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The Duke of Havana chronicles El Duque’s long road to the major leagues

This installment of Pinstripe Alley’s book club focuses on a fan-favorite pitcher


When Major League Baseball went on hiatus, we here at Pinstripe Alley thought it would be a good time to catch up on some good Yankees books. In late March we published an invitation to read The Duke of Havana: Baseball, Cuba, and the Search for the American Dream by Steve Fainaru and Ray Sanchez. This book chronicles the life of Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez through his historic rise inside the confines of the Cuban baseball system, culminating with the on-field and personal drama surrounding his incredible performance in the 1998 postseason with the Yankees.

If you missed that article, or just did not get around to reading the book, I’ll give you a cheat code for this one. This story is the basis for the popular ESPN 30 for 30 episode Brothers in Exile. If you want to brush up on the story, it’s a great introduction to “El Duque”.

Here are some discussion questions to consider:

1. The Cuban National team was at its peak in the late 1980s through the 1992 Olympics. At one point in the book, it is mentioned that some people hoped to influence the core of the Cuban team to a mass defection with the intention of funneling them to the expansion Florida Marlins. The Yankees, and one of the international scouts Rudy Santin, were also trying to corner the market on Cuban talent. If a large group of the Cuban team had defected together with players like Orlando Hernandez, Rene Arocha, Rolando Arrojo, Omar Linares, Victor Mesa, and German Mesa in 1993-1995 time frame, how good could the Bombers have been?

2. It was surprising to me to find that El Duque was not considered a big-game pitcher in Cuba. This stemmed from his terrible performance in the 1992 Olympics against the United States. Does this remind you of other players who could not shake a similar stigma? Or players who get the big-game reputation for one performance but then don’t back it up?

3. After working his way to the major leagues, Orlando Hernandez immediately made his mark with the Yankees during the 1998 season. What is your favorite El Duque memory?

4. The Yankees reportedly offed Livan Hernandez more money than the Marlins, but due to broken relationships with former scout Rudy Santin, he was directed to Florida. Is it interesting to think of what 1997 looks like in Yankees history if the World Series MVP wore pinstripes?

5. Early in the book, the authors compare the salaries of Kevin Brown, then the highest-paid pitcher in the major leagues and El Duque in Cuba. The two men are doing the same job in countries separated by 90 miles, yet Brown signed a $105 million contract, while El Duque earned less than $9 a month for doing a comparable job. Is there a particular statistic or story in the book that jumps out at you?

6. What should Rene Arocha’s legacy be? He was the first significant Cuban player to defect in the early 1990’s, and modeled the do’s-and-don’ts for the players.

We invite you to answer any or all of the questions listed above, and to ask your own to get the discussion going.