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'Fausto Carmona' Neither The First, Nor The Last

Fausto Carmona's new age and old name are going to cost him, but here's merely the latest in a long, long, long line of major leaguers who shaved off a birthday or three.

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Sorry about that headline, but most of us probably aren't yet accustomed to calling Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez Heredia. If it's okay with you, we'll stick to Fausto Carmona for at least these next few minutes.

Over at Yahoo!, Tim Brown wrote about Carmona and the recent history of players making up birthdays on their way to professional baseball contracts. Brown's big finish:

If an edited date of birth and a strange new name got young Roberto Hernandez Heredia into a tryout, onto a mound, and into a scout’s line of sight, you think he regrets that during his few hours in prison today? I wouldn’t.

Assuming he gets the $7 million he’s got coming this season, he’ll have made $22 million in his career. Against the alternative, think that’s worth running around with someone else’s name and birthday for 12 years?

As a business, baseball must try to authenticate the ages and identities of every one of those kids who borrows a glove, wobbles onto a rutty field and hopes to become the next Miguel Tejada.

I get that.

But, as a person who sympathizes with that kid, whether he’s 16 or 19, whether he’s Roberto or Fausto, I can only say, "Que Sera Sera."

No question about it. As I've written at least a few times, professional baseball players have probably been lying about their ages as long as there's been professional baseball. When future Hall of Famer Rube Marquard signed his first professional contract in 1906, he was 19 but said he was 16, and carried that secret to his grave. Hall of Fame shortstops Phil Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese both shaved a year off their ages when they were being scouted, and maintained the fictions throughout their careers. Hal McRae shaved a year from his age in 1965 when the Reds drafted him, and didn't come clean until his last days with the Royals, when he was 40--oops! Forty-one.

I don't know enough about the law to pontificate on the legalities, but isn't this a sort of fraud? Players lie about their age for a simple reason: to get more money for playing baseball than if they told the truth. Or just to get signed at all. Is it really a giant leap from there to ... well, stealing? Baseball players are hired because of their presumed qualifications, which essentially are 1) skills, 2) performance, and 3) age.

It's hard to fake the first two of those, but for a long, long time it's been fairly easy, in one quarter or another, to fake the third. Which is why so many players have done it for so long.

I'm just wondering ... When Phil Rizzuto's Hall of Fame candidacy was discussed by the voters -- first, members of the BBWAA, and later the Veterans Committee -- did anyone mention the "integrity clause" in the rules, then mention that Rizzuto was originally signed by the New York Yankees after lying to them about something that's actually pretty important.

Granted, it worked out well for the Yankees, and of course for the Scooter. But how much money have teams wasted in the last century because they didn't know how old a player was? Are we supposed to just pretend that didn't happen? Yes, it was (and is) the clubs' job to find out whatever they can about prospective signees. But if a man robs a bank, we don't penalize the bank for lax security. We throw Willie Sutton in jail.

And it's not just the banks -- er, I mean the teams that get hurt when players lie about their ages. Other players get hurt, too. It's a zero-sum game, or nearly so. When the Yankees signed Rizzuto, it's possible that another player who would have been signed wasn't; perhaps a player who thought lying about his age was morally wrong.

I don't actually know that any players back then (or now) thought it was morally wrong. But one has to think there have been a few young men, here and there over the course of the decades, who simply couldn't tell that lie. And I have to think that a few of those young men lost money because of it, or perhaps even the chance to play professionally at all.

Honestly, when I started writing this piece, I had no intention of winding up on steroids ... But we've arrived, haven't we? Fausto Carmona / Roberto Heredia is simply the very latest professional baseball player busted in the process of breaking a rule in the pursuit of a competitive advantage. But if Carmona/Heredia were a better pitcher and someday a Hall of Fame candidate, how many voters would hold his three-year lie against him?

Zero. None of them would. Players have always done it, so it's cool. Also, nobody went directly from lying about his age to breaking Hank Aaron's record.

Look, the integrity clause is in the Hall of Fame's voting rules. Maybe it's there for a good reason. But until 2007, voters had considered that clause exactly twice: in 1936, the first time Shoeless Joe Jackson appeared on the ballot; and again in 1946, when he was considered again. Followed by six decades of approximately zero Hall of Fame candidates losing any real support because of challenges to their integrity.*

* One might construct cases for Carl Mays and Dick Allen losing votes for supposed deficiencies of character, but one can also argue they just didn't have the numbers that Hall of Famers have historically preferred.

I'm not saying Phil Rizzuto shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame because he fibbed about his birthday. I'm saying that if Hall of Fame voters are really going to apply the integrity clause to the candidates under their care, they should do some serious things about what integrity means, in the context of the game.

And once that happens, I do hope they'll get back to us. Because I sure haven't figured it out yet, myself.