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'Sports Illustrated' Details How Some Cuban Players Make It To The U.S.


For the third year in a row, the Los Angeles Dodgers are playing for a spot in the World Series. A couple of the team's star players are Cuban. Now, a new report in Sports Illustrated lays out the dubious ways that some of those players make it to the U.S.

JON WERTHEIM: The Dodgers have long had a very rich pipeline to the Caribbean and to Cuba. And one document that we cited in the article, they at some point had an internal ranking system of just how corrupt some of their own scouts were.

MARTIN: SI executive editor Jon Wertheim says that, at one point, the Dodgers called one of their own employees unbelievably corrupt. Wertheim told me that in order to get access to top baseball talent in Cuba, teams often go through agents called buscones.

WERTHEIM: The buscone is a middleman based in Latin America who essentially takes equity stakes in prospects. Sometimes it can be 40, 50, 60 percent of future earnings, but for prospects desperate enough, that's - you know, that's a risk they'll undertake.

MARTIN: And now it might be a legal risk. According to Sports Illustrated, the Justice Department is investigating whether some teams broke federal corruption laws to sign Cuban players.

WERTHEIM: Extraction of Cuban players has always been shrouded in some mystery in baseball. But this evidence that the FBI was presented with, and we were as well, indicates that that the complicity runs potentially to teams and agents as well as the middlemen, the buscones, that have always been implicated in this.

MARTIN: And is it basically impossible for a baseball player in Cuba to find his way into the major leagues without help from one of these middlemen?

WERTHEIM: It's very difficult. Part of that is because of the embargo with Cuba and a player must establish residency in another country, usually in the Caribbean or Mexico, before coming to the U.S. So what you have is a network of these street-level agents that really have been operating outside of anything that the U.S. or Major League Baseball has jurisdiction over.

MARTIN: So you obtained these documents that you say offer a window into how baseball teams operate in Latin America, especially in Cuba. Can you explain what you found and what it shows?

WERTHEIM: We were given hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents that were also turned over to the FBI - this dossier. And what it shows is that teams and agents have - what seems pretty clear from the documents anyway - a level of complicity. And in some cases, that's scouts on the take, and in some cases, that is about helping to arrange documents, using outside counsel to essentially falsify documents. And one does think that this is something that could implicate teams and Major League Baseball as an institution, which is something that hasn't really happened before. This is the first time, so far as we could tell, where you have this level of documentation.

MARTIN: Clearly, I mean, as you've articulated, this has been somewhat of an open secret for generations, really, but now that you have the documents that allegedly shows some of this dubious recruiting behavior, do you watch these players in these games differently?

WERTHEIM: It's interesting. As - plied with this information, you do watch these games and some of these players differently. You realize that the story of the extraction is often a lot more complex than it's perhaps portrayed as being. And you also wonder about the economics, that, again, a lot of these players are not operating under the standard rates for agents. You know, a 4 or 5 percent agent fee is not applying in a lot of these cases. And to me, one thing you think about is just how many people along the way, how many institutions even, have profited by these players making it to the major leagues.

MARTIN: Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated and CBS' "60 Minutes." Jon, thanks for sharing your reporting on this.

WERTHEIM: Anytime. Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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