As usual, the view from my end of the pasture is slightly different.
So I have mixed feelings about yesterday’s news that Roberto Hernandez (aka Fausto Carmona) is back in Cleveland and will possibly rejoin the Tribe rotation as early as August 11 after his 3 week suspension from MLB. Yes, we need him (if he’s in shape and can be effective with only a few rehab starts- both highly unlikely) but there are larger angles on this incident not so easily resolved. This is not just a baseball issue.
I understand the explanations/excuses for what he did: (1) lying about age is a ‘common practice’ for young Dominican players; (2) he just wanted to elevate his family from poverty; and (3) he’s a nice guy who made a mistake. Unfortunately, none of these reasons justify criminal conduct (and in this case very calculated conduct).
If you or I lied to authorities to obtain a visa and defrauded our employers, we’d be in jail, never receive re-entry to the United States and be compelled to return all ill-gotten gains. Why should athletes be treated differently?
As part of his deal to avoid jail, Hernandez did community service and spoke to youth players about the perils of what he did. What perils? How do we encourage other Dominicans in similar circumstances to tell the truth when this is the outcome:
Falsify your identity, obtain a
major league contract and GET
AWAY WITH IT EARN $ 43 MILLION
Falsify your identity, obtain a
major league contract and GET AVOID JAIL and
CAUGHT EARN $ 24 MILLION
Gee, what’s a youngster to do?
I. The Name Thing
I’ll struggle calling him Roberto Hernandez since Roberto Hernandez, a well-over-the-hill reliever, already passed through Cleveland for a half season in 2007 and left behind a bloated 6.28 ERA and some well-tattooed baseballs.
So I’ll go with Justin Masterson’s twinkle-in-eye choice and call him “Rob” even though this intrudes on my first crush, a young Mary Tyler Moore who was married to Rob Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show. Her weekly comic lament, “O-Oh, Rob!” still provides a tingle. I wanted to be that Rob.
And I like the Indians’ Rob. Once we passed in the tunnel beneath the stadium and he nodded, smiled and engaged unlike most of the other players. I give him huge kudos for staring down Joba the Hut and the Bronx Bums in the famous Midge Game, a major demonstration of focus and will.
Perhaps that is why this false identity stuff (both the conduct and punishment) bothers me.
II. What’s In A Name
Gertrude Stein famously wrote, “A rose is a rose is a rose.”
In other words, things are what they are regardless of name. Philosophers call this the Law of Identity. Society and baseball teams call it Truth In Advertising. Salespeople and the nefarious call it What You Don’t Know Won’t Hurt You.
But when is a rose not really a rose? Stated differently, when is the pitcher you signed for big bucks not exactly the pitcher you signed for big bucks?
III. Faustian Bargain
The unvarnished story is Rob falsified his identity and age to: (1) obtain a tryout and contract with the Indians; (2) a work visa to enter the United States; and (3) obtain a lucrative contract extension from the Tribe worth $ 42.4 million. In simple legal terms this is fraud, misrepresentation and material breach of contract.
Was Rob’s choice of ‘Fausto’ a simple coincidence or something more weirdly Freudian? The medieval tale of Doctor Faustus, who sold his soul to the devil in return for knowledge and earthly pleasures, is a well known cautionary reminder of ambition and hubris.
IV. The Impact
Rob told the Indians he was three years younger than his true age. The fib may not sound like much on the surface but it makes a huge difference for an athlete and the club that pays his salary.
A baseball player’s prime years generally run from age 26-30. Rob turns 32 next month, a pitcher past that prime and on the down side of his career, not the 26 year old (as Carmona) whose prime years the Indians thought they were buying when they entered into a contract extension to pay him $ 42.4 million dollars. The numbers illustrate the suspicious, inconsistent track of an aging pitcher:
W L ERA True Age
2009 5 12 6.32 29
2010 13 14 3.77 30
2011 7 15 5.25 31
V. Unintended Consequences/Collateral Damage
What impact did Rob’s misrepresentations have on the Indians’ decision regarding the departure of Cliff Lee?
Clearly Lee was a mercenary and wanted the highest possible dollar. He also probably never forgave the Indians for leaving him off the post season roster in 2007. But would the Tribe have traded Lee if they knew the truth about Rob?
At the time the Indians thought Rob was a younger pitcher (age 26) just entering his prime while Lee was 29 (in an odd quirk, Rob and Lee have the same birthday, August 30). The Indians committed to pay Rob $ 42.4 million going forward. After the trade, Lee earns $ 41.5 million over the next 3 years.
Given an informed choice, would you have spent the money on Rob or Lee?
As a result of Rob’s arrest, the Tribe also obtained Kevin Slowey from the Rockies at a cost of another $1.25 million in salary and the loss of a hard throwing RP with some potential, Zach Putnam.
VI. Be Careful
Again, I like Rob but should we really be so eager/willing to just sweep this situation under the rug? If so, we set a horrible precedent that crime does indeed pay.
I also believe in redemption and second chances. But Rob needs to redeem himself as a person first, not a ballplayer. He’s already made $15 million from his deceit. If we shrug and pay him millions more, who are we?