Today In Latin American Aging

It's 20 year old Fernando Valenzuela being interviewed by his manager.

In a previous professional incarnation, I worked as a speech writer for the provincial government in Ontario. As part of my particular portfolio, I prepared speeches on issues relating to consumer protection. I’ll never forget being in a meeting and listening to executives from different financial institutions talk about losing millions of dollars through fraud, and suggesting that it was little more than part of the cost of doing business.

The problem with investing a lot of time, energy and money into stopping fraud was that the fraudsters, a real term used by real people, were always developing new methods to avoid detection. As it pertains to baseball, t’s quite similar to what we see with performance enhancing drug use, and also, as we learned today, with older prospects in Latin America attempting to lie about their age so as to receive the larger signing bonuses reserved for younger prospects.

Baseball America’s Ben Badler explains:

In the early days of age fraud in the Dominican Republic, it wasn’t difficult for a player to shave a few years off his age. It was often as simple as changing the date on the birth certificate by hand.

Major League Baseball now uses stricter checks on players’ ages and identities, making simple document manipulation easier to detect. So players started switching entire identities to take years off their lives.

MLB made the next move in the cat-and-mouse game by instituting DNA testing for international signees in select cases, the first notable example coming in 2009.

Badler goes on to tell us that the latest method that baseball players in Latin America are using to beat DNA testing revolves around having entire families take on new identities.

So in addition to the player switching identities with a younger male, the mother of the player and the mother of the younger male also swap identities. When the player and his mother take a DNA test, they will match.

The family that gives up its identity is compensated for its cooperation.

And so, it goes.

It’s interesting that Badler suggests “MLB has invested a lot of resources in improving its ability to detect and punish fraud on the international market” and it would be even more interesting to compare the league’s efforts to stop performance enhancing drugs. Attempting to fight either seems like a losing battle.

However, the identity issue has a worst case scenario resulting in a franchise losing money. Meanwhile the use of performance enhancing drugs could at worst result in the detriment of a player’s health. That seems a bit more serious to me than a bad investment that should have come with a caveat emptor warning to begin with.


Comments (3)

  1. A Latin phrase at the end of a piece on Latin America! I see what you did right there.

    On a serious note though, you say that trying to get rid of PEDs is a losing battle. Do you think players are still using steroids or just that they have moved on to PEDs that aren’t being tested for yet?

    • Definitely the latter. I’m sure it is not hard to pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs with varying chemical formulas that have positive performance results but are not yet against the rules.

  2. The underlying problem here is poverty in Latin America. And I know that’s not really MLB’s problem, but what’s so shocking about this from a human perspective is this:

    I really get the incentive for the talented (but too old) player from Family A to want to assume a new, younger identity. That switch could mean getting a contract for six figures versus getting no contract at all. That all makes sense, crazy as it may seem. The part that speaks to the endemic, crushing poverty is Family B: they are willing to give up their own identity not for the signing bonus itself but a small cut of it. Would anyone in a developed country give up their own identity and that of their children for a few thousand dollars over the course of a lifetime?

    Honestly, to think about these tragic circumstances in baseball terms (“My 16 year old prospect is really 19!”), is, I believe, the ultimate definition of #FirstWorldProblems.

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