Remember the Atlanta Braves analyst who made the dumb comments about the Los Angeles Dodgers’ batting practice attire? Joe Simpson was offended that players were wearing t-shirts and shorts while taking BP, because it’s not traditional or something like that. He’s a 66-year-old former MLB player, so I guess things were done better and/or correctly back in the day.
Simpson later apologized for that, but he was in the news again Tuesday for another head-scratcher of a comment, this time openly questioning the age of 19-year-old Nationals outfielder Juan Soto.
Twitter user @DCBarno shared video from the broadcast:
“He is… if he’s 19, he has certainly got his man growth. He is big and strong.”
Yeah, it’s not shockingly offensive, but it’s myopic and out of touch. You can’t allude to age fraud in 2018.
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo apparently confronted Simpson between games in yesterday’s double header.
…Soto was born Oct. 25, 1998, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and his age had not previously been questioned.
“I had a definite reaction,” Rizzo said. “I handled it face to face, privately with him. I believe he understood my stance on his comments.”
Soto went 2-for-2 with three walks in the first game, an 8-3 Nationals victory. Simpson clarified his statements after Soto hit an opposite-field home run on an 0-2 pitch with one out in the first inning of the second game.
“If you were with us in Game 1, you might have heard me make a comment off the top of my head about if he’s 19,” Simpson said on the broadcast. “Well, he is. He’s bonafide 19. And he is a full-grown man. He is strong. And he is one heck of a player. You might well just write his name in on the Rookie of the Year award right now.”
Not really an apology, but whatever.
This issue occasionally pops up in baseball, though I can’t think of any recent examples. Danny Almonte was ruled ineligible when he competed in the 2001 Little League World Series, due to his parents using a doctored birth certificate. MLB opened an office in the Santo Domingo back in 2000 to deal with the issue of forged documents and false identities. Players and agents would sometimes lie about their age because it was simply more attractive for a club to sign a 19 year old with upside than a 25 year old at the midway point of his career. It was an easier path to the big leagues.
FIFA also banned Nigerian and Mexican youth teams for fielding ineligible players in the late 1980s, and the topic of age fraud frequently comes up in international soccer, so it hasn’t been just a baseball issue over the years.