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Declassified Documents from 1975 Reveal Secret U.S.-Cuban Negotiations for Exhibition Games

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 12

For more information contact:
202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu


Washington, D.C. – To commemorate the historic competition of a U.S. and Cuban baseball team on a diamond in Havana this Sunday, the National Security Archive today posted a collection of documents which chronicles the origins of "baseball diplomacy"--an effort initiated 25 years ago.

The documents, ranging from unclassified letters to declassified secret cables and high-level State Department memoranda, reveal the efforts of then-commissioner of baseball, Bowie Kuhn, and his counterparts in Cuba, along with aides to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, to arrange a game between U.S. and Cuban teams in 1975. Among the revelations are:

  • Baseball diplomacy would "help break the ice" between two nations separated by decades of hostility, as ping pong had done for U.S.-Chinese relations, according to memoranda written for Kissinger.
  • U.S. officials believed that "picking a game we are likely to win would go well with Americans who are depressed by the regimented victories of the Communists in Olympic games."
  •  Kissinger's top aide on Latin America, Assistant Secretary of State William Rogers, argued that a baseball game between the two countries "would have a symbolic significance not limited to the sports pages," and "would also reawaken memories of your China moves."
U.S. government officials appealed to Henry Kissinger on Kuhn's behalf, arguing that such a "non-political" meeting of the U.S. and Cuban teams would perhaps "bridge the gap between the Bay of Pigs and a new relationship with Castro." But, despite their persistent efforts, Kissinger twice rejected Kuhn's proposal.

"These documents provide a historical background to the Orioles exhibition game in Cuba," noted National Security Archive senior analyst Peter Kornbluh. "Beisbol diplomacy is not a new idea," he said, "but after 25 years it is an idea whose time has finally come."

Despite continuing controversies, the Baltimore Orioles will be the first major-league baseball team to play in Cuba in 40 years. A second game in Baltimore is slated for later in the Spring.




Document 1

January 14, 1975
[Letter from Bowie K. Kuhn to Henry Kissinger]

This letter records the first effort of the U.S. Baseball Commissioner, Bowie K. Kuhn, to arrange meetings between U.S. and Cuban baseball teams. In the letter, Kuhn tells Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that the Cuban Government Sports Agency (INDER) has indicated strong interest in having a U.S. professional team play a series of games in Havana, with possibilities for future games in the United States. He notes that he has inside information that Premier Castro favors the joint project and requests Kissingerís guidance before meeting with INDER director Jorge García Bango in Mexico City the next week.


Document 2

January 16, 1975
[Kuhnís Letter to Kissinger]
Department of State, Interdepartmental Memo

This interdepartmental memo notes Henry Kissingerís receipt of Bowie Kuhnís letter requesting advice on the proposed U.S.-Cuba baseball game. Stating that Kissinger "does not have time to talk with Kuhn," an aide forwards the task to William Rogers, Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs.


Document 3

January 18, 1975
[As to the Baseball Team Visit]
Department of State, Secret/NODIS/Eyes Only Action Memorandum (Extract)

William Rogers reminds Henry Kissinger of Bowie Kuhnís letter of January 14 and notes that although U.S. policy has in the past granted visas to Olympic-level athletes, the project proposed by Kuhn would be much more "widely noted" than previous sports exchanges. A marginal note by Kissinger reads, simply, "No."


Document 4

January 21, 1975
Cuba -- Baseball
Department of State, Secret/NODIS/Eyes Only Briefing Memorandum

William Rogers reports to Henry Kissinger that Bowie Kuhn "understood" when told he should not complete arrangements for a Major League meeting with Cuba "at this time." Rogers notes that Kuhn intends to continue communicating with the Cuban representatives in hopes that the trip can go forward sometime in the spring.


Document 5

January 30, 1975
[Letter from Bowie Kuhn to William Rogers]

Despite orders from Kissinger to not conclude a final deal with Cuba, Bowie Kuhn reports that he will meet with the Cuban INDER delegation in Mexico City later in the week. He anticipates that arrangements will be finalized at the meeting and will lack "only your blessing."


Document 6

February 13, 1975
[William Rogers to Henry Kissinger; Kuhnís Efforts Continue]
Department of State, Secret/NODIS/Eyes Only Memorandum

William Rogers summarizes a phone conversation with Bowie Kuhn, in which Kuhn reported the results of his Mexico City meeting with the Cuban representatives. Kuhn stated the meeting was "marked by friendliness and keen interest in being constructive" and culminated in a plan for U.S. major league players to travel to Havana in late March to conduct clinics for Cuban players and play an exhibition game. Kuhn urged a positive response from Rogers and Kissinger, noting that baseball has the "magic value in projecting a positive image of the U.S."


Document 7

February 14, 1975
Action Memorandum: Baseball Team to Cuba
Department of State, Secret Cable

In this cable to Henry Kissinger, William Rogers and Lawrence Eagleburger, Rogers and Kissingerís aide, once again broach the subject of Bowie Kuhnís proposed baseball schedule. They suggest that if the plans go forward, a presidential announcement could be made noting that "sports are different from politics." They request Kissingerís recommendation to either continue the planning efforts or to "turn Kuhn off."


Document 8

February 15, 1975
[Response to "Baseball Team to Cuba"]
Department of State, Confidential Cable

In response to the cable sent the previous day by William Rogers and Lawrence Eagleburger, Henry Kissinger informs them that he is against sending a baseball team to Cuba "at this time," but requests their arguments as to why it should be done.


Document 9

February 19, 1975
Additional Talking Points on Sending a Baseball Team to Cuba
Department of State, Secret/NODIS Memorandum

Responding to Henry Kissingerís request for reasons why a U.S. baseball team should travel to Cuba, Culver Gleysteen of the Office of Cuban Affairs and William Rogers outline various positive effects that could result from engaging in baseball competition with Cuba. For instance, they state that a game would provide an opportunity for the President to make "an inescapable comment on Cuban policy" which would serve to "correct some of the distortions in the public mind" and "undercut demonology in Cuban propaganda about the U.S." In addition, baseball might "bridge the gap between the Bay of Pigs and a new relationship with Castro" or it may shift the emphasis of U.S.-Cuban relations to an entirely non-political, non-controversial area. They do warn, however, that sending a prominent baseball team to Cuba would be read by Castro as a political gesture in U.S.-Cuban relations.


Document 10

February 24, 1975
Department of State, Secret/NODIS/Eyes Only Briefing Memorandum

William Rogers notifies Henry Kissinger that, per his instructions, the baseball game idea has been "called off." Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhnís response was that he realized that there were problems "larger than baseball" and requests that he be notified when a major league visit to Cuba would be considered more appropriate.


Document 11

March 17, 1975
[Letter from Bowie Kuhn to Fabio Ruíz Vinajeras]

Following Henry Kissingerís rejection of the baseball game idea, Bowie Kuhn writes to INDER Deputy Director Fabio Ruíz Vinajeras apologizing for the fact that "communications difficulties between our two countries have prevented" them from pursuing the meeting of teams on a Havana baseball diamond. Kuhn remarks that he continues to study alternate possibilities and welcomes any suggestions from Ruíz Vinajeras.


Document 12

May 13, 1975
[Letter from Bowie Kuhn to William Rogers]

This letter reflects Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhnís persistent efforts to revive baseball diplomacy with Cuba. Kuhn suggests that, in light of recent publicity about Fidel Castroís invitation to play, an announcement be made that a U.S. team will play in Cuba in the spring of 1976. He requests William Rogersí approval.


Document 13

May 21, 1975
[Letter from Fabio Ruíz Vinajeras to Bowie Kuhn]
(In Spanish; Translation Attached)

INDER Deputy Director Fabio Ruíz Vinajeras responds to Bowie Kuhnís letter of March 17, stating that he and his colleagues are aware that the inability to finalize plans for a meeting of U.S. and Cuban baseball teams was not due to any lack of effort on Kuhnís behalf. Ruíz Vinajeras encourages Kuhn to contact them if and when an alternative plan has been outlined.


Document 14

June 12, 1975
Baseball Exchange with Cuba
Department of State, Confidential/Eyes Only Memorandum

Culver Gleysteen lists the salient points of a meeting between William Rogers and Senator McGovern regarding continued planning for a U.S.-Cuba exhibition game. Included in the topics discussed are: any matches in Cuba should be combined with a match in Santo Domingo "for general foreign policy purposes." Rogers has asked Bowie Kuhn to draw up a proposal to be presented to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; and told him that the whole matter must be kept absolutely confidential.


Document 15

June 13, 1975
Outline of Cuban Exhibition Game Proposal

Responding to the request from William Rogers, Bowie Kuhn draws up this outline which covers the principal features of the proposed travel of a U.S. team to Cuba. He indicates how the teams would be chosen; who would be traveling, when and how many games would be played; and how television coverage would be coordinated. Kuhn highlights that the purpose of the games would be to "engender cordial relations" between the nations through baseball and that there would be no political aspects. Rogers intends to present Kuhnís proposal directly to Henry Kissinger.


Document 16

June 21, 1975
Baseball and Cuba?
Department of State, Secret/NODIS/Eyes Only Action Memorandum

In this options paper, William Rogers presents Bowie Kuhnís proposal to Henry Kissinger and argues in favor of Kuhnís plan to send an All Star team to Cuba. Rogers suggests that due to the fact that the Cubans returned $2 million in ransom money, a baseball game might be "a tidy and apolitical gesture in response." Rogers lists several options and requests Kissingerís recommendations about arrangements and timing. Kissingerís handwritten responses appear in the margins.


Document 17

July 3, 1975
[Letter from Bowie Kuhn to William Rogers]

Following up on his June 13 proposal for Henry Kissinger, Bowie Kuhn prods William Rogers for an approval to proceed with plans for a meeting of U.S. and Cuban baseball teams. Recalling his letter of May 13 suggesting a public announcement of the plan, Kuhn expresses his hope that Kissinger will make the announcement at the July 15 All Star Game in Milwaukee.


Document 18

July 14, 1975
All-Star Baseball Team to Cuba
Department of State, Confidential/NODIS Briefing Memorandum

William Rogers passes Henry Kissinger a copy of Bowie Kuhnís most recent letter of inquiry and notes that Kuhn may approach Kissinger directly at the All Star Game in order to further discuss the matter.


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