Once is a fluke. Twice is a trend. When we’re talking about assumed identities in Major League Baseball, it doesn’t take much to turn what could have been an isolated incident into a dangerous trend. Yesterday, Fausto Carmona of the Cleveland Indians was arrested in the Dominican Replublic for using an assumed identity to obtain a U.S. visa. This is the second such case of players using false identities to play ball in the United States. Leo Nunez was arrested late last year in the Dominican for the same charges. Nunez’s real name is Juan Carlos Oviedo.
Fausto Carmona’s real name is Roberto Hernandez Heredia, and he is three years older than his claimed age. Inaccurate ages has long been a staple of many Latin American players. Their stated ages have often been proven to be much younger than they actually are. Take for example Miguel Tejada. In 2008, the 2002 MVP admitted to being two years older than claimed. Many Latin American players feel the only way to make it into Major League Baseball is to lie about their age and make themselves younger. This gives teams the impression they are getting a player with many more years of serviceable time. Yet in the case of Carmona and Nunez, the discrepancies go beyond just age.* They enter the realm of truly false identities.
*There were questions about Miguel Tejada’s name when his true age was discovered, but the issue there was a possible different spelling. It was not a different name altogether.
Oviedo is no longer facing charges in the Dominican because the warrant used by police was out of date and he cooperated with the investigation, but his visa status remains uncertain. It has already been rejected once by the United States. Also of issue is any charges filed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Oviedo used false documents to obtain his original visa which is a violation of U.S. Federal Immigration Law.
There may be no singular reason why these players falsify their names and their ages, but it would seem the effort to appear younger often requires an entirely new identity. Rather than risk being discovered by using their true names, Oviedo and Heredia may have chosen an entirely new identity all in the name of being young on paper. This is a trend that Major League Baseball must stop.
According to the U.S. Department of State, no visa will be given to anyone who violates any number of qualifications, regulations, or laws. One such regulation is:
(i) In general.-Any alien who, by fraud or willfully misrepresenting a material fact, seeks to procure (or has sought to procure or has procured) a visa, other documentation, or admission into the United States or other benefit provided under this Act is inadmissible.
Oviedo and Heredia violated this regulation for obtaining a visa. In addition to the uphill battle both will face in obtaining a new visa, they may face Federal charges. Lester Munson, an attorney and analyst for ESPN said, “In most cases, a false birth date or a one-letter change in the spelling of a name is not enough to file charges. Such discrepancies are not material to the more important purposes of an immigration inquiry. Federal prosecutors would need more before they would undertake a court case,” when discussing the Tejada case.
For Oviedo and Heredia, the misrepresentation may very well have been material enough for further charges by the United States government.
I’m not an attorney, and all of the above information is based on research alone, but it seems clear that Major League Baseball does not want to put itself in the position of employing people who knowingly falsify their identities. Yet, we hear over and over of allegations that Player X is lying about his age or there are concerns about Player Y’s date of birth. The very fact that these concerns arise and are made public can put Major League Baseball in a precarious position.
If anything was proven by the recent steroid scandal, it is that the Federal government has no qualms with making examples of baseball players. They actually seem to relish the chance to make a point on such a grand stage. Immigration law is taken very seriously in this country and considering the government’s pursuit of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens over steroids and perjury, a couple of cases of false identities may attract a lot of unwanted attention to baseball.
Fausto Carmona (Heredia) and Leo Nunez (Oviedo) are both talented young players, but the emphasis teams put on finding young international talent led both to falsify their ages in an attempt at a dream. The ploy worked, but now they must face an battle to return to the States and the league. Beyond a more detailed examination of player documentation when a player signs with a team, Major League Baseball may need to look at their international recruiting practices. An emphasis on skill rather than age may help curb this trend, but it is unlikely. Teams are looking for as many years of plus talent as possible.
Two players have been arrested thus far, but the story surely isn’t over. Major League Baseball must tread carefully going forward because they are becoming part of an dangerous trend.