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Saturday, February 23
Updated: April 17, 5:54 PM ET
Age issues brought on by Sept. 11

By Jayson Stark

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Most of us age one day at a time. But now we know that's only because most of us aren't baseball players.

In baseball these days, medical science would be amazed how fast a guy can age. Just this month alone, Angels pitcher Ramon Ortiz aged three years.

And out there at shortstop, Neifi Perez and Rafael Furcal ranged so deep in the hole, they aged two years by the time they got back to their position.

Rafael Furcal
After a closer look at his personal records, it was determined that Rafael Furcal is 23 years old, not 21.

And the ranks of players aging one year literally overnight included Bartolo Colon and Enrique Wilson.

All told, we've counted a dozen players on major-league rosters this spring who have discovered that age is more than a state of mind. And the commissioner's office estimates that when minor-league players begin arriving at spring training next month, as many as 100 of them will show up with different birth dates than they had when they left.

Well, if they need somebody to blame, Osama bin Laden would be a good place to point a finger.

Since Sept. 11, you see, it isn't just the real world that's a different place. Our world of fun and games is also a different place.

Once upon a time, it was mostly kind of amusing when players' foreign visa applications were part fact, part fiction. After Sept. 11, all phony visas stopped being a joke. And that meant big trouble for players who showed up at the American consulates to apply for their annual visa and found they needed real birth certificates to document their real ages.

"Most of the players who have found themselves in this circumstance are guys in the Dominican," said Braves GM John Schuerholz, "where we all know that, for as long as I can remember, the ability to determine, with finite accuracy, the birth date of a player has been a challenge. And that's whether we're talking one year ago, five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago or 30 years ago. Every organization in baseball has had a situation like this that has scouted in that environment.

"Now, the U.S. Immigration Service is cracking down and demanding more exact information. And my understanding is that a large part of the reason is attributable to the increased scrutiny brought about by Sept. 11. Obviously, I don't think anybody has trouble with that at all. It's just something that's happening."

It's a serious subject. But at least it's been good for a laugh or two in clubhouses all over the game.

The changing ages
Players who have recently been determined to be older than previously thought:
Player Team Old age New age
R. Furcal Atl. 21 23
B. Colon Cle. 26 28
R. Ortiz Ana. 26 29
N. Perez K.C. 26 28
J. Cruz ChC 21 23
J. Uribe Col. 21 22
M.Encarnacion Col. 24 26
M.Vargas Cle. 24 25
L.Taveras Atl. 24 26
E.Wilson NYY 26 28
D. Cruz S.D. 26 29
O. Dotel Hou. 26 28
T. Perez NYM 24 26
R. Ordonez NYM 29 31
L. Vizcaino Oak. 24 26

  • When Rockies outfielder Mario Encarnacion arrived in camp this spring, his age having jumped from 24 to 26, Todd Helton gave him a hug and chuckled: "Happy birthday -- twice."

  • After Furcal's age was determined to be 23 instead of 21, Braves manager Bobby Cox philosophized: "He's maturing."

  • And after Ortiz set the unofficial offseason aging record by revealing he's about to turn 29 instead of 26, Angels GM Bill Stoneman found himself talking to the media one day about all the young players his team has begun signing in the Dominican. Then he caught himself and joked: "At least we think they're young."

    We can regard these quips as a sign that everyone is taking this development in fine humor. And it's a good thing, because it's time to get prepared for more than just age changes. Some of the names might also be changing, to protect the guilty.

    One club official says his team is still waiting for one of its pitchers to arrive in spring training, thanks to particularly pesky visa problems. And when he finally does, the club isn't sure how old he'll be or what name he'll have. Turns out there have been a few players who used someone else's whole identity to get their visas in the past because it was more convenient, for various reasons. (Use your imagination.)

    All of this scrutiny ought to make the world a better place. But will it make baseball a better place?

    Indians GM Mark Shapiro found out this month that his ace, Colon, was 28 instead of 26. But he pronounced this revelation to have "zero relevance."

    "Even if we found out he'd gained three or four years," Shapiro said, "it has absolutely no implication at all on his ability to throw a baseball."

    The Braves, meanwhile, had three players (Furcal, reliever Jose Cabrera and backup catcher Luis Taveras) undergo age-change surgery this spring. And this development comes a couple of years after the Braves got in inadvertent hot water after ballyhooed middle-infield prospect Wilson Betemit was found to be a year younger than he was thought to be when the Braves signed him.

    "We got nailed on both sides of this one," Schuerholz said. "We can't win. We got called on the carpet because we have one player younger than what the records said he was. Now we find our shortstop is two years older.

    "But you know what? When Rafael Furcal goes deep in the hole, backhands a ball and throws a laser across the diamond, or he runs to first base in 3.6 seconds, I don't think anybody will care if he's 21 or 23."

    Good point. Not that there won't be some occasions where caring becomes more appropriate. For instance, it might have some long-term contract implications for players like Ortiz. He used to be known as "Little Pedro" for his resemblance to Pedro Martinez -- and now it turns out he's only about one year younger than the real Pedro.

    But even though the joke in Braves camp is that thanks to the age police, Julio Franco will be able to collect Social Security and play first base at the same time, these new rules won't help determine how old he really is. He's on a green card, which doesn't need annual renewals. So feel free to keep speculating.

    And while the age authorities work on that investigation, Schuerholz has another project for them.

    "I want to try to find a way to reverse this process for me," he said. "I'd like to knock a couple of years off."

    Miscellaneous Rumblings

  • For the sake of entertainment alone, we're always happy to have Jose Canseco around. But every baseball person we've asked if Canseco can possibly play in the National League has burst into laughter within seconds.

    "Why don't they see if he can play shortstop while they're at it?" said one scout.

    For the record, Canseco has played a total of 13 games in the outfield in the last three seasons combined.

  • The Indians say they're down about 200,000 in tickets sold from this point a year ago. So other clubs say they may not be through trading away payroll, especially from their suddenly deep pitching staff.

  • It's still unclear how the Expos will be run in many ways. But let's just say the front offices of other teams will be watching closely.

    "If the Major League Scouting Bureau is running their draft and I'm paying 1/29th of the cost of doing that, then I've got a problem with that," said one scouting director this week. "That seems to me to be a blatant conflict of interest. Why should I be paying to run another team's draft, even if it's 1/29th?"

    Good point. And there are a thousand issues just like that one. But clubs are being told this is just a one-year emergency, so chill out.

  • Speaking of the Expos, at last look, their official web site still listed Jeff Torborg as manager.

  • There was a point last week, before the Marlins and Expos sales closed, when John Henry owned parts of four teams -- the Marlins, Expos, Red Sox and Yankees. Does that make him the Mike Morgan of owners?


  • Rick Reed still hasn't dropped his formal demand to be traded in Minnesota, in an attempt to get his 2004 option year guaranteed at $8 million. But Twins GM Terry Ryan is holding firm.

    "That's not going to happen," Ryan said. "And they know that."

    Incidentally, Ryan expects the Twins' payroll to wind up around $40 million this year. It was under $17 million two years ago.

  • In case you weren't following those arbitration results carefully, you may have missed one more example of management's new get-tough stance on contracts:

    It used to be that most arbitration filers who settled wound up with deals at or above the midpoint between the player's figure and the club's figure. This year, just one player settled above the midpoint -- Torii Hunter, with the Twins. And he didn't settle until after he'd already showed up for his hearing.

  • Two injury stories that don't seem to be heading toward happy endings:

    Josh Hamilton's back problems continue to be a mystery in Tampa Bay. And the Devil Rays say the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft probably won't show up in their big-league spring-training camp at all.

    Hamilton's father had some ominous quotes in the St. Petersburg Times suggesting that if all this isn't figured out, his son may lose interest in baseball. And Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar was quoted as saying that pretty soon, Hamilton will either have to get to the bottom of this mystery or learn to play through the pain. It would be tragic if Hamilton doesn't fulfill his immense promise. But stay tuned.

    Meanwhile, Indians utility dynamo Jolbert Cabrera continues to have problems following his accidental shooting in the derriere this winter. He now isn't expected back before Opening Day, and doctors can't even determine the extent of his injuries because the swelling still hasn't subsided.

  • The impact of new Tigers president Dave Dombrowski is showing up in the Tigers' sudden wave of multi-year contracts. At this time last year, they had just three players signed for more than one year. They now have 11 -- including six in the last month, since Dombrowski brought in former Marlins aide John Westhof as assistant GM.

  • The two big projects of the new coaching staff in Florida this spring are disappointing shortstop Alex Gonzalez and tantalizing starter Matt Clement.

    New pitching coach Brad Arnsberg is trying to get the erratic Clement to stop throwing across his body, and the results so far have new manager Jeff Torborg very revved up: "If we get him straightened out as the fifth starter, we'll really have a great rotation," Torborg said.

    And new coaches Ozzie Guillen and Perry Hill have both made Gonzalez their No. 1 order of business this spring. In Montreal, Hill's scientific approach to infield mechanics turned Orlando Cabrera into a Gold Glove shortstop. "He's our secret weapon," Torborg said of Hill.


  • One of the spring's feel-good stories so far is Scott Radinsky. After being healthy enough to pitch in just three games over the last two seasons, Radinsky is opening a lot of eyes in Cleveland's camp.

    "The ball's just jumping out of his hand," Shapiro said. "He's a guy you can't help but pull for."

  • Has anybody noticed that the Brewers have turned into a farm team -- for the Cleveland Browns?

    Multisport journalistic sensation Drew Olson, of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, reports that there was something familiar about nonroster outfielder Derrick Gibson's decision not to come to camp this week -- because he'd signed a football deal with the Browns.

    Last year, the Brewers traded one-time No. 2 draft pick Alvin Morrow to the Blue Jays. Morrow then quit baseball, signed with the Browns and actually was active for two games.

    So when you hear those Brewers outfielders can really hit, it might not mean what you think.

  • Finally, you'll know this sport is in a strange state when you peruse the following two lists of guys who don't have jobs this spring and guys who do:

    Do have jobs
    Kevin Elster (Yankees)
    Luis Polonia (Pirates)
    Mark Whiten (Dodgers)
    Butch Henry (Red Sox)
    Carlos Baerga (Mets)
    Chris Hammond (Braves)
    Tim Scott (Dodgers)
    Kevin Stocker (Rockies)
    Tony Tarasco (Mets)
    Gregg Olson (Pirates)
    Lance Johnson (Expos)

    Don't have jobs
    David Cone
    Gil Heredia
    Russ Springer
    Andres Galarraga
    Rey Sanchez
    Harold Baines
    Bobby Bonilla
    Devon White
    Josias Manzanillo

    That aspiring new Expo, Jose Canseco, has hit 462 career home runs -- none of them in the National League. Can you name the two other active players who have hit at least 300 homers without hitting any for an NL team? And we'll give you extra credit if you can name the all-time leader in American League home runs without any NL home runs. (Answer at bottom.)

    Spring fever
    Stubble of the week
    Jason Giambi tried sneaking into Yankees camp mostly shaven -- but with a little hair dangling beneath his lip. Good try, but he still got nailed by the facial-hair police. So the next day, he shaved that, too -- but definitely not close enough to market himself as a Gilette spokesman.


    "Yeah, I've still got a little stubble going," he told Spring Fever. "I'm going to keep pushing the envelope, see how far they take this thing."

    We're proud to say we're the only Yankees correspondents so far to ask Giambi the most important question of the spring: How'd he lop all that hair -- blade or electric?

    "Had to use both," Giambi revealed. "If I'd just used the blade, I'd have chopped my face all up. So I had to start off with the electric."

    Hey, you heard it here first.

    Financial advice of the week
    When a guy signs a big contract, you can always count on his teammates to step up and tell him how he can spend his new fortune. So when Bobby Abreu signed his new five-year, $64-million extension, his Phillies buddies were eager to help him out.

    Catcher Mike Lieberthal's reaction, upon hearing about this contract: "He can buy Venezuela."

    "I don't know if I could buy Venezuela," Abreu laughed. "But I think I could buy a lot of things."

    What things, though? That was the question posed to center field-quotesmith Doug Glanville.

    "Well," Glanville suggested, "he can support the Glanville Foundation now. That would be a good start. But basically, I think he needs to start thinking outside the box.

    "You can only buy so many cars, so he's got to make his own car. He can design the Abreu. And when he goes shopping, forget Target. He should go to his own store -- Bob's-eye. You've got a state named after Joe Montana, so why not Abreu City? He can start his own bat company, grow his own trees. Anybody can buy that stuff. Now he's got to think on a higher level."

    Rookie of the week
    Those of us on the outside don't understand the challenges of being a big-league manager for the first time. Fortunately, we have new Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to fill us in.

    After his first day running a spring-training camp Monday, Gardenhire said the toughest part was acting managerial.

    "I was kind of looking around wondering, 'What is it a manager does, anyway?' " he told Spring Fever. "Once I had the meeting and gave the signs, I wasn't sure what to do. So I decided I should mostly walk around the field. I wasn't going to stand around the cage and watch every guy swing at every pitch, saying, 'Oooh, good swing,' or, 'bad swing.' "

    But Gardenhire made it through the day, returned to his office and opened a package on his desk. As he was tossing away the shipping label, he noticed something.

    "The good news is, I'm finally getting stuff sent to me," he said. "The bad news is, they think I'm Ron Gardenline."

    Card shark of the week
    Speaking of household names, your NLCS MVP, Craig Counsell, told the East Valley Tribune's Ed Price this week that he noticed something funny recently this winter when he was asked to autograph his new Topps baseball card.


    The guy pictured on the front wasn't him. It was his teammate, Greg Colbrunn. And that would be bad enough, but Colbrunn hits right-handed, while Counsell hits left-handed. At least the stats on the back were Counsell's.

    Counsell immediately called Colbrunn, who replied: "It's a complete insult, having my picture with your stats on the back of the card."

    Royal highness of the week
    Cecil Fielder's humongous son, Prince, stopped by both the Phillies' and Tigers' camps Monday to take a little BP. Given his Tigers bloodlines, he naturally attracted more attention in the Tigers' camp, where he hit eight batting-practice home runs.

    After watching Prince, a high school senior, put on this show, Tigers GM Randy Smith told his father, "You've got to change his name from Prince to the King."

    Asked if his dad has been throwing him batting practice, Prince quipped: "No, he's too lazy for that."

    And recalling those good old days when he used to hang out in the Tigers' clubhouse as a kid and once body-slammed Tony Phillips, Prince told Tigers beat man Danny Knobler, of Booth Newspapers: "I think I weighed as much as Tony when I was 5."

    Pop culture of the week
    You might recall that despite their collection of Gold Glovers, catching and calling for pop-ups in Yankee Stadium last fall wasn't exactly the Diamondbacks' highlight of the postseason.

    So on Thursday, manager Bob Brenly scheduled a drill on the lost art of calling for pop-ups. Unfortunately, he scheduled it on a field where all the pop-ups seemed to drift right into the blazing sun, on a morning when there wasn't a cloud from Tucson to Tucumcari.

    Things got so bad that, at one point, Jay Bell missed four straight pop-ups.

    "It's hard to believe that was the No. 1 defense in the National League out there," Brenly said. "That was one of the ugliest fundamental drills I have ever seen."

    "That was evil," Mark Grace told the East Valley Tribune's Ed Price. "Poor Jay. I'm sorry, but that was hilarious. There's a lot of Gold Glovers out there ... and it wasn't pretty. But it was good for comic relief."

    Spring injury of the week
    Rangers outfielder Ryan Ludwick broke out in hives the other day after lying on the grass, doing his conditioning exercises. He wound up in the hospital for a shot -- after having a reaction either to fertilizer, weed killer or his first spring in exotic Port Charlotte, Fla.

    Useless Information Dept.

  • According to figures obtained from a Feb. 4 report by the commissioner's office, 42 percent of all professional baseball players are now from countries other than the United States. And more than three-fourths of them are from either the Dominican Republic or Venezuela.

    Of the 3,066 players from outside U.S. soil, 53 percent (or 1,630) are from the Dominican, and 24 percent (or 744) are from Venezuela. There's a huge drop to the next-closest sources of talent -- Puerto Rico (five percent, or 165) and Mexico (four percent, or 114). Only 26 players are from Cuba, but half of them (13) are currently on major-league rosters.

  • Organizations with the most foreign players:

    Dodgers 143
    Astros 143
    Braves 133
    Indians 132

  • Organizations with the fewest:

    Devil Rays 66
    White Sox 75
    Cardinals 79
    Diamondbacks 83
    Rangers 86

  • Now that Turk Wendell has switched from No. 99 to 13 in Philadelphia and good old No. 96, Alan Mills, is out of a job, we had trouble assembling our customary five-man defensive line of baseball players with the highest numbers this spring. But thanks to the Yankees, we pulled it off. So here goes:

    Right end: No. 90 in your program, Yankees RHP Danny Borrell.
    Right tackle: No. 92 in your program, Yankees RHP Domingo Jean.
    Nose guard: No. 95 in your program, Brewers LHP Takahito Nomura.
    Left tackle: No. 91 in your program, Yankees RHP David Walling.
    Left end: No. 93 in your program, Yankees RHP Ryan Bradley.

  • Another of our favorite spring traditions is the Most Players in Big League Camp competition. And those perennial champs, the Reds, won it again. The standings in the MPIBLC League:

    Reds 69 players
    Rangers 64
    Tigers 63
    Yankees 63
    Pirates 62
    Dodgers 60
    Brewers 60

  • When we examine team stats, it's baseball tradition to look at them by league. But in this newfangled, six-division age we live in, it probably makes more sense to look at them by division. So here are the teams that scored the most (and fewest) runs in their divisions last season:

    NL East
    Most: Phillies 746 (four more than Florida)
    Fewest: Mets 642

    NL Central
    Most: Astros 847 (33 more than St. Louis)
    Fewest: Pirates 657

    NL West
    Most: Rockies 923 (105 more than the sea-level leaders, Arizona)
    Fewest: Dodgers 758

    AL East
    Most: Yankees 804 (32 more than Boston)
    Fewest: Devil Rays 672

    AL Central
    Most: Indians 897 (99 more than Chicago)
    Fewest: Tigers 724

    AL West
    Most: Mariners 927 (37 more than Texas)
    Fewest: Angels 691

  • There may have been a few eyebrows raised when Bobby Abreu signed that $64-million, five-year extension with the Phillies. But Abreu is simply one of the best-kept secrets in the game.


    Check out this list of National League hitters who have scored 100 runs or more three straight seasons: Jeff Bagwell, Chipper Jones, Sammy Sosa, Todd Helton, Luis Gonzalez, Brian Giles, Vladimir Guerrero and Bobby Abreu.

    Check out the list of hitters who have both a career batting average and on-base percentage as high as Abreu's (.307, .409): Frank Thomas, Edgar Martinez and Todd Helton. (And Helton has fewer career plate appearances.)

    So how amazing is it that Abreu has never made an All-Star team?

  • Speaking of Abreu ... even after all the Mets' offensive upgrades, the Phillies' trusty public-relations staff figured out that their prospective starting outfield (Abreu, Doug Glanville, Pat Burrell) compared more favorably to the Mets' starting outfield (Roger Cedeno, Jay Payton, Jeromy Burnitz) than you might think.

    The Phillies' group had more home runs (72 to 48), more RBI (254 to 182), more stolen bases (66 to 59), more extra-base hits (182 to 126) and more outfield assists (37 to 25) last year than the Mets' trio. Who'd have thunk that?

    Trivia Answer
    Juan Gonzalez (397 AL homers, zero NL homers) and Frank Thomas (348). If Harold Baines surfaces somewhere, he joins the group. And the all-time leader? Harmon Killebrew, with 573 -- 10 more than Reggie Jackson.

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for

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