Do Latin “Children” Ever Lie About Their Ages? Evidence from Baseball
We are repeatedly assured that Central American “children” are seeking refuge in America. But have Latin Americans ever been known to be cagey about their ages to get what they want? Here are a few baseball examples off the top of my head.
Although you probably won’t notice this from reading Michael Lewis’s book about the 2002 Oakland Athletics, Moneyball, the A’s slugging shortstop Miguel Tejada, just entering his prime at age 26, was the league’s Most Valuable Player. After the next season, Tejada signed a six-year $72 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles that would run from age 28 through age 33.
The Dominican shortstop had a monster season at age 28 for Baltimore, leading the league with 150 RBIs. After that, however, his performance declined steadily. The increase in steroid testing was one cause for why Baltimore didn’t get their money’s worth out of Tejada (he was convicted of lying to Congress about PEDs), but there was another problem as well: he’d signed his big contract under false pretenses. From Wikipedia:
On April 17, 2008, Tejada was confronted by an ESPN reporter during a sit-down interview with documentation revealing that Tejada had been lying about his age ever since he first signed a Major League Baseball contract in 1993. Tejada had claimed to have been born in 1976 when a Dominican birth certificate showed that he was born in 1974. That birth certificate also shows the spelling of his surname as “Tejeda” rather than “Tejada”. He struggled to take off his microphone and kept questioning who the interviewer was referring to. Tejada stormed off the set, ending the interview.
Before the interview was aired in April 22, 2008, he acknowledged this fact.
How about Albert Pujols, who at age 21 hit .329 with 37 homers and 130 RBIs? A decade later he signed a $0.254 billion contract with the California Angels that would run from age 32 through 41. Sure, reasoned the Angels brain trust, Pujols had had an off-season the year before the contract, but this is the most consistent player of the century and he is still in his prime in terms of age.
Except, Pujols played for the Angels not like a 32-year-old who had hit 37 homers at age 21 but like a 34-year-old who had hit 37 homers at age 23 (and they have to pay him over a quarter of a billion dollars to play for them through age 43.)
In fact, controversies about how old Pujols was had dogged him since high school. From Wikipedia:
Born on January 16, 1980, Pujols was raised in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, mostly by his grandmother America Pujols and 10 of his uncles and aunts. He was an only child. His father, Bienvenido Pujols, was a softball pitcher, but he was also an alcoholic. Albert often had to take his father home when his father got drunk following the games. Growing up, Pujols practiced baseball using limes for balls and a milk carton for a glove. Pujols, his father, and his grandmother immigrated to New York City in 1996, where Albert witnessed a shooting at a grocery store. Partly because of the shooting, they moved to Independence, Missouri two months later to join some relatives. His surname Pujols is of Haitian origin.
Pujols played baseball at Fort Osage High School in Independence and was named an All-State athlete twice. As a senior, he was walked 55 times in protest because opposing coaches believed he was older than 18, but he still hit eight home runs in 33 at bats. One of his home runs travelled 450 feet. After graduating from high school a semester early in December 1998, he was given a baseball scholarship to Maple Woods Community College. Pujols hit a grand slam and turned an unassisted triple play in the first game of his only college season. Playing shortstop, he batted .461 with 22 home runs as a freshman before deciding to enter the Major League Baseball (MLB) draft.
Few teams were interested in Pujols because of uncertainty about his age, which position he would play, and his build.
Pujols is playing relatively well this year (.274, 20 HR, 66 RBIs, but only 28 walks because pitchers don’t fear him as much as they used to) … if you assume he’s 36 instead of his official 34. The Angels still have to pay him $203 million from age 37 to 43.
And then there was the twelve-year-old star of the 2001 Little League World Series, 5’8? Danny “Little Unit” Almonte, a Dominican immigrant who threw a perfect game on the strength of his 75 mph fastball.
Four years later, the child married a 30-year-old woman.
Of course, by then his team’s performance in the Little League World Series had been thrown out for him being 14 instead of 12.
P.S. Tim Meadows inspects a 12-year-old Dominican slugger’s birth certificate in Benchwarmers.