Two Dominican baseball players who were caught falsifying their age and identity are back with their teams after being handed suspensions for their transgressions.
Roberto Hernandez, formally known as Fausto Carmona, recently rejoined the Cleveland Indians and apologized to the fans and his teammates for the deception that endured for 12 years.
“I want to say I’m sorry,” Hernandez said through an interpreter. “I thank God I am here and have been given a new chance.” Hernandez threw a bullpen session at Progressive Field, then started a minor league rehab assignment — while serving a three-week suspension by Major League Baseball.
Miami Marlins pitcher Juan Carlos Oviedo, aka Leo Nuñez., was suspended eight weeks for similar fraud charges and has since been activated. “I was happy to hear my name,” Oviedo said in an interview. “No more Leo Nuñez. My name is Juan Carlos Oviedo, and I’m happy to be back.” Now 30, a year older than previously listed, he played as Nuñez for seven seasons.
Hernandez said he was grateful to the Indians for standing by him after he was arrested in the Dominican Republic in January outside the U.S. consulate as he tried to renew his visa. That’s when his real identity was discovered, revealing that he is 31 years old, three years older than originally listed.
The former All-Star revealed that the real Carmona is actually a “distant cousin,” but that it was Hernandez who hatched the plan to take his name and claim he was only 17 when he signed with the Indians in 2000. He declined to discuss details.
Hernandez was given his old locker in the Indians’ clubhouse and laughed when he looked up and saw, “No Name,” which is the designation given new players before a nameplate can be made. “I want to forget the past,” he said. “I want to work hard and help my team on the field.”
Hernandez said he was “very sad all the time,” throughout his time in limbo and felt he had let down his teammates. He said the toughest part was being rejected repeatedly when he went to the U.S. consulate to get his case resolved.
Indians Manager Manny Acta took Hernandez in with open arms. “It was great to see him and I was very impressed with his physical shape,” Acta said. “I know he was antsy and probably discouraged through all this, but he never stopped working.”
Acta explained that players from the Dominican Republic, eager to come to America and play professionally, have changed their birthdates to enhance their chances. He said he did not condone the practice and that it is good Major League Baseball is working to eliminate it.
I think Major League Baseball has taken the correct approach with regards to punishing players caught lying about their age and identity. Acta is correct in his assertion that the pressure to make it in baseball leads to the fraud, and while punishment is necessary to curb the practice, understanding its roots is also important. Letting Hernandez and Oviedo back into the game they have spent their lives pursuing is the right course of action.