But in the years that passed after his defection from Cuba in 2003, the infielder's reputation changed. It seemed that every compliment Betancourt received over the years was followed by a caveat. His criticisms, many legitimate, were sometimes also tongue-in-cheek because of his unfulfilled athletic potential.
Betancourt was free-swinging Yuni in Seattle when the club signed him in 2005. He was bad-habit Yuni in Kansas City when he played for the Royals in 2009. It seems he has always had the ability to dazzle (and bewilder), and nobody knows that better than Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke.
But Betancourt has found himself in the middle of a hot streak, and he's a big reason why the Brewers are three wins away from a World Series berth.
On Sunday, the shortstop went 2-for-4 with a home run in Milwaukee's 9-6 victory over St. Louis in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. He hit .278 with a double and five runs scored in the NL Division Series against Arizona.
"Yuni is a little inconsistent sometimes with his ABs, sometimes you get frustrated with him with the first-pitch out," Roenicke said. "But he can turn it around. And when he's hot ... for two months he swung the bat great for us, two months in a row. And I think that Yuni, when he gets in those little streaks, he's going to give you a nice at-bat."
Betancourt hit a modest .252 with 13 home runs and 68 RBIs this season. He also committed 21 errors. But all of Betancourt's shortcomings could be forgiven if he continues to contribute. The team that won Game 1 of the NLCS has advanced to the World Series in 16 of the past 19 years.
"I'm really grateful for the opportunities I have had in my career and happy that I was traded to a winning team," Betancourt said. "We're in the playoffs. I'm giving it 100 percent, and that's all I can worry about right now."
Betancourt's two-run home run capped a six-run inning that turned a 5-2 deficit into an 8-5 Brewers advantage. He fouled off five pitches from Cardinals reliever Octavio Dotel during the eight-pitch at-bat before connecting on the home run.
"I threw good pitches to him," Dotel said. "He fouled off, fouled off, fouled off, and I threw one pitch that I never threw to him. It was a curveball, and I left it a little high, and he got a good hit. There's nothing I can do about it. I fight, I fight, and he won the fight."
Betancourt said he sprinted around the bases because he wasn't sure the ball was going to clear the fence. He hit the ball hard again two innings later when he led off the seventh with a double. He later scored the game's final run.
"I wish he could do it all the time," Roenicke said. "I wish everybody could do it all the time, but that's not baseball."
Betancourt is the first to admit that he's enjoying the postseason ride. He knows his hot streak could end, but he remains focused on the positive aspects of his game. His No. 1 priority following the victory was rushing home because his mother and grandparents were waiting for him.
Betancourt was also pleasantly surprised to be asked to join Roenicke, starting pitcher Zack Greinke, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in the interview room to address the national media.
And for the record, Betancourt is not worried about his critics. He never has been.
"I don't really understand what they are saying, because I don't speak English and I don't even write it. So if they are writing good or bad things about me, I don't pay any attention to that," Betancourt said, in Spanish. "I'm just focusing on my work and doing my job."