Identity fraud in Baseball

A couple of months ago, a veteran major league baseball relief pitcher, who was known as Leo Nunez (above), came clean and admitted that he had been using a fake name for over ten years in order to legally play baseball in the United States. His actual name is Juan Carlos Oviedo.

Oviedo, like so many other major league baseball players, is from the Dominican Republic, where, for many, baseball is viewed as a “way out” and a ticket to making big money in the United States. These players will do almost anything to fulfill their dream, which includes forging birth certificates and stealing identities. This is not only a problem in the Dominican Republic, but is also an issue in Cuba, Venezuela, and other baseball hubs around the world. When Nunez admitted to using a false identity, his current team, the Florida Marlins, placed him on the “restricted” list, where he currently remains, until they can “work out” the matter and get Nunez back to playing Major League Baseball.

After extensively discussing citizenship and undocumented immigration in both lecture and section, it got me thinking: how does the United States allow this to happen so often? Why is baseball a different situation than when an illegal immigrant working in a factory is discovered and immediately deported and not allowed back? Shouldn’t the government be investigating and handing down decisions on these matters instead of Major League Baseball, a business?

I decided to further investigate identity and age fraud in Major League Baseball and found that this has been a problem for years. In an article from the Miami Herald on October 19th of this year, they stated that Major League Baseball recently revealed that of nearly 500 international prospects and players it investigates per year, over one third of them are rejected from playing due to inconsistencies about who they are, how old they are, or where they are from. (Source: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/10/02/v-fullstory/2434478/fraud-still-rampant-among-dominican.html) Clearly, this is a major issue that MLB faces on a year-to-year basis. I know that when my family, friends, and I talk about International baseball players, we often ask questions such as: Who knows if that’s really who he is? How old do you think he really is? Do you think that’s where he really is from? Personally, I think it’s accurate to add about three years to the age that the player claims to be when he comes to play baseball in the United States. You can see the benefit to lying about your age: The younger you are, the more years you have left to play and the larger and longer contract a team will be willing to give you. Major League Baseball also has the incentive to turn its’ back on this issue because some of the best, most marketable players in baseball are from the Dominican Republic and other international countries. Leo Nunez, I mean, Juan Carlos Oviedo, had 92 saves for the Florida Marlins over the past three seasons. (Source: espn.com)

This is why the government should immediately get involved with this situation and take action to prevent athletes from illegally entering the United States to play baseball. As a huge fan of the game, I know that the level of play may slightly suffer by preventing some very talented players from playing in the MLB before they present verifiable, legal papers, but it is the right thing to do. Baseball is no different than any other business.

 

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5 Responses to Identity fraud in Baseball

  1. nmanningham says:

    I really enjoyed this post. As an avid baseball fan, as well as someone who had Leo Nunez (or Juan Carlos Oviedo) on their fantasy baseball team this past season, I am very interested in this topic. I definitely agree that this is a major problem for Major League Baseball. Identity fraud is an extremely serious issue, and I think the MLB should take every step to ensure the validity of foreign player’s identity.

    I do not know the MLB’s current policy on foreign born players, but if it is strict, I believe the MLB should relax it and allow these players to more easily apply for and receive a work visa. While they may not be citizens in any sense of the definition (even Shklar’s, who would not include them because they do not hold the right to vote, even if they do earn a lot), they do contribute to our economy in a large way. A large majority of the MLB’s “stars” are foreign born, and these are the players US citizens pay a lot of money to go watch, as well as all of the merchandise their name helps sell (i.e., jerseys, shirts, bobbleheads, posters, etc.).

    According to the MLB.com, 27.4 percent of opening day rosters in 2006 were foreign born players. Add this to the fact that 45.1 percent of minor league players are foreign born and you see how prevalent these players are in the sport. I understand why these foreign born players are lying about their age. However, I believe the MLB needs to take every step necessary to ensure the validity of their legal papers. I don’t have a simple answer, but perhaps working with the governments of these countries to obtain legal documents straight from the source. If this were to be implemented, MLB scouts would have to consider signing a player who might have been thought of as “old” before because in the history of the game a lot of players lied about their age in order to be singed. If not for this, perhaps scouts would have passed on some of the games greats.

    Therefore, I think the MLB needs to reform its policy and its scouting in order to ensure these players can legally come over and play and keep the MLB at the high level of play it currently is at.

  2. mrs010 says:

    I love this post because it hits a very sensitive topic for many baseball fans, and even people who are active in the policies of undocumented immigration. I believe much of the problem is rooted in the exploitation of the talent that Latin America brings to Major League Baseball, as many of the stars of the MLB are foreign-born. There are far too many inadequacies in the MLB’s policies about foreign-born players, and I do agree that something needs to be done to ensure that there is equal treatment of all immigrants, athletes or factory workers. If the MLB wants to reap the benefits of the baseball talent of foreign countries, than they need to institute ways to have these players become legal citizens of the US. The foreign-born players are also taking away as much as they are giving to the United States economy, as they live in their native countries, support their countries local economies, and try to bring change in communities they call “home”. They receive millions of dollars to play in a US market, yet do not contribute much to it. I guess it is a two-way street of manipulation, but the issue needs to be resolved.

  3. jason5brown says:

    It is clear that there has been an increase in the number of foreign-born players playing in the MLB. Since the World Baseball Classic was established in 2005, both WBC’s featured finals without the United States as a participant, despite their involvement in the competition. While the quality of U.S. athletes may not be diminishing, it is clear that the quality of those of other nations is increasing dramatically. Yet, Major League Baseball, the American league, is the preferred destination of talented ballplayers from all over the world. It is in the best interest of the MLB if it wants to continue to be the dominant league in the world that it allow talent from all over the world, regardless of citizenship.

    I think this is an intriguing post, and the implications of this case and similar others will spark a much needed debate in American society. These athletes are positively effecting our economy, raising their own self-standing through hard work, and because of Americans’ fascination with sports, especially our national past time baseball, they are able to garner social respect and standing. Although not legally able to vote, these actions support Shklar’s definition of citizenship as standing. While I am in no way promoting fraud, it may take cases like these, especially if in the future it is a higher profile athlete, to propel the government to take action on a more consistent approach to citizenship in the U.S.

  4. davidkoz says:

    As an avid baseball fan myself, I found this post very thought-provoking in the context of our class’ discussion on citizenship. I think that you raise a very interesting point about not giving certain immigrants preferential treatment once they are revealed as illegal; I agree with this statement but I’d like to discuss Nunez’s situation in the context of Emerson.

    While I’m sure he had no ulterior motives when he defected from the Dominican Republican to the U.S., Nunez’s actions echo Emerson’s individualistic sentiment. Nunez disregarded the U.S. immigration laws and was employed illegally since his work visa contained false information. Furthermore, the fact that Nunez was in the U.S. for ten years and wasn’t caught may well encourage other foreigners to immigrate illegally to the U.S. These actions can be considered Emersonian in nature because Nunez disregarded all others and U.S. laws for personal gain.

    I don’t know why Nunez decided to come clean after ten years but Emerson stated in Self-Reliance, “though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.” Perhaps Nunez’s conscience affected his decision?

  5. flitvak says:

    While it is clear that many of these baseball players fit Shklar’s criteria of citizenship through their ability to earn, there is still the pressing matter of legality. Yes, these players are capable of engaging substantial audiences but Andrew Mack’s statement that “baseball is no different than any other business” is a valid and convincing argument. The quality of players may be injured as illegal immigrants are pursued but it is unethical to give baseball players special treatment due to stature when it was immorally attained. Nmanningham states, “I do not know the MLB’s current policy on foreign born players, but if it is strict, I believe the MLB should relax it and allow these players to more easily apply for and receive a work visa.” I have to disagree with this statement for while foreign-born players are contributing to society (an extension of Shklar’s theory through Douglass’ open notion of citizenship) it is a fraudulent act.

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