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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The sirens cut through the Cuban night like knives through sailcloth, and soon Kendry Morales was in handcuffs. The tongue of a tipster, a snitch—who it was, he still does not know—had led to the quick end of Morales's first attempt to defect from the country of his birth. It was Dec. 31, 2003. Morales spent New Year's Day, and the two days after that, in jail. Cuba is shaped like a hand cupped over a mug of coffee, and it does not easily part its fingers to allow its sons to escape, particularly when they are 20 years old and can hit better than anyone Castro's baseball-mad nation had produced in a generation.
Morales, though, hadn't been hitting anything, not recently. In November 2003 the young slugger had been whisked back to the island from Panama in the middle of an Olympic qualifying tournament, and shortly thereafter he disappeared from the lineup of Havana's Industriales, Cuba's premier club team. He displayed a poor attitude in training, Cuban officials said. They were experimenting with new players, they said. The truth was that the authorities believed that Morales was planning to make a run for it. Even if he hadn't been, he was now. "I had to leave," he says. "I was 20 years old, and they suspended me from playing baseball. That was my career. There was no way I was going to stay there."
Morales says that during the next six months he tried 10 more times to defect, always by sea, always under the cover of night, always unsuccessfully. Sometimes he was caught. He was jailed twice more. More often, the lancha—the small boat that was supposed to pick him up and carry him to a bigger boat, which would carry him to his future—never showed up, its pilots having lost their way or their nerve. Finally, on June 8, 2004, the lancha came. Morales and 18 of his countrymen boarded it, and no one showed up to stop them. Two hundred and thirty-five minutes later—you remember precisely how many when you spend every minute scanning the horizon for flashing lights—Morales set foot on American soil, in the Florida Keys. It was 11:55 p.m., and the life that Morales had known, first as a national hero whose name was regularly chanted by 40,000 people, then as a national pariah, was over.
Five years later, in 2009, Kendry Morales seemed to be an overnight sensation when, in his first full season in the major leagues, the 26-year-old hit .306, led the Angels with 34 home runs and 108 RBIs, and placed fifth in the American League MVP voting. But if last year's breakout star was an overnight success, it had been a very long night.
Eddie Bane, though just 5'9", had been an exceptional pitcher at Arizona State, a lefthander with a perfect game on his résumé and a curveball that bent enough to persuade the Twins to select him with the 11th pick of the 1973 draft. Then he lost his curveball, and he became just another tiny guy without any stuff who was able to hang around baseball's fringes because of the hand with which he threw. He pitched in 44 games in parts of three seasons with the Twins, going 7--13 with a 4.66 ERA and allowing more than a hit per inning. Bane didn't play in another big league game after 1976, when he was 24. He spent a few years in the White Sox system, and then in 1980 he was traded to the Royals. Not long after, that was that.
By 1984 Bane had started to think that he might make a much better scout than pitcher, and Bob Quinn, the Indians' scouting director, called him up for an interview.
"I accept the job," Bane said.
"I haven't offered it to you," Quinn said.
"Well, I accept," Bane said.
Bane made $16,500 that season, the first of 27 years that he has served in the scouting departments of four organizations. Bane spent years on the road, scouting such players as Albert Belle and Greg Swindell for the Indians; Eric Gagné, Paul Konerko and Paul Lo Duca for the Dodgers; and Josh Hamilton for Tampa Bay. By the late '90s he had started to hear about a teenaged Cuban phenom who could hit for average and power from both sides of the plate. Bane kept track of Morales as best he could, trolling for Cuban box scores and watching international tournaments—the only opportunities for American scouts to see Cuban players in person. "They make it real hard on you," he says.