Photo: Clay McKinney
The rules and regulations surrounding the international scouting of baseball players is confusing. This confusion is only magnified when dealing with Cuban baseball players that defected from their home country.Enter Pinstripe Defection, a book by author Clay McKinney recounts the saga surrounding a small town lawyer that took on the most powerful sports franchise in all of America, the New York Yankees. Pinstripe Defection provides a rare glimpse into the unscrupulous world of Major League depositions, and the stops that a team will pull in order to get their way in a case with shady undertones.
A talented Cuban catcher named Michel Hernandez defected from Cuba while playing in Mexico for the Cuban National Series based Havana Industriales in 1996. After fleeing, the Mexican League’s Yucatan Leones acquired the rights to Hernandez through various channels.
Hernandez was then allowed to sign with New York after they agreed to pay the Leones $500,000 if he ever made the Yankees’ 40-man roster. In 1998, the two sides signed the agreement. Hernandez did eventually meet that benchmark, but the Yankees never paid up what they owed.
The Leones’ owner Gustavo Ricalde brought this case to the attention of young Jason Browning, an attorney who also was a certified MLBPA agent, at the 2002 Winter Meetings. Although it wasn’t normally his scene, Browning took up the case of proving the validity of the agreement the Leones and the Yankees signed. What followed was in essence a story in the mould of David and Goliath.
Pinstripe Defection is a stripped down, no-nonsense delve into how the long and laborious process played out. McKinney is adept at making the often complicated legal proceedings easy to follow. There are points where the readers will find themselves sympathizing with Browning’s frustrating ordeal of getting Yankees officials to say things other than “I cannot recall.”
What McKinney doesn’t talk about too much is the saga of Hernandez’s coming to America. The history surrounding baseball, Cuba, and defection is a long, sordid tale that could have certainly been talked about for pages and pages, but Defection decided to stick with the other side of the story.
While the story of Browning’s upbringing around baseball and his personal struggle in dealing with the Yankees certainly makes for an interesting read, it’s sometimes hard to overlook how little we learn about Michel Hernandez and other participants in the defection of Cuban baseball players. There are points where McKinney alludes to what other Cuban players have gone through, but there’s almost nothing specific about it. In this facet, the book under performs and leaves the reader wanting a lot more. However, there aren’t many books about the international scouting world, and there are even fewer books about contract disputes involving Cuban players, Mexican League teams, the New York Yankees and Arkansas.
McKinney did a fine job locating a niche in the baseball literature market that had yet to be tapped. Despite it’s shortcomings, the quick-yet-dense book has a lot to offer. It creates a sense of doubt in pretty much any baseball fan’s mind about how legit their favourite team’s signings are. If a team as prominent as the Yankees deals in shady ways such as this, who’s to say all the other teams in the Majors haven’t behaved similarly?
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