Angry that Los Angeles could lose third baseman Adrian Beltre, Dodgers senior vice president Tommy Lasorda said Tuesday that teams have signed dozens of underage players.
"I bet you there's 50 ballplayers in the major leagues that have signed illegally," Lasorda said during a news conference honoring one of his former players, New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine.
Beltre's agent, Scott Boras, last week asked the commissioner's office to declare his client a free agent because he was 15 when the Dodgers signed him. Baseball rules allow teams to sign only players 16 and older.
"If this was done illegally, they gave the birth certificate to us, which simply means that they knew that he wasn't the right age," Lasorda said. "Why should he be able to go out into the world and make millions of dollars?"
Los Angeles was fined $200,000 earlier this year for signing two underage Cubans, who were declared free agents.
Lasorda, speaking rapidly with a voice filled with emotion, compared the situation to Cuban defectors, some of whom have turned out to be older than they claim. Several defectors have claimed they came over in rafts, and in the case of the New York Yankees pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, legal papers show he is 34, not 30.
"The two Cubans we signed, what did we do differently than Joe Cubas, who brings these guys in from those countries? We didn't do anything different," Lasorda said, referring to an agent for many Cuban players.
"This guy brings them in and says they were left on a raft for 14 days. These guys never lost an ounce from the time they left Cuba. They pick 'em up two miles out of the limit, get them on a yacht, take them to the Bahamas, they put them in a suite, they feed them like kings, and these guys say they were on a raft for 14 hours, fighting sharks, and landed in the wrong place and lost his direction. They never saw the Dominican Republic, and we in this country believe it."
Defectors usually establish residency outside the United States and Canada so they are not subject to baseball's amateur draft and are declared free agents.
Cubas did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
Lasorda, the Dodgers' general manager when Beltre was promoted to the major leagues, said that if Beltre is declared a free agent, the Dodgers should be reimbursed for the time and effort it took to prepare the player.
"How 'bout giving us the money back," he said. "The hours I spent with him. You know how much per hour I charge working with players?"
Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office, said an investigation will start this week.
"It's somethig that could take several weeks, depending on the amount of travel involved and the number of interviews that need to take place," Alderson said.
Earlier this year, the Dodgers lost a pair of Cuban players because they signed before they were 16. Infielder Juan Diaz and outfielder Josue Perez were declared free agents by commissioner Bud Selig, and the Dodgers were fined $200,000. Perez later signed with Philadelphia for $850,000,
|Los Angeles vice president Tommy Lasorda doesn't think the Dodgers should be singled out for signing Adrian Beltre. (AP)|
Alderson didn't want to address Lasorda's claim that teams signed dozens of underage players.
"Anything I say in this context would be a reflection on the Beltre matter, so I'd prefer to talk about that after the Beltre issue is resolved," Alderson said.
Boras said he was surprised by Lasorda's remarks, made at the New York Athletic Club. Beltre hit .275 with 15 homers, 67 RBI and 18 steals in his first full season with the Dodgers. While the team's media guide says he was born April 7, 1978, Boras said Beltre's birth certificate says he was born a year later.
"I think anyone who cares about this player would look at him as though he was his son or his brother and see he was a substantial talent who was deprived of his marketplace," Boras said. "The player and his family knew nothing about this rule."
Lasorda also said that baseball's small markets -- he named Milwaukee, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Kansas City -- can't compete with the big spenders like the Dodgers unless baseball makes changes.
"If they ever win, they ought to erect a monument of the general manager and the manager," he said.
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