Age in the Metric system   (06/15/00)

It's an old story by now, but HBO revealed in a segment of Real Sports that many Latin players are not the age they claim to be.  This is not exactly news.   Rumors regarding the actual ages of players from the Carribbean and Central America have been swirling since Latin players first made the majors.

There was a sizeable controversy regarding Fernando Valenzuela's claim that he was 19 his rookie year.  Colorado's Rolando Arrojo is not 32 years old as he claims.  He's closer to 38, unless you believe he started pitching for the Cuban national team at age 14.  The Yanks' Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez first claimed to be 30, then when confronted, conceded that he's 34... yeah, 34 Celsius.  Earlier this year, the Dodgers got busted for signing third baseman Adrian Beltre when he was 15.  He had given them false information about his age so they could sign him.  Whether they knowingly accepted the deception is a subject of much debate.  The Braves got busted for the same offense just a month later with switch hitting shortstop Wilson Betemit, who was 14 when he signed.

No, the relevancy of the story has to do with another bit of news: that Braves' current shortstop Rafael Furcal was busted for underaged DUI.  However, according to the HBO segment, Furcal's actually 23, not 19 as has been stated in the media guide.  Like many players from the Caribbean, he obtained a false birth certificate so the Braves would sign him.

Apparently, it's a fairly common practice.  If a player is too young to be signed - major league rules stipulate that you must be at least 16 to sign with a major league organization - then he merely trades identities with someone older.  If a player is deemed too old to be a prospect, he trades identities with someone who's younger.  One player, who declined to be identified, told the reporter that he was playing under the identity of a kid who was not only several years younger than he... but dead as well.  It's an easier proposition for those with a little money.  Problems with graft and bribery in these countries' governments allow them to simply get a new birth certificate made.  One retired player claimed he had 4 different birth certificates.  And who's to say that if a team thinks a player is good enough, that they don't help him defer the cost of obtaining a benefical age?

So next time your favorite team claims to have this 20-year old phenom from the Domincan, bear in mind that there's a decent chance he's old enough to be your grandfather.  As for Furcal?  Well, it's gonna be difficult for the authorities to bust a 23 year old for being underaged.  The long term effect is more profound.  At the beginning of the season, he was different, unique, a sensation, a phenomenon.  Now he's just another athlete with a DUI.