- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday’s Best Bet on Television

Earlier this month, North Carolina nearly set a record for points scored by a Maryland opponent. Will the No. 3 Tar Heels do it at Comcast Center? 3:30 p.m., Chs. 7, 2

DIFFERENT AGE, SAME OLD PROBLEM

Before “Smiley,” there was… Scooter?

The unmasking of Nationals prospect Esmailyn Gonzalez this week reminds that Major League Baseball is still vulnerable to fraud by Latin American players and the middlemen-scouts known as buscones.

Well before the game went global, however, teams had a problem verifying how old players really were.

In the late 1970s, Phil Rizzuto was hit by a ball while coaching at spring training and had to be taken to a doctor. When a nurse asked his age, Rizzuto gave Sept. 25, 1918, the New York Times’ Murray Chass wrote in 2002. On the ride back to the stadium, Rizzuto leaned over to the driver and said, “Now don’t you tell anyone.” Rizzuto’s listed birth date was Sept. 25, 1917.

“A couple of the old ballplayers said when they ask you how old you are, make it lower than your regular age,” Rizzuto told Chass. “There was something about when you got into your 30s they wanted to get rid of you. … Tommy Henrich cheated by four years.”

Many of the prevaricators of that era came clean at the end of their careers, Don Zimmer told Chass.

“When we left Brooklyn and went to Los Angeles,” Zimmer recalled, “Pee Wee [Reese] said he was 38 or 39 years old. Our first year there, 1958, was Pee Wee’s last year, and all of a sudden he became 41 or 42 in a hurry because it had to do with his pension. I heard a lot of guys say they were 38 and became 43 overnight after they quit.”

So though Gonzalez aka Carlos Alvarez’s $1.4 million crime is heinous, it is — in a historical sense — just another example of one of the game’s shadier traditions.

TWT Five ” MLB age “adjustments” this decade

1. Miguel Tejada — In 1993, he said he was 17 — not 19 — to sign his first pro contract with the Oakland A’s.

2. Rafael Furcal — A background check after Sept. 11 revealed that the shortstop was two years older than he had claimed.

3. Wandy Rodriguez — Borrowed a friend’s identity to make himself appear 17, not 19, when he was scouted by former Nationals bullpen coach Ricardo Aponte, then an Astros scout.

4. Deivi Cruz — In 2002, it was discovered that Cruz — then a Padres infielder — was 29, not 26.

5. Adrian Beltre — Dodgers were punished for signing the 15-year-old Beltre in 1994, then doctoring his birth certificate.

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