6 Athletes (and a Coach) Who Lied About Their Age
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
On 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
When 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
During 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
Baseball 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
The 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
When 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.