It’s been about 24 hours since the news of Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez’s arrest in the Dominican Republic hit the airwaves. Even though I’ve had some time to process this, I still am basically in a state of disbelief. It seems as if the leadership of the Indians may be with me on this one.
What makes my emotions around this news more complex, is that I’m surprised that I’m surprised. (I know that’s getting a bit abstract). I’m fully aware that many Latin American players attempt to conceal their age in order to make it to “las Grandes Ligas” or the big leagues. These young men often come from extreme poverty and look to use their physical talents as a way to provide a better life for not only themselves, but for their families as well.
For every feel good story of a player finding success and riches there are thousands that do not achieve that happy ending. In the book that I mentioned yesterday, Stealing Lives, Venezuelan ball player Alexis Quiroz did not find a happy ending within baseball. Another example is the fictional character (based off of real stories) Miguel “Sugar” Santos in the movie Sugar. Santos made it to Class A, but wasn’t quite himself after he sustained an injury. You saw how quickly a dream could end for a player, and how Santos realized that he wasn’t going to make it in the Major Leagues before he was cut from the team.
There’s a part of me that thinks, “well, these guys probably shouldn’t put all of their hopes and dreams in the hands of a game.” However, I think that when you’re left with very few choices economically, baseball may be your only option. To hear of Carmona/Hernandez’s poor upbringing in the Dominican Republic, you can’t help but feel sorry for him and root for his success. Players have taken performance enhancing drugs to give themselves an edge in this game. Carmona/Hernandez took on a false identity in order to conceal his age; not to give him an edge over other players, but just to get a chance to compete against other players.
In the past several years, there have been attempts to clean up the signing system in Latin America. As mentioned in this story, when scouts from Major League teams come calling, there is typically a middle-man involved in the player’s home country – the buscones. These buscones often train young players and present them to representatives from the MLB teams. Often they’ll take a cut of a player’s signing bonus for themselves, and there were even cases where scouts and Major League team officials were caught skimming some of the money. As explained in Stealing Lives, this may not be that difficult to do to a player that is desperate to make it to “las Grandes Ligas.” In Alexis Quiroz’s case, he was presented with a contract written in English, with no offer for a translation. He was not given a copy of his contract, so there was no way to get it translated after the fact. Because there are thousands of young men competing for a few hundred spots, these players choose to just keep their heads down and their mouths shut. Perhaps the contract called for a $5,000 signing bonus, but the player received just $3,000. That money ended up somewhere – either with a team official or a local buscon.
Major League teams typically like to sign these foreign players when they are very young. If you’re already past a target age, you probably will never even get a shot at entering one of the “academies” established by teams in Latin America. That is why players (and sometimes their representatives) choose to lie about a player’s age. If Indians officials realized that Carmona/Hernandez was three years older than he claimed, he probably never would have gotten a shot to pitch in the Majors. While fans can argue about his consistency, or the fact that he makes everyone crazy at times, you really can’t deny that he belongs in the Majors. He deserved a chance to prove his abilities in “las Grandes Ligas,” despite the fact that he may have been older than a preferred numerical figure.
What’s amazing to me is that Carmona/Hernandez was able to get away with this for so long. This is certainly not the first time that he returned to the Dominican Republic during the off-season, yet he was always able to renew is visa prior to this week. It’s reported that Carmona/Hernandez is extremely remorseful about the whole situation; he was in tears when he spoke after his release from custody in the Dominican Republic. Carmona/Hernandez was ordered not to leave the DR upon his release and will be monitored by the court.
Leo Nunez/Juan Oviedo ran into the same issue with the Miami Marlins last fall, and still has not been able to return to the United States. That does not seem to bode well for Carmona/Hernandez’s return anytime in the near future. I know that I have an irrational love for Carmona that’s probably clouding my judgement, but I really hope that he’s able to return to the United States and return to the Indians. He’s already achieved his happy ending in the sense that he was able to pull himself and his family out of poverty. I’d like to see him write an epilogue to the story as Roberto Hernandez, one where he gets a chance to finish his career strong under his true identity.