Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Devern Hansack: 24-Year-Old Prospect or 28-Year-Old Journeyman?

Devern Hansack is a minor league pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. He was the team's best Double A pitcher this year while pitching for the Portland Sea Dogs. He finished up especially strong, giving up only 5 runs, walking 7, and striking out 28 in his last 30 innings pitched. To cap off his run, he won both games that he started in the Sea Dogs' Eastern League Championship series against the Akron Aeros.

And while on the field celebrating his team's championship, Hansack learned that the Red Sox were calling him up to The Show. The native of Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua will make his big league debut later this week, when he joins the team's starting rotation.

So far, there's not all that much interesting about Hansack's story, although it must be neat to learn that you've been called up to the big leagues while you are celebrating a minor league championship. But notice that I haven't given Hansack's age. It's because he's either 24, 26, or 28. You take your pick. claims that he is 28. Hansack himself and the Portland Press Herald claim that he is 26. The Baseball Cube claims that he is 24.

Why the confusion? The Houston Astros' originally signed him in 1999, at which time he was born in 1982. For whatever reason, there is no record of him pitching organized ball from 1999 to 2001. He did, however, pitch in Single A from 2002 to 2003, but was mediocre and the Astros released him. There is also speculation that the Astros released him because they somehow learned that Hansack was older than he had originally asserted, and they became upset about it.

After Hansack was released in 2003, he went back to Nicaragua and became a member of the Nicaraguan National Team. A Red Sox scout noticed him pitching in a winter league and signed him to a minor league contract in December of 2005. He seemed to be born in 1978 when that transaction took place.

In the short-term, Hansack's age doesn't really matter. The Red Sox need pitching, regardless of its age. And whether he's 24, 26, or 28, Hansack could pitch for a number of years to come. But in the long-term, and assuming that Hansack becomes a decent big league pitcher, a four or even two year age difference could dramatically affect his earning capacity, particularly given the earliest age at which he could become a free agent. It could also influence whether the Red Sox want to keep him on their 40-man roster or leave him exposed in the Rule 5 Draft.

Hansack's situation also brings to mind the difficulties of verifying birth dates for some foreign players. Of course, it is not a problem unique to foreign players. Some of you may remember Rich Rowland, a backup catcher for the Tigers and Red Sox during the 90s, who was two years older than he claimed to be, as unbeknownst to most, he had been a lumberjack for a couple of years between high school and college (the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo uncovered the lie, which Rowland made worse by denying). Considering the importance of age for ball players, and how much money teams spend on player development, it seems surprising that players' ages can still be a subject of debate in 2006.

Update 10/2/2006: Only adding to his mysteriousness, Hansack threw a no-hitter for the Red Sox yesterday in the team's final game of the season, but no one seems to have noticed. Granted, it was a 5-inning, rain-shortened no-hitter and is thus not official, and granted, the Red Sox playoff hopes ended weeks ago, but still . . . this young man (or sorta young man) pitched a complete game no-hitter as a rookie--you would think that it would generate more than mere background noise in today's Boston Globe and Boston Herald (e.g., it appears in the 15th paragraph of the Globe's game story!!).


The fact that he is a foriegn player, from Latin America, is significant. It's no secret that after 9-11, MLB teams had to do some work to provide correct information to the government. This may just be a case which was never followed through on because he went back to Nicaragua and was not considired to be a valuable asset.

On the other hand, it may be that his real age is unknown (a circumstance that is not uncommon in many modernizing nations), which would be extremely convenient for Hansack.

Blogger WMUpsci_student -- 9/19/2006 4:20 PM  

This was actually a big problem when the Atlanta Braves traded Wilson Betemit this year for Willy Aybar.

All the news outlets were reporting that Aybar was three years younger, and could in fact develop to be more valuable than Betemit.

But what the Braves organization may heve not accounted for (somehow) is the fact that Betemit is not in fact 3 years old than Aybar.

Willy Aybar was born on 3/9/83, making him 23. Wilson Betemit's birthday in a lot of places is 7/28/80, which would make him 26 (for example, and

But Betemit's real birthday (which is on and is really 11/2/81, which makes him only 16 months older than Aybar and not 32.

The reason for this was that Betemit was not really 16 when he signed with the Braves, but 14.

This makes the trade a lot worse for the Braves, since Betemit is basically playing above average full-season ball at 24, and is significantly further along the prospect developmental ladder than Aybar.

The Braves will be lucky if Aybar can turn into Betemit, and even then, they'll have lost player development time in the trade (not to mention the fact that they would have gotten more for Betemit than Aybar and Baez).

Blogger Satchmo -- 9/19/2006 5:34 PM  

Imagine if difficulties with age verification had repercussions in player eligibility, regarding the restriction on young kids going directly to the professional leagues. Far fetched Michael?

Blogger Luis Cassiano Neves -- 9/19/2006 5:36 PM  

Sorry about the grammatical errors in the previous post.

The Braves were actually barred from scouting in the Dominican Republic for 6 months when Major League Baseball found out about Betemit's age.

Also, Betemit sued in 2000 in Florida to get out of his contract with the Braves and become a free agent, since he had signed it when he was 14 and a 1/2. I guess he didn't win though? Can someone provide more details on that?

Blogger Satchmo -- 9/19/2006 5:46 PM  

This guy looks really really familiar ... wait a second, wasn't he a starter for the 2002 Little League World Series team from the Dominican?

Anonymous Bill -- 9/20/2006 7:15 AM  

Some of the Negro League players had the same issues in the late 40s and 50s.

It is interesting that Bill James is employed by the Red Sox and this pitcher is in the organization. James was one of the first to statistically analyze at what ages players peak. Since he is advising the Red Sox on salary issues, relative to future predictions of performance, his proposed compensation figures would be much lower for a 28 year old pitcher (exiting his peak) than a 24 year old pitcher entering the sweet spot of his career.

Blogger ChapelHeel -- 9/20/2006 1:57 PM  

Thanks for these comments.

WMUpsci Student: That's an interesting take on what might have happened with Hansack. And you're right: the more ambiguity with his age, the more he may be able to take advantage of the uncertainty.

Satchmo: Great points about the Wilson Betemit-Willy Aybar trade. It just goes to show how while age matters a great deal, teams worth hundreds of millions of dollars can still make mistakes (and perhaps through no fault of their own).

Luis: Great point. Ambiguity over players' age can also affect eligibility issues, and in that instance, a player would likely have an incentive to claim to be older than he is.

Bill: I believe you are mistaken!

Chapelheel: Really interesting points. I didn't know this was also an issue for Negro League players, and Bill James' employment with the Sox is a neat connection to Hansack's situation.

Blogger Michael McCann -- 9/20/2006 6:56 PM  

Post a Comment