was the suject of a brief but revealing December 10, 2006 Granma Cuban press interview authored by Jose Antonio Fulgueiras. In that piece she revealed that she grew up playing street baseball in her Alamar neighborhood but failed to show much promise as a player in either hardball or softball. She later was encouraged a female softball instructor who suggested her switch to umpiring. The transition proved so successful that Yanet earned a spot in the Cuban national umpiring academy and rapidly worked her way up the ladder by officiating school, national youth league and eventual top category provincial league (Cuba’s minors) games. Yanet’s debut National Series game in Matanzas in December proved something of a trial-by-fire, as she worked behind the plate and was nearly kayoed by a foul tip in the early innings. But she survived that early scare and earned nothing but respect for her work as the season progressed.
When asked in the early-season Granma interview for her views on advantages and disadvantages of a female umpire she provided a most interesting observation. "All the players were born to a woman and all thus have a lot of respect for woman, who after all are always much stricter and also much more impartial."
Cuban baseball’s very charm for those of us who know it well lies in large part in the throw-back aspects of the sport: viz. its recapturing of the days when the sport was played in small and more intimiate parks and was far more of a pastoral drama and far less of an television-orchestrated electronic sideshow. But at least with the case of Yanet Moreno, Cuban League baseball seems to have already moved far into the future when compared to its commercial big league cousin.