Pinstripe Defection is a quick, rather to-the-point book by Clay McKinney that chronicles the journey of one Arkansas lawyer that finds himself taking on the legal behemoth New York Yankees. In that journey, the reader observes some of the inner-workings and darker sides of baseball business through the author's interpretation of his subject's point of view.
The story takes place in the early-to-mid 2000s and centers around the acquisition of Cuban ex-pat Michael Hernandez. If you've seen Sugar, a nice indie film with a similar subject (albeit more about the emotional impact of not being quite good enough to make it after going through the harrowing journey of migrating to the US -- and the subject is from the Dominican Republic), you'll recognize the competing themes of hope vs manipulation that seem to follow many Latin American baseball prospects.
Where this tale differs is that it is more of a legal drama focused on the Mexican League team that initially brought Hernandez in after his escape from Cuba, their attempts to acquire their agreed-to fees from the Yankees for doing the legwork, and the attorney that helped them do it.
Baseball is too much of a sport to be called a business, and too much of a business to be called a sport.
- Philip Wrigley
If there's any real criticism of this book, it's that it reads somewhat like a point-A, point-B hard-boiled detective speaking legalese rather than a complex narrative structure. The staccato rhythmed and stunted sentence style makes for a quick if not completely-engrossing read. This matter-of-fact approach eventually leads the reader to wonder, "wait, how did he know that?" whenever some other non-factual tidbit like his subject's feelings are concerned.
Where this book succeeds, though, is in two specific places. First, the account of the attorney's first visit to baseball's Winter Meeting is extremely exciting and thrilling for a baseball fan with little real understanding of how those meetings work. The second, and I'm not convinced the author intended this, is that Pinstripe Defection paints a really dark divide between those that live and love baseball and those that profit from their endeavor -- not that those are always mutually exclusive. More, it's hard not to come away from this story without a deep-seated loathing of the business side of baseball, where scout directors, agents, and personnel managers appear as one cynical, monolithic juggernaut out to exploit anyone and everyone in their collective way.
You will leave this book, which is a perfect weekend read, still loving baseball and with an enhanced knowledge of baseball operations, especially in Latin America. I wonder if a good screen writer could turn this into a slightly more emotional and captivating tale, but I doubt he or she could make the Yankees' business process into a bigger villain.
Learn more about the book at Clay McKinney's Officila Pinstripe Defection site.