Danny Almonte can step aside. He is no longer the biggest con artist in terms of lying about his age in baseball. All he – and the folks around him – did was to pull the wool over the eyes of some Little League volunteers who let a 14-year-old compete against and dominate 12-year-olds. [Aside: The fact that Danny had to shave four times a week should have been a sign to those Little League “administrators”; but what the hey…] Now we have to add the name of Carlos Alvarez to our lexicon of sports prevaricators. Alvarez is a 23-year-old minor league prospect of the Washington Nats. The problem is that they signed him a few years ago under the name of Esmailyn Gonzalez and they thought – up until about a week ago – that he was only 20 years old.
Supposedly, they scouted this kid in the Dominican Republic for a couple of years and “waited until he was 16” to sign him to comply with MLB rules. By the way, that also means that MLB officials in addition to Washington Nationals’ folks were conned by this action.
This is not the result of a typographical error on a birth certificate; this is a full change of identity. Moreover, to make matters worse, the FBI is looking into the matter because there are allegations that not all of the money spent by the Nats to sign Alvarez/Gonzalez went to him. Some may have been skimmed; the FBI has interviewed the Nats’ GM; the director of the Nats’ baseball academy in the Dominican Republic has taken a leave of absence so as not to be a “distraction” to the team in spring training.
It has been difficult for me to understand how a group of people who are nominally “baseball people” could have assembled a team as miserable as the one that played as the Washington “Gnats” in 2008. However, if they got themselves into this kind of a mess over a prospect and paid out $1.4M to sign him without realizing that some skimming might be going on, things are becoming clearer…
Sticking with baseball, there are some folks who are taking potshots in the direction of Ichiro Suzuki. The Mariners had a truly awful season last year and some are now complaining that Ichiro is not a leader in the clubhouse, that he is a loner and that he is a selfish player who does not bunt or steal enough bases. Mariners’ alum JJ Putz was one of the folks who made these kinds of remarks without naming Ichiro specifically.
If anyone in the Mariners’ front office is hearing about this and giving it serious thought, let me say that there is no team in MLB for whom Ichiro Suzuki does not start. No team has three outfielders who are better than he is; most do not have one outfielder who is better than he is. He has had more than 200 hits for the last eight seasons; he has an MLB batting average of .331; he is an outstanding defensive outfielder. If the Mariners even think of trading Ichiro, the number of teams who should inquire about the price for him should be 29.
The LA Galaxy and MLS are in the midst of a small tug-of-war with David Beckham and the Italian team to whom they loaned Beckham. Stunningly, Beckham wants to stay in Italy and play with a more talented crew of teammates. Frankly, I think MLS will be better off with Beckham playing somewhere else but that is a matter for MLS and its lawyers to resolve. What I find interesting is the change of perspective that David Beckham has come to between the heady days of his signing with the LA Galaxy and the present. Consider:
[Then] “It’s also about being an ambassador for the game here and, hopefully, it is going to encourage other players to come to the States and be part of this because soccer in America can become much bigger.
“That’s why I’m here. I want to be part of the growth of the game in the States.”
[Now] “To be honest, the Americans are trying to improve the level of the game and its reputation. The American game is very young. I think it needs another 10 years to reach an important level.”
Interestingly, when some of us pointed out that the ”American game” was not nearly ready for an infusion of world-class talent – stipulating that Beckham used to be world-class talent – the soccer acolytes in America screamed that we didn’t know what we were talking about. Now, I guess Beckham doesn’t either…
As usual, Scott Ostler puts this entire matter into perspective in two simple sentences in the SF Chronicle:
“That’s a heartbreaker, the news about David Beckham coming back to the United States. But it’s great for American soccer, and for all the fans of whatever American team Beckham played for when he wasn’t injured.”
As the economy continues to weaken and the effects on sports is beginning to become clear to most anyone looking at the subject objectively, here are a few things that might work out for the best in terms of sports fans:
1. Maybe MLB teams will find a way to remain solvent without charging $7.00 for a beer.
2. Maybe NFL teams will find out that season ticket buyers really hate to have to pay full regular season ticket prices for those two exhibition games they are forced to buy.
3. Maybe NBA teams will be a lot more cautious about offering a “max contract” to players who only put out “max effort” when it is their “walk year”.
Here is a way for fans to benefit in these times of downturn. Go see a minor league baseball game this summer. You will enjoy yourself. Then next fall, find the college near you that plays Division 1-AA or Division II football and go take in a game on a sunny autumn afternoon. You will enjoy yourself. Next winter, do the same thing with that same school’s basketball program. If pro sports owners see their attendance decline while more reasonably priced alternatives show attendance increases, that could engender some “price adjustments” in the future for sports fans. Think about it.
The Indy Racing League is making adjustments due to the economy. There will be two fewer days of practice for the Indy 500 this year. I do not know if I will be able to make it through the month of May with that burden…
Finally, since I quoted Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle above, let me close with another of his observations, which raises a series of questions that no one seems to be chasing down:
“Donald Fehr says the players’ union didn’t have time to destroy the records and tests from that “anonymous” ’03 survey testing, the secret data that is now leaking all over baseball. The test results were finalized Nov. 13. On Nov. 19 the subpoena news came down, legally blocking destruction of the evidence. The union had at least six days to destroy the smoking guns, six days to crank up a paper-shredder. God created the world in six days. And no, I don’t think He was on steroids.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…