by Clay McKinney
Pinstripe Defection is the story of a twenty-nine-year-old Arkansas
attorney, Jason Browning, and his legal battle with the New York Yankees. Jason was hired by Gustavo Ricalde, the owner of a Mexican League baseball team, who dealt a recently-defected Cuban player to the Yankees. Once terms of the contract for the player, Michel Hernandez, were met the Yankees were to pay the Mexican League team $500,000. But once request for payment was made the Yankees claimed to know nothing of the contract, likened the request to extortion and threatened to call in the FBI.
Jason filed a grievance on his client’s behalf with Major League Baseball and soon the small-town attorney found himself sitting alone, across the deposition table from representatives of the world’s most powerful sports franchise. During the proceedings, Jason uncovered the sordid details of the Cuban player’s odyssey and the lengths to which the Yankees went to get this player out of Mexico and ultimately onto their team.
Jason also discovered evidence of bribery and kick-backs within the Yankees international scouting team involving other Cuban players. Cuban baseball players were a hot commodity and it quickly became obvious the Yankees were prepared to violate MLB rules regarding the handling of Cuban defectors to get what they wanted.
The New York Yankees’ representatives, for example, specifically requested total media blackout in Merida, Mexico, while they assessed the talents of Hernandez. The contract signed to acquire the player was misdated to make their trip even more difficult to prove. Because of the illegal status of the player, the Yankees reps knew they needed help to get their new player out of Mexico. The Yankees’ Director of International Scouting, Gordon Blakely, called in a sport agent known for just such a situation, Gus Dominguez. Using false documents, Dominguez shuttled the player, Michel Hernández, to Venezuela where he spent the next year and a half trying to establish his residency so he could legally enter the United Statesand fulfill his dream of playing baseball in America.
Once the Yankees realized this kid from Arkansas was giving their legal team everything they could handle, they backed away from the proceedings and refused to be a part of any resolution. Jason’s persistence showed no signs of easing, so the office of the Commissioner of MLB paid the settlement—which went to Gustavo Ricalde and remains undisclosed today—with nothing contributed by the Yankees. To this day, Jason isn’t sure if the Yankees knew about the settlement or if MLB just handled it. Either way, Jason is certain it was “hush money” to get him and the story to go away. Protecting the Yankees, MLB’s highest grossing team, was paramount.
Michel Hernandez later stated that he ‘felt a slave to the Yankees.’ Ultimately, all Hernandez wanted was a better life, playing the game he loved in the U.S. This case illuminates the risks Cuban players are willing take to fulfill that dream, but at what cost? Pinstripe Defection unveils the shady world of international baseball scouting in the hopes that others with the dream of playing baseball in America will not be forced to become a ‘slave’ to any team.
This Book also has been written up in the USA Today