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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Yasiel Puig's Cuban Defection

Yasiel Puig may have good reason to look
over his shoulder.
Photo credit: Ron Reiring
Recently on BPro's terrific Effectively Wild podcast, Ben (and fill-in for Sam, Jason) interviewed Jesse Katz.  Katz, who is not a sports journalist, recently wrote a feature story in Los Angeles Magazine about Yasiel Puig's journey out of Cuba.  It was an amazing story, full of shady dealings and tough times.  Both the interview and the article are highly recommended.  An excerpt:
Puig’s journey, according to claims made in court documents and detailed in interviews, had been underwritten by a small-time crook in Miami named Raul Pacheco, an air-conditioning repairman and recycler who was on probation for attempted burglary and possession of a fake ID. Pacheco had allegedly agreed to pay the smugglers $250,000 to get Puig out of Cuba; Puig, after signing a contract, would owe 20 percent of his future earnings to Pacheco. They were not the first to employ this scheme, a version of which has catapulted many of baseball’s new Cuban millionaires to American shores. It is usurious and expedient, illicit and tolerated. Even if you are as freakishly gifted as Yasiel Puig, there is no humanitarian boat lift delivering you to Chavez Ravine.
The amazing thing is that the story is not really over.  In the minds of those he dealt with, Puig still might owe 20% of his earnings to some of these characters.

It certainly provides an additional, interesting perspective on Puig's background.  A lot of the non-US players that we celebrate on a nightly basis have gone through all kinds of trials and tribulations that we often don't consider.  MLB's questionable conduct in the Dominican Republic, for example, continues to be underreported (here's a thing I wrote about it back in 2007), but these are issues that all fans really should know about.