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6 Athletes (and a Coach) Who Lied About Their Age

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Age fabrication is prevalent in sports, whether the motive is to make an athlete old enough to sign a contract, young enough to be considered an elite prospect, or to meet a minimum or maximum age requirement for competing in an event. Compiling a full list of fabricators would take longer than Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez's delivery to home plate, but here are seven instances of people who shaved years off their actual age:

1. Danny Almonte

The question on most people's minds after Danny Almonte threw the first Little League World Series perfect game in 44 years in 2001 was, "Who is this kid?" It turned out that the question people should have been asking was, "How old is he?" Less than two weeks after the lanky lefthander from the Bronx struck out 18 of 21 batters with a blistering fastball and devastating slider, a Sports Illustrated writer presented an affidavit to Little League officials indicating Almonte was born in 1987, not 1989 as the Little League records showed. Almonte was 14, while Little League rules require players to turn 13 no earlier than August 1 during the season in which they are competing. Sports Illustrated reported that Almonte's father, Felipe, had registered his son's false date of birth just weeks before he moved from the Dominican Republic to the Bronx a year earlier. Almonte's team "“ the Rolando Paulino All-Stars "“ was forced to forfeit all of its games at the Little League World Series. One year after the scandal, Danny Almonte admitted that he knew he was 14, but said he found out after the tournament had begun. Almonte played baseball in high school, but wasn't drafted. He appeared in six games for the Southern Illinois Miners in an independent league last season before being released.

2. Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo

nats.jpgOn July 2, 2006, the Washington Nationals awarded 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez a $1.4 million signing bonus, the largest in team history. Nationals fans envisioned the slick-fielding switch hitter nicknamed "Smiley" manning the left side of the infield with top draft pick Ryan Zimmerman for years to come, while Washington general manager Jim Bowden hoped the signing would establish a pipeline of Dominican talent to the organization. "We want every young boy wanting to be a Washington National," Bowden said at the time. But Esmailyn Gonzalez wasn't actually a young boy. In fact, he wasn't actually Esmailyn Gonzalez. Earlier this month, Sports Illustrated reporter Melissa Segura revealed that the Nationals' once-prized prospect isn't 19, but 23, and his name is Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo. The news, coupled with an ongoing federal investigation into the role Bowden may have played in the skimming of money from signing bonuses given to Latin players, has put the general manager's future with the Nationals in doubt.

3. Rafael Furcal

furcal.jpgWhen Atlanta Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal was pulled over on an early Saturday morning in June 2000, he was charged with DUI and underage alcohol consumption. A report that surfaced later that week indicated that Furcal wasn't guilty of the second charge, though he was apparently guilty of lying about his age. According to the report, Furcal was 22, not 19 and the game's youngest player as team officials, fans, and the media had been led to believe. Furcal denied the report and didn't admit to lying about his age until spring training in 2002. "I'm now 23," Furcal told reporters. "Nothing changed in my life because I have to play like I play everyday." Furcal said a coach in his Dominican youth league suggested he change his age in order to increase his chances of being signed to a major league contract.

4. Miguel Tejada

tejada.jpgDuring an April 2008 episode of E:60, an ESPN reporter presented Tejada a copy of his birth certificate and asked him to explain the discrepancy between his documented date of birth "“ May 24, 1974 "“ and May 24, 1976, the one Tejada provided when he signed his first major league contract in 1993. Tejada removed his microphone and walked off the set, ending the interview, but admitted to lying about his age soon after. "I had no intention of doing anything wrong," said Tejada, who was actually 19 when he was signed. ""¦I'm a poor kid that wanted to be a professional big leaguer." Like Furcal, a local coach encouraged Tejada to shave a couple years off of his age to improve his chances of being signed. Recently, Tejada admitted telling a more serious lie; he pleaded guilty to making a false representation to Congress during an investigation into whether his former teammate, Rafael Palmeiro, lied about using steroids.

5. Tom Shaw

senior-PGA-tour.jpgBaseball players aren't the only athletes who lie about their age. Tom Shaw joined the PGA Tour in 1963 at the age of 25 but shaved four years off his date of birth. Why, you ask? "Everybody was lying about his age, so I thought why not do it earlier and lie in my 20s and nobody would catch on," Shaw admitted years later. "I figured it was the fun thing to do." Shaw didn't bother correcting the lie until he began itching to join the Senior Tour, which has a minimum age of 50. In 1989, at the actual age of 50, Shaw called the Senior Tour's administrator and explained his situation. The administrator, unlike the one who changed Shaw's date of birth in 1963, was skeptical and asked for proof. Shaw sent his passport, a copy of his driver's license, and his birth certificate before he was finally welcomed onto the tour. Shaw won The Tradition tournament in 1993.

6. Kim Gwang Suk

gymnast.jpgThe controversy that surrounded the Chinese women's gymnastics team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was hardly a new development in a sport where smaller athletes with less developed bodies are at an advantage. In 1989, North Korea's Kim Gwang Suk raised eyebrows when she won the world championships. Kim, who was 4-foot-3 and 62 pounds, was also missing her two front teeth, which her coach said was the result of an accident on the uneven bars. North Korean officials reported her birth date as October 5, 1974, making her just old enough for competition. Two years later, Kim entered the world championships with a completely different date of birth "“ February 15, 1975. At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, her reported date of birth changed yet again, this time by one year, to February 15, 1976. U.S. coach Bela Karolyi made it clear he thought Kim was underage. "Her milk teeth are still falling," Karolyi told reporters. "When she's 14 or 15, she's going to be a nice little gymnast." While Kim's actual age was never actually determined, the North Korean team was banned from the world championships in 1993.

7. Marv Levy

levy.jpgWhen Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson brought back former head coach Marv Levy as the team's general manager and vice president of football operations in January 2006, Wilson could be excused for wondering if Levy was really 80 years old, or a spry-looking 83. Levy, who has a master's degree in English from Harvard, addressed his age during his introductory press conference. "I came out of the closet on it, I guess," Levy told reporters. "Way back when I was hired in 1986, I was 61 years of age, and it sounded too old, so I lied and said I was 58. Finally I cleared that up. Maybe as I matured I came to realize it wasn't a factor. It's what you can do that counts." Levy's published date of birth officially switched from 1928 to 1925 in 1996, by which time he had led the Bills to four Super Bowls. Levy, who has since stepped down as Bills GM, became only the second 72-year-old head coach in NFL history (George Halas was the other) before retiring from coaching after the 1997 season. Incidentally, Levy's father lied about his age to join the Marines in World War I.

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Pop Culture
The Time a Wrestling Fan Tried to Shoot Bobby Heenan in the Ring
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For a man who didn't wrestle much, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan wound up becoming more famous than a lot of the men flexing in the squared circle. The onscreen manager of several notable grapplers, including André the Giant and “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Heenan died on Sunday at the age of 73. His passing has led to several tributes recalling his memorable moments, from dressing up in a weasel suit to hosting a short-lived talk show on TNT.

While Heenan’s “heel” persona was considered great entertainment, there was a night back in 1975 when he did his job a little too well. As a result, an irate fan tried to assassinate him in the ring.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Heenan was appearing at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the now-defunct AWA wrestling promotion when his performance began to grate on the nerves of an unnamed attendee seated on the floor. Eyewitnesses described the man as friendly up until wrestlers Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel started their bout with Heenan at ringside in Bockwinkel’s corner.

“Get Heenan out of there,” the fan screamed, possibly concerned his character would interfere in a fair contest. Heenan, known as “Pretty Boy” at the time, began to distract the referee, awarding an advantage to his wrestler. When the official began waving his arms to signal Heenan to stop interrupting, the fan apparently took it as the match being over and awarded in Bockwinkel’s favor. He drew a gun and began firing.

The man got off two shots, hitting three bystanders with one bullet and two more with the other before running out of the arena. (No fatalities were reported.) Security swarmed the scene, getting medical attention for the injured and escorting both Heenan and the wrestlers to the back.

According to Heenan, the shooter was never identified by anyone, and he was brazen enough to continue attending wrestling cards at the arena. ("Chicago really took that 'no snitching' thing to heart back then," according to Uproxx.)

Heenan went on to spend another 30 years in the business getting yelled at and hit with chairs, but was never again forced to dodge a bullet.

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History
Hans Schmidt, the "Nazi" Wrestler Who Incited Riots
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Courtesy of Dave Drason Byrzynski

Waiting inside the locker room of the Pioneer Memorial Stadium, The Des Moines Register reporter Walter Shotwell thought he had found a clever way to discredit a visiting professional wrestler named Hans Schmidt. Just a few days prior, on August 1, 1953, Schmidt had been seen on national television barking into a microphone using a thick German accent. He dismissed the concept of sportsmanship and vowed to “win ze title and take it back to Germany vere it belongs.”

In the years following World War II, a German nationalist was not likely to be cheered on anywhere in the United States, but the vitriol Schmidt encouraged was unlike anything pro wrestling had ever seen. Schmidt had fans practically frothing at the mouth, stabbing him with hairpins, waving cigarette lighters in his face, and vandalizing his car. Fearing for his safety, police would often have to escort him through angry mobs. It didn’t really seem to matter whether Schmidt was truly anti-American or just playing a role. Either one seemed egregious.

Shotwell suspected the latter. During his interview with Schmidt, he handed him a newspaper clipping and asked him to read it out loud in German. Schmidt refused, saying that Shotwell wouldn’t understand him. Looking at it closely, Schmidt could see it quoted residents of Munich, where he claimed to hail from, who said they had never heard of any Hans Schmidt.

Shotwell pushed it a little further, until Schmidt made it clear he wasn’t going to continue to play along. Had he admitted the truth—that he was not an actual Nazi, but a French-Canadian named Guy Larose—then he likely would have missed out on a career that would eventually make him one of the highest-paid and most reviled athletes in the world.

Courtesy of Dave Drason Burzynski

If pretending to be an enemy of the state was his destiny, then Larose was born at the right time. He was 24 in 1949, the year he decided to become a pro wrestler; his dream of joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had ended while he was still in training after the police and several RCMP students tried to enforce an alcohol ban on a nearby Native community and had their vehicles pummeled with baseball bats.

Eager to exploit his six-foot-four, 240-pound frame, Larose turned to wrestling. In Michigan and across Canada, he was able to book contests but found that neither his persona nor his real name was drawing a crowd.

Arriving in Boston in 1951, Larose met wrestling promoter Paul Bowser, who took one look at the stern-faced wrestler and declared that he should adopt a Nazi persona. Larose wouldn’t be the first—Kurt Von Poppenheim had already devised a similar gimmick—but he’d have an opportunity to do it on television.

At the time, ring sports like boxing and wrestling were ideal for the burgeoning medium. Cheap to produce, they could easily fill programming schedules on networks like the DuMont Television Network, a onetime rival to CBS, NBC, and a burgeoning ABC that aired grappling contests from Chicago. Although Larose—now Schmidt—had been stirring up attention prior, it was his August 1953 appearance and interview with Chicago Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse that drew more disdain than usual.

After declaring “Germany has been good to me” and claiming that he believed there was no place for sportsmanship in wrestling, Schmidt was cut off by Brickhouse. With the emotional wounds of World War II still fresh, his appearance had struck a nerve. DuMont, Brickhouse would later recall, received more than 5000 angry letters from viewers who were disgusted by Schmidt. At least one viewer recommended he be deported.

Larose, however, exercised some restraint. The word “Nazi” was rarely tossed around, and he never goosestepped or carried a swastika with him. The implication of his allegiance seemed to be more than enough to stir the crowd into a frenzy, especially when he would remain seated during the National Anthem or turn his back at the sight of the American flag. He had been a motorcycle dispatcher during the war, he told journalists, and was once shot down while in a plane.

Although those details weren’t true, on many nights Larose may have felt as though he was in a war zone. Walking to the ring, he’d often be jabbed by women using their hairpins, or by men trying to singe him with their cigarettes. During matches, his “cheating”—using chairs to brain opponents, or kicking them in the groin—would draw crowds toward the ring in an effort to start a riot. At one engagement in Milwaukee, the ensuing chaos led to a brief ban on pro wrestling in the arena.

When the journalist Shotwell asked him what kind of car he drove, he hesitated. “A Lincoln,” he said. “I don’t want to describe it any more than that. I don’t want it wrecked.” He often came out of arenas to find ice picks in his tires.

Whatever argument existed about the good taste of Larose’s performance, there was no question it was lucrative. People who wished to see him get beaten in programs against the likes of Verne Gagne or Lou Thesz filled arenas. Once, special guest referee Joe Louis decked him in a staged climax. There was some kind of catharsis in watching Larose get pummeled.

Photo (C) by Brian Bukantis, www.wrestleprints.com

According to pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, who inducted the Schmidt character into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2012, Larose made roughly $1 million in his 20-year career, which wound to a close in the mid-1970s. Other “foreign menaces” like Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik were coming in, diversifying wrestling’s villain culture.

The kind of loathing he had drawn from the crowd remained rare in wrestling, which hates its heels but usually doesn’t attempt to stab them or burn them with fire. It wasn’t until Sergeant Slaughter turned away from his patriotism and became an Iraqi sympathizer in the early '90s that emotions got a bit too heated for entertainment’s sake. The WWE (then WWF) was forced to assign security to Slaughter’s family until the act was dropped.

By that point, Larose had long been out of the spotlight, having returned home to Quebec. He died in 2012 at the age of 87, his status as one of the most infamous performers of the 20th century having been largely forgotten. Never once did he admit during his prime that he was from Canada.

“Of course I’m from Germany,” he told Shotwell. “Do you think I’d go on television and say things that weren’t true?”

Additional Sources: Mad Dogs, Midgets, and Screw Jobs: The Untold Story of How Montreal Shaped Wrestling; The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels.

Unless otherwise credited, all photos (C) Dave Drason Burzynski from the book This Saturday Night: Return to the Cobo, available at Wrestleprints.com. Used with permission.

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