On September 23, 2011, CBS Sports reported that Leo Nuñez, the closer for the Miami Marlins, had been playing under an assumed name.
Team management was notified, and within days Nuñez had fled the country to his native Dominican Republic – only to be arrested by authorities when he tried to renew his visa. The man who had posted a decent 4.06 ERA and 36 saves in 2011 is not Leo Nuñez at all, but really Juan Carlos Oviedo – a man who had falsified both his name and age (Oviedo is a year older than Nuñez), before reaching the majors.
Cleveland Indians starter Fausto Carmona was recently met with a similar problem. He was arrested by authorities outside of the United States Consulate and charged with identity fraud. Carmona is actually Roberto Hernandez Heredia – a man three years older than Carmona. To make matters worse, Heredia had paid a man who actually is named Fausto Carmona for the use of his identity.
Maybe so, but the actions of these two athletes might be indicative of a much larger problem – a problem that Major League Baseball needs to take immediate action to help resolve. Why would these athletes hide their identities and decrease their ages? Edward Mujica, a friend of Oviedo’s and a fellow closer for Miami, stated simply, “at 17 years old, you maybe lose $100,000 or $150,000 when you sign [compared to a 16-year-old with the same skills]. And if you’re like 18, you might sign for $5,000 and maybe they give you an opportunity…”
MLB has such a demand for young talent in Latin America – the primary goal is to sign the best players at the cheapest price. These player’s contracts are already a fraction of the cost of their stateside counterparts, so it makes sense for ball clubs to draft international players as often as they can. The problem is that baseball can provide financial escape and support for many young men and their families. Of the thousands of players who are recruited into Major League Baseball academies, seldom few actually find the success that they desire. Suddenly the idea of faking one’s age to appear a year younger, just to have a chance at a larger signing bonus, doesn’t seem so farfetched.
Unfortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg, as MLB’s presence has also been the impetus behind a stunning variety of problems in Latin America. Take for example private investors who strike contracts with would-be prospects. The investor will keep the athlete well supplied, fed, and educated, and in return, the player owes the majority of his signing bonus to his benefactor. And what is to be said of baseball players and other athletes becoming targets of kidnapping and other crimes, as was the case of Wilson Ramos this fall?
There is an evident problem with the way that Major League Baseball conducts business – and it will take some big changes in order to make an equitable and sound playing field.