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Outside the Lines:
Little League
and The Lockout


Here's the transcript from Show 75 of weekly Outside The Lines - Little League and The Lockout

Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Little League Reported by: Jeremy Schaap, ESPN.
Guest: Bob Laterza, Little League coach; Lance Van Auken, Little League executive.
NFL Lockout Reported by: Sal Paolantonio, ESPN.
Guest: Tom Condon, Chief Negotiator, NFL Referees Association; Jeff Pash, Executive Vice-President, NFL

Announcer - September 2, 2001.

Bob Ley, host - The kids playing in New York City have their roots in the Dominican Republic, where the passion for baseball is celebrated in Major League stars and, until recently, young Danny Almonte. The fraud involving his age ignited controversy in the U.S.

Unidentified Male - Adults have used Danny Almonte and his teammates in a most contemptible and despicable way.

Ley - But some in his homeland see business as usual.

Frank Prats, Dominican sports broadcaster - You can change date, years, months, anything for a few bucks.

Ley - The NFL is using replacement officials, locking out the experienced zebras.

Unidentified Male - They just want too much money.

Ley - And the regular season begins in seven days.

Unidentified Male - In my opinion, I think we need to get the other guys back.

Ley - Today on Outside The Lines - Little League and the lockout.

Announcer - Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance.

Ley - Part of the simple joy of sports is found in the rules. In a chaotic world full of shades of gray, the rules establish the hard and fast standards in the games people play. For the National Football League, the men who enforce the rules, the regular game officials, are locked out by the owners, and the sport faces the very real prospect of beginning the regular season in seven days with replacement officials. Ahead this morning, I'll speak live with the chief negotiators with both the union and the NFL.

In the case of young Danny Almonte, the rules were scorned. Clearly the most tragic aspect of his saga is the revelation that Danny was not enrolled in school in the Bronx. And his story proves that the age of exploitation in sports has been shamefully lowered to the pre-teen years. But outrage does nothing to address the culture and history of deprivation and want that, along with a people's great love of baseball, makes Danny Almonte's situation easier to understand and just maybe more difficult to condemn.

From the Dominican Republic, here's Jeremy Schaap.

Jeremy Schaap, ESPN correspondent - If Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of Little League Baseball, is typically American, the Norman Rockwell Portrait of the United States, towns like San Pedro de Macoris are typically Dominican - dusty, dirty, desperately poor.

Unidentified Male - We'll show you the Bronx, in Williamsport!

Schaap - It was Danny Almonte's goal to lead his team to Williamsport. It's the goal of so many Dominicans to leave their country, especially to play baseball in the United States. And often they'll lie about their age to get here.

Unidentified Male - In this country, you can change date, years, months, anything for a few bucks.

Schaap - Why does it seem like so many athletes in the Dominican Republic are lying about their age?

Prats - Because everybody is searching for the American Dream.

Pablo Peguero, Director of Dominican Scouting, L.A. Dodgers - They see this place, what they have, you know, big house, swimming pool, Mercedes. They are in the newspaper everyday. And they dream to be, you know, like Mondesi, like Pedro, like Sammy Sosa.

Schaap - Pablo Peguero has signed Major Leaguers like Raul Mondesi, and Pedro Astacio. He helps decide which dreams come true.

Because their talent is raw, and their nutrition is poor, Dominican players often take years to develop. The older they are, the less likely that they'll be signed.

Peguero - They want to look younger, because most of the players in this country, they knew that soon as they get 19, 20 years old, they weren't going to find a contract.

Schaap - So once a kid is 19 or 20, he's over the hill?

Peguero - Yes, right, in this country. Sometimes you got 20 years old, you got good stuff, but the agents say, 20 years old -- is 20 years old. We're going to make some changes -- go to 17.

Schaap - How many of the Dominicans playing in the Major Leagues do you think, roughly, are older than they say they are?

Peguero - Almost all.

Schaap - Then there are players like Dodgers third baseman Adrian Beltre who are younger than they say. When Beltre was 15, he said he was 16 so he could sign a professional contract. When the truth was revealed, Major League Baseball suspended the man who signed him, Pablo Peguero.

Peguero - I promised myself, and I promised my family to not talk about Adrian Betre anymore. So I got a very bad year last year; a long year for me. I was suspended a whole year.

Schaap - Peguero is back now at his old job, but the rules of the game have changed. Major League Baseball opened a new office in the Dominican Republic, and among its chief responsibilities - age verification. Scouts must now check birth documents first, skills second.

Peguero - He was born -- he was born April 15, '85.

Peguero - Before we sign anybody right now, we've got to ask them, you know, for the birth certificate. Then with that birth certificate, we've got to go to the Junta Centrales Dorales, the Birth Certificates office to double check. Then after we sign the player, they check again, you know, the commissioner's office here in the Dominican Republic, they've got to check again and make sure that birth certificate is the truth.

Schaap - The young man in the red shirt.

Peguero - That's right, big guy, big guy, young and we will bring him back for a week to see what happens, to work on him a little bit.

Schaap - According to the documents he showed Peguero, Malkis De La Cruz is only 16 years old.

Are you guys all told how important it is to give the right birth certificate?

Malkis De La Cruz, 16-year-old Dominican baseball prospect - Si.

Schaap - Why is it so important?

De La Cruz - Because now they have our real age, and this is more legal for us; it's more legal for us, that's what I think.

Ernesto Nieves, 17-year-old Dominican baseball prospect - We have to be prepared with all of our papers, and we shouldn't use our cousin's papers. This way we're not going to have problems with our birth certificates.

Unidentified Male - He's got sliders, he's got fastballs.

Unidentified Male - I know some Major League players who'd have a tough time hitting this guy.

Prats - In Little League it's a big mistake, because you teach the kid to lie. It's not fair; it's not fair.

Schaap - But as long as young men and their families and their agents can profit by lying, the deceptions will continue.

Prats - They're looking for the American Dream, they're looking for money, they're looking for something to help his mother, his father, brothers, sisters. They're looking for money. We are a poor country, they need it. I don't blame the kids for that; I blame the adults.

Schaap - For Outside The Lines, I'm Jeremy Schaap.

Ley - And joining us this morning, from South Williamsport Pennsylvania, Lance Van Auken, a Little League Director of media relations. Bob Laterza has coached Little League for 12 years, and earlier this summer he hired a private investigator to look into Danny Almonte's team. He joins us from Staten Island.

Bob, let me begin with you.

Bob Laterza, Staten Island's South Shore All-Stars coach - Good morning.

Ley - Good morning.

You were so vocal about your suspicions about this team. Having seen that report from the Dominican, have any of your attitudes changed at all?

Laterza - No, not at all. I mean, no one here is blaming Danny Almonte for this in any matter. It goes much deeper than that.

Ley - Deeper, how?

Laterza - Deeper...

Ley - And who do you blame?

Laterza - Who do I blame? I blame the Rolando Paulino League, the people that run that league, the manager, the coach; everyone has to know that this has occurred. They know he did not play in 50 percent of the games. Without even knowing his age, these things are ineligible for play. The residency requirements -- everything is being skirted around here. Danny Almonte is a victim in this.

Ley - Lance, specifically, what is Little League going to do in looking at the Paulino League in the Bronx -- specifically?

Lance Van Auken, Little League Director of Media Relations - Yes, well now that we have established that he was ineligible, we're looking at what our age verification procedures are. We're working with US Immigration officials, as well as the State Department, and even the government of the Dominican Republic to insure this kind of thing doesn't happen again. It's the -- we found out about this Monday morning, after the World Series. Of course there were rumors that were going around.

Mr. Laterza, as you mentioned, he hired a private investigator. Actually there were a couple of other people that hired private investigators that found nothing. And...

Ley - Well there was a letter written last year Lance...

Van Auken - I'm not sure what more Little League could have done.

Laterza - Can I get in here, Bob?

Ley - Go ahead, Bob, go ahead.

Laterza - Yeah, Mr. Van Auken, more important than that, and the Dominican Republic and the immigration, this is not set for Latin American, or any other ethnic background. This is set for all Little Leaguers. And I think Williamsport has to get a new system in place that checks district administrators, checks leagues, and has to do a little work and set up a system themselves for eligibility and residence. This is not about immigration.

Ley - Does your system work, Lance?

Van Auken - Well, considering that, as far as we know, this is the first time in 6,300 players that have played in the Little League World Series since 1947, that one has been found to be overage...

Laterza - Well, Mr. Van Auken?

Van Auken - ... the verification procedures that have been in place have to depend on the honesty and integrity of the people at the local level. We have, just in this one division, tens of thousands of players worldwide that enter the tournament. And we have a total of 14 days to do that verification.

Ley - There was a letter, though, written specifically by the...

Laterza - Just a second, Bob, I want to just pursue this with Lance -- a letter written specifically to David James, the Eastern Regional Director last year, from the Colony New York team, raising the appearance that Danny Almonte suddenly showed up in June. I've seen the letter, it's fairly specific. Didn't that send off any red flags anywhere in the Little League organization?

Van Auken - Well, personally, I wasn't aware of the letter. The burden of proof in any process, as Mr. Laterza knows, has to be on the accuser. They have to be able to show that the player did not play for half the season.

Laterza - Well, Mr. Van Auken, let me say this - Who checked the passport that was printed June 14, 2000 last year that made Mr. Almonte ineligible? It was printed there for everyone to see. No one checked that. OK, and there's things going on not being checked this year also.

Ley - All right, there's...

Laterza - More important, Williamsport has to open their ears and listen. Not just take every protest and every time somebody has something to say, and just toss it.

Van Auken - Well, we don't; we don't do that. We take every protest seriously, but there has to be some kind of proof involved. And with respect to the passport and the visa, we were looking at the age of the player. There wasn't any question at the time about whether or not he had played. And the fact that the visa was stamped on that certain date doesn't mean that he wasn't in the country before that.

Ley - What have you told your kids about this, Bob?

Laterza - Mr. Van Auken...

Ley - Bob, quickly -- Bob, we're running short of time, let me just get -- what have you told your kids? What do they ask you, how are they dealing with this?

Laterza - Well, but the kids are dealing with it very well. But I don't think Williamsport's gone far enough. The manager, Alberto Gonzales -- the manager has to be held responsible, first of all. Second of all, they have concern for the safety of the kids; that comes second. I mean, things have to be done, and Williamsport seems to be wanting to go back to the old system again. They need a new system in place for everyone.

Ley - Well, Lance, let me ask you this. The New York City authorities are now investigating the school attendance records of the entire team. There's been a report that one of the catchers on the team had no attendance records at all in school. Do you fear that this is the tip of an ugly iceberg?

Van Auken - I don't know. I think we have to wait and see what happens with that end of the investigation. And of course people have said that, you know, we should have a rule in Little League that says that players have to go to school. Well, there's already a law in place for that. There's laws in place, immigration laws, that prevent you from falsifying documents as well.

The government of the United States, the government of the Dominican Republic, the school system in New York never caught this until it was exposed by "Sports Illustrated" on Monday. And, incidentally, "Sports Illustrated" had that information part way through the Little League World Series...

Ley - All right...

Van Auken - ... and did not inform us.

Ley - Gentlemen thank you very much. Bob, I'm sorry we are out of time.

Ley - All right, Bob. Thanks to Lance Van Auken and thanks to Bob Laterza for joining us this morning.

Next, the other major story this week - the lockout of NFL officials and the impending use of replacements with the regular season around the corner.

Kevin Mawae, Jets center - We still need the regular guys here. I think this game dictates, you know, dictates that. And we need some professional refs out here. These guys will be OK for the time being, but NFL really needs to get something done.

Ley - Now the second major story of this week - the lockout of NFL game officials and the league's use of replacements. The issues of player safety and the integrity of the game have been raised. Sal Paolantonio reports that, publicly at least, the league may now hold the upper hand.

Sal Paolantino, ESPN correspondent - On the fourth and final week of the NFL pre-season, the replacement officials hired by the league stepped in without a major misstep.

Mark Brunell, Jaguars quarterback - I think those guys did a great job, you know, and a lot was asked of them.

Bryant Westbrook, Lions cornerback - I could tell they were a little nervous, because they definitely wanted to make a showing and everything. They didn't want to go out there and make too many mistakes.

Paolantonio - In the Giants/Ravens game on Friday, the replacement officials did not call holding or pass interference once. In the Eagles/Jets game Thursday night, the first flag wasn't thrown until 4 minutes and 33 seconds remained in the first half. In that game, only seven penalties were called. Last year, the Eagles averaged that number per game all by themselves.

Mawae - They didn't call a lot of play. They kind of let things just happen.

Elvis Grbac, Ravens quarterback - I talked to a couple of them on the sidelines, because they were just -- I think they were rotating a couple of guys in there. And they said, just the speed of the game was totally different. And trying to really see everything happen at one time, it's almost being a rookie again.

Paolantonio - Like any major corporation bracing for a long labor dispute, the NFL dispatched a management team to monitor the replacements. Larry Upson, the league's director of officiating operations was in Philadelphia Thursday and Baltimore Friday. He did a lot of on-the-job training, which may not go over big when the regular season starts.

Kevin Carter, Titans defensive end - It's still pre-season, and the tempo -- you know, the games aren't as heated. A lot of things aren't going on, a lot of the talking, a lot of the, you know, extra pushing. I mean, these games aren't for keeps. And when they are for keeps, then it's going to be key that we have good officiating.

Frank Wycheck, Titans tight end - Pre-season is pre-season, you know, when real balls fly, you know, the correct calls need to be made. We can't afford, you know, guys coming in for the first time.

Hardy Nickerson, Jaguars linebacker - I guess one time one of the guys put the ball -- went to mark the ball on the college hash. And we had to say, "Hey man, we're playing on the pro hashes here."

Paolantonio - Learning where to spot the ball is one thing, learning the nuances of the game at regular season speed is another. The chop blocks, helmet-to-helmet hits, and late hits on the quarterback -This is what has some players concerned.

Mawae - This game -- it dictates what, you know, it dictates that, and we need some professional refs out here. These guys will be OK for the time being, but the NFL needs to really get something done.

Paolantonio - If negotiations remain stalled, how much do you think the players will get involved in forcing the league and the officials to work this out?

Vinny Testaverde, Jets quarterback - Oh, I don't know, Sal. You know, I mean, we work so hard all year long, the players do, to come in and have a great year. And to allow a distraction like this to enter into our minds, it's not what we want.

Paolantonio - According to the NFL, there were 33 late hits on quarterbacks last year, but flags were thrown only 14 times. So in much of the off-season, the league trained the real officials to look for those hits and call them. The replacements will get one week to get it right.

For Outside The Lines, I'm Sal Paolantonio.

Ley - Joining us now to consider this issue, the chief negotiator for the NFL Referees Association, Tom Condon, who is also a player agent and a former NFL player. He's in Kansas City. Jeffrey Pash is the NFL's executive vice president. He is negotiating for the owners in this lockout; and he is joining us from New York.

Jeff, let me begin with you. What is the deadline, this coming week, at which point you know you will have to use replacement officials in week one of the regular season?

Jeff Pash, Chief Negotiator for the NFL - Well Bob, I think you are probably looking at something, late Wednesday or early Thursday. You've got to prepare people to travel to the games and do the ordinary pre-game work. I hope we don't get there. We didn't want to be here in the first place. And if we can work something out in between now and then, that's certainly our goal.

Ley - All right, you guys are here together, I don't expect you to cut a deal on the air, but when is the next time you are going to negotiate?

Pash - Well, we've had a lot of discussions. This situation is not where we wanted to be, but it is not for a want of meetings. I think Tom and I have been meeting over the past 14 months pretty regularly. And we've had some...

Pash - ... good conversations, and we'll get together this week, I hope.

Ley - Go ahead, Tom.

Tom Condon, Chief Negotiator for the NFL Referees Association - Actually, I think it has been about 18 months. And I've seen more of Jeff than I have of anybody else this off-season.

But, nevertheless we've been without a contract since March. And we're pushing hard here. We didn't receive our first offer from the National Football League until mid-June. And so the process has been very slow. But I think we can accelerate it, and I'm hopeful that something will happen this week.

Ley - Tom, how much of your position was probably predicated -- or was it predicated -- on the replacement officials being exposed, having a tough time. By all accounts, they have not. How has that hurt your leverage?

Condon - No, it hasn't hurt our leverage at all, and as a matter of fact that wasn't the thrust of this. Our desire was to talk to the league about the value that the officials bring to the product. And that's with regard to the integrity of the game, the accuracy of the call, and helping to insure the safety of the players.

And what's that value? Well we look to the economics of the National Football League with regard to 1994 to year 2000, where we saw franchise fees go from -- expansion fees -- go from $140 million to $700 million; a doubling of the TV contract from $1.1 billion to $2.2 billion. We saw a ratcheting-up over the past seven years in a dramatic way of the workload for the officials.

And during that period of time, a happy circumstance to the league has been that their cost has remained flat for seven years. So this 40 percent one-time cost increase to the National Football League that they have proposed in 2001 is really a cost increase over 1994. During that seven-year period of time, we have fallen so far behind the officials in the other sports that virtually we are four to five times less than them.

Ley - Jeff -- go ahead Jeff, but let's try and keep it on the field, and just getting to the idea that you do have replacements out there. They have not had a problem so far. But do you think that will carry through into the regular season, because that is part of the public dynamics, certainly, driving you two guys to make a deal?

Pash - Well, we think the replacement officials have done a very capable job. It's what we expected.

Ley - Is the regular season going to be the same, though?

Pash - We think it will. They are experienced, they are getting a lot of work. They are working well with our supervisors.

But we are not indifferent, Bob as to who is out there officiating these games. We want the regular officials back. If we were looking for a work stoppage, we would not have offered to double their salaries, we would not have offered to increase their pensions, we would not have offered to enhance their retirement benefits in other respects.

I heard, on the prior show, Mike Welbon suggesting, just pay them all another $50,000 a man. That's effectively the offer that's been on the table, and that the officials have rejected. They are looking for increases in the 400 to 500 percent range. Those increases are entirely unrealistic. We've offered to double their pay and go beyond that.

Condon - Jeffrey, you know that that's not so. We reduced our proposal to you the other day. We had a meeting with you and the commissioner late one night and early the next morning. We reduced our offer by 40 percent.

Pash - Tommy the only thing you did...

Condon - We haven't received any counter-offer to you at all. As a matter of fact...

Pash - Tom ...

Condon - As a matter of fact, with regard to the games fees, instead of a first-year official having made $21,400 a first year official under your proposal would go to $32,000. We think that in comparison to the other sports, where they are virtually in lockstep, even though they play a varying number of games. And they're at the $100,000 mark, that you're not addressing the value that the officials bring.

Now, Bob, with regard to how the officials are doing on the field, I would disagree with you in terms of the competency. You know, the National Football League demands first class coaching from their coaches, spectacular plays from the players, and from the officials just OK is not good enough. We had a 99.85 percent accuracy rating last year, and that's NFL figures. The commissioner, at the...

Ley - Tom, let me just break in guys, we're desperately short of time. In one phrase each. Tom, chances of making a deal to get the regular guys on for week one -- chance?

Condon - I'm always optimistic. I think that if we work hard we can get something done.

Ley - Jeff?

Pash - There is a great deal on the table, and we're prepared to negotiate off it, and we'll get it done on time.

Ley - All right, gentlemen thank you very much and good luck in your negotiations. Tom Condon and Jeff Pash, thank you.

Pash - Thank you.

Condon - Thank you.

Ley - Times are a-changin on Sunday morning. We will tell you about that next as we continue Outside The Lines. Get ready for "SportsCenter."

Ley - Next Sunday, the season premier of "NFL Countdown," meaning some changes in your ESPN Sunday morning lineup. "SportsCenter" at 9 a.m. Eastern; Outside The Lines -- make a note -- an hour earlier, 9:30 a.m. Eastern; "The Sports Reporters" at 10; "SportsCenter" again at 10:30, and then "NFL Countdown" season premier next week, 11 a.m. Eastern.

Ley - Tonight the Yankees dramatic visit to Fenway continues - Yanks and the Red Sox at 8 p.m. Eastern after "Baseball Tonight." Next up - the emotion -- and it was all there at Penn State's opener -- how good are the Oregon Ducks? And you will hear Don Corleone and Jerry Jones in the same sentence.

Robin and I are set with "SportsCenter." We'll see you in just a moment.

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 ESPN's Bob Ley tackles the hot topics of Little League and the Lockout.
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