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Archive for Sunday, September 2, 2001

Little League case probably not isolated

Cheating in youth baseball leagues likely occurs more than some would like to admit

September 2, 2001

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— Any creep can cheat. Little League Baseball just happens to make it easy for them.

The oldest scam on the books, and the simplest to perpetrate, is the one where the Little League coach suits up a kid who's about two weeks shy of his first shave.

I know. I've been there. I coached kid-league baseball for seven seasons, and to this day I'm not sure that the best player in our league was the 12-year-old that he said he was.

As Friday's announcement that Bronx pitcher Danny Almonte was 14, and not 12, reminded, there are unscrupulous adults out there who will do just about anything in the name of "supporting" their kids.

Supporting, in this case, means lying. Bending the rules. Falsifying a birth certificate.

"Clearly, adults have used Danny Almonte and his teammates in a most contemptible and despicable way," Stephen Keener, president and CEO of Little League Baseball, announced Friday in South Williamsport, Pa.

No kidding. But Keener shouldn't be shocked.

There are circumstances in the Bronx kids' case that tend toward the unique, but the deception is an old one. Little League tournament managers and officials are volunteers, not notaries public. To check over a player's eligibility, they page through a three-ring binder, not launch a genealogy search.

San Juan daily newspaper "El Nuevo Dia" reported Friday that the founder of the Bronx team's league, Rolando Paulino, brought six overage players to Puerto Rico in 1988 to represent the Dominican Republic at a major Little League tournament. The discrepancy was uncovered, and Paulino's team had its Latin American championship taken away.

Paulino denies the San Juan report, but where there's smoke in these kinds of things, there's usually a bottle of Liquid Paper.

Authorities in Almonte's hometown of Moca in the Dominican Republic said that there were a number of contradictions and incongruities in the pitcher's second birth certificate. Because Paulino allegedly had worked that side of the street before, he probably was well aware that record keeping in the Dominican Republic is not Library of Congress-perfect.

It took a "Sports Illustrated" reporter, digging through records on the island, to uncover the conflicting birth certificates.

Supporters of the Bronx team were outraged. They branded the skeptics as racists. As the sign during the team's New York victory parade said Thursday, "12 or 14. Who cares?"

But that sign is as misguided as Rolando Paulino and as Almonte's father, Felipe de Jesus Almonte. Little League Baseball cares. Every kid who has lost to Danny Almonte and the Bronx team over the past two years cares.

At the tender age of 12, even a difference of a few months can translate to a telling disparity in maturity and playing ability. Give me a good 14-year-old pitcher and I'll beat your 12-year-old all-stars every time. Every time.

Which is why national organizations such as Little League Baseball and Pony Baseball hold their age-division rules sacred. You can't regulate puberty. But you can at least try to keep the baseball field level.

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