Sports Law Blog
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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.
MLB.com 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!!).