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.

10 Comments

  • Roberto Soltero says:

    Stephanie,

    Nice article. I have to wonder why the Dominican authorities choose to take such a punitive approach. Not that you want to look the other way and encourage this sort of deceit (and in some cases fraud), but there has to be a better solution than keeping the player from performing and earning his pay. Perhaps the Dominican authorities could levy heavy fines against the accused while allowing him to play. The money would still reach the island, but not benefit those who chose to take a dishonest path to earning it.

    Not that the money in the government’s hands would be free from the clutches or corruption, but at least the player, who likely entered into this scheme under coercion (from parents or buscones), get to play. As you know, the productive years of a player are few, and keeping a major league talent from performing during his few productive years seems to be a punishment not in proportion to the “crime”.

    Roberto A. Soltero
    San Juan, Puerto Rico

    ps Just fyi, but the singular form of “buscones” should be “buscón”, not “buscone”.

    R

  • Will McIlroy says:

    You’re way too soft on this. I like Heredia (passed him in the tunnel under the stadium and he was very friendly and who can forget the midge game?) but this goes well past “I just wanted to take care of my family”.

    This is fraud and greed. If your premise is true (he just wanted a chance to compete), then he should have come clean once he established himself as a viable MLB player. Come clean and tell the team pay me for who I am/what I am, not what I misrepresented.

    How many millions does his family need? He’s already earned a lot of money ‘for his family’, more than enough to support everyone for several lifetimes, yet continued the lie and used it to negotiate a contract with 28 million dollars remaining. This is nothing but greed and fraud.

    Also consider the collateral damage. As a direct consequence of his actions the Indians now face an unsettled rotation and gave up a promising RP prospect in Putnam to fill the void. Like you, I do not like the Slowey trade (signing an equivalent made sense, not losing Putnam) since Gomez, McAllister and Huff are available and need the chance to pitch.

    Heredia robbed the Indians of money (fair market value v. misrepresented value), weakened their rotation in a year where they need everyone to contribute and lost the team a promising prospect, all for the ‘sake of his family’. Stop it.

  • Bob says:

    All BS aside about how he helped his family… yada… yada….yada. He lied, deceived and perpetrated a fraud, which are felonies! So, why did he need to do it? Was he hiding a criminal record or something else?

    I hope the State Department deny this jerk a visa and even if he gets one…CPB can dent him entry into the US since he previously lied and concealed material facts from a Federal Officer to enter the US.

    Hasta La Vista whatever your name is!

  • Justin says:

    The problem with “coming clean” after the fact is that once you lie to get a visa you face deportation and a 20 year ban on getting a Visa to the United States. So while in Theory it sounds like a great option the fact is it would become career suicide.

    And Bob its clearly explained why he did it. He did it because by being 3 years younger he was given a better shot at getting a contract and getting a shot in the minor leagues. If he was a 22 year old prospect as opposed to a 19 year old his stats are critiqued and his value determined differently.

    Its easy for us to say that we would come clean and yada yada yada but the fact is none of us grew up in that bad of a situation. None of us were facing a life of poverty or telling a lie and providing for my family and future generations.

    And dont think for one second that the DR didnt know about his falsifying documents. These baseball prodigies are like gods in that country. If they do well the entire country profits.

  • diggernick says:

    maybe carmona will play better with the skeleton out of the closet

  • I understand that some people want to help their families, who doesn’t? But this fraud and he lied. I have a hard time feeling sorry for a guy who illegally gain access into this country. This is how terrorists get in. The only terrorism Carmona/Heredia did was terrorize us Indian fans when he pitched every fifth game. I know my example is extreme, but what example is he showing youngest in the DR? Lie like me and you will make millions? What if he had a checkered past? Would your blog be different? Some thoughts to think about.

  • John Autin says:

    Justin, I see your point (in reply to Will) about the consequences if Carmona had come clean publicly.

    But his continuing to accept Cleveland’s money under false pretenses was still unethical. It’s reasonable to presume that club management would have been less inclined to pick up his $7mm option for 2012 if they’d known his true age.

    Poverty may have been justification enough for the initial lie. And hoping to avoid a pointless punishment may have been good enough reason for not coming clean publicly. But poverty is no longer an issue for him — he’s made $15 million in MLB already, so you’d hope he has a couple million saved. And there were alternatives in between confession/deportation and continuing to cheat his employer. He could have asked for a lower salary. He could have quit the game.

    How many of us would have taken one of those alternatives? I don’t know; but I do know that the fact that lots of people cheat on their tax returns doesn’t make it ethically OK for me to do so.

    Moving on … MLB needs to move quickly in developing policy to discourage prospects from lying about their age. Playing under a false identify should be grounds for a lifetime ban from MLB and its affiliates.

  • Justin says:

    The Indians themselves have improved their standards with foreign prospects being required to take DNA tests to prove their identities prior to signing contracts.m Why MLB hasnt followed suit is beyond me. Most likely its the same reason they ignored the Steroid issue for so long, it benefitted them to let these talented prospects into the country.

  • paul says:

    Alot of people benefited from this scheme, besides Carmona. This kind of fraud could easily be stopped with the mentioned DNA tests and other methods. You wonder he kept risking his deception by returning time after time to the Dominican? I also wonder if keeping this secret has not been a cause of his erratic career performance. Talk about erratic! Carmona has been an ace and a millionaire demoted to the minor leagues in mid season. I’m inclined to be softer on his punishment but he should have his current contract voided. He’s worth less as an erratic 31 year old starter than an erratic 28 year old starter. That’s a fact. Like the steroid issue, it is major league baseballs’ responsibility to clean up its messes.

  • Tom Battiato says:

    All of you who are so judgmental can be thankful that your ancestors managed to get into the U.S, so that your bellies are full and your opportunities are bright. Your condemnation of others while sitting in your ivory towers are laughable.

    If you had ever witnessed the extreme poverty in many of these countries, with little or no hope to move up no matter how many hours one works hard at a job, you would understand that a man is going to do what he has to do to make a better life. That it offends the sensibilities of some distant American would be meaningless.

    Most of these players simply followed the advice of the buscones and scouts which proved successful for others. To have rejected their directives would have been out of the question, and bordered on insanity.

    Once a player has obtained entry under a false name, the process is self-perpetuating. There is no way to correct the situation short of retiring from the game.

    It is reasonable to assume that the Dominican government only arrested these players due to pressure from the U.S. government. The Dominicans would have no reason to oppose having their citizens enter the U.S., especially to make a large salary which will find its way back to the country.

    It is even likely that the U.S. aid or other payments are earned by the Domincan government to intervene, just as the U.S. pays spiffs to Colombian immigration agents to catch drug smugglers at the airport.

    Rather than approach the whole issue on a reasonable basis by allowing the players to make a simple correction, the governments are playing politics with peoples lives in order to satisfy the desires of right wing conservatives in the U.S.

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