Cuba paid Yasiel Puig $17 a month to play baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers pay him $6 million a year. Is it any wonder why he risked life, and literally limb, to escape the Communist prison state for the greener pasture of Chavez Ravine?
Before the outfielder captivated Southern California, he catalyzed an international dispute involving a dictatorship, sanguinary south-of-the-border drug dealers, and a small-time Miami crook in over his head. Jesse Katz tells Puig’s harrowing story in Los Angeles Magazine. The tale, involving drug dealers, kidnapping, human smuggling, and murder, details the long, strange trip that the powerful outfielder endured from Cuba to the major leagues.
“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,” Jesse Katz writes in Los Angeles Magazine. “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.”
Because of byzantine Major League Baseball restrictions on defectors coming straight to the United States, and a money dispute between Puig’s financiers and his smugglers, the young player found himself crammed in a dingy Mexican motel with three other escapees. A Mexican drug gang stood between Puig and his dream. “I don’t know if you could call it a kidnapping, because we had gone there voluntarily, but we also weren’t free to leave,” boxer Yunior Despaigne told Katz. “If they didn’t receive the money, they were saying that at any moment they might give him a machetazo.“
As it turns out, Puig’s Mexican captor got not the machetazo but the pistola. The moneymen received more than a million of the player’s millions. And Los Angeles Dodgers fans embraced a new hero.
The narrative arc of Yasiel Puig’s career, not unlike that of other twenty-two-year-olds, remains incomplete. Stay tuned for the happy ending to the second-year player’s story–or for the coda to a cautionary tale.