The first time Major League Baseball came calling, Rolando Macias said no. Then 17-years old, illiterate, and devoted to the mother and grandma who raised him, the gifted Cuban pitcher declined a contract with the Cincinnati Reds in 1958.
The next year, Fidel Castro orchestrated the Revolution that would keep him in power for the next 67 years.
Meanwhile, Macias continued to throw fire, leading Cuba to a gold medal in the Pan American Games in 1963.
In 1967, the New York Giants offered Macias a contract, and in 1969 the Brooklyn Dodgers. But, under Castro, Cuban players were forbidden to sign MLB contracts and Macias did not want to defect.
He declined the lucrative American contracts, but pitched his way to a 21-game winning streak and also earned Cuba two straight gold medals in the Pan Am games, in 1971 and 1975.
He retired in 1978, still the best pitcher in Cuba. For the next 22 years, he coached youth teams and earned four world championships with those teams.
Three current major league athletes, Yasiel Puig Valdés, who plays for the Dodgers, José Abreu, who plays for the White Sox, and Kendrys Morales, who plays for the Royals, all got their start with Macias. There are 16 Macias protégés currently playing AAA ball.
Cuban players still have to defect from their country in order to play Major League Baseball, and they do this with no contract guarantees. According to Macias, 200 current players have defected from Cuba and only 26 are currently playing in the Major Leagues.
Still, when you consider that the average salary in Cuba is $25 a month, even the minor league players have better resources available to them in the United States than they would have in Cuba.
Abreu’s six-year contract with the Sox included a $68 million guarantee.
But, Macias said he has no regrets about his decision to stay in Cuba.
“After the Revolución, I became a professor. I married and had a family and things I never thought I’d have,” Macias said through an interpreter.