CLEVELAND — Roberto Hernandez put his head down, then slowly and quietly answered very simply on Sunday.
“No,” he said, sounding near embarrassed.
Was it all worth it to Hernandez, the Cleveland Indians pitcher once known as Fausto Carmona. Was it worth the public embarrassment for the six years in the major leagues and the $14 milllion in salary he had been paid?
Hernandez said no, it was not worth taking a new identity and a new age, not worth going to jail and having his story relayed to the world.
But that’s what Hernandez did in the year 2000 when he signed with the Indians.
Then, Hernandez took the name and identity of Fausto Carmona, a man Hernandez said is a distant relative. He told the Indians he was 17 when he really was 20. For kids coming out of the dirt poor Dominican Republic, those years can mean a significant difference in money.
“He just wanted to sign,” his translator Charisse Dash said, relaying Carmona’s words as he spoke for the first time to the Cleveland media since his real identity was discovered. “If not (for the identity and age change) he wasn’t going to be able to sign.”
Hernandez isn’t the only pitcher to have his documents falsified. The talent trade in the Dominican by agents looking for a quick buck was busy, and Major League Baseball has worked hard to fix it.
But Hernandez also said it was idea to become Fausto Carmona, and to fake his documents. That he was protecting others was not outside the realm of reality.
For 11 years Hernandez carried out the charade, posing as someone else, pretending he was younger than he was. For the Indians, it surely meant sticking with him longer than they might have in bad times. A guy who struggles at 26 has a longer future than a guy who struggles at 29.
Hernandez pitched with the reality that he could be “outed” at any time. Last year he struggled badly, and perhaps not coincidentally.
Hernandez hesitated a second when asked if someone threatened to expose his identity last season, and then said, “No.”
In January, a woman informed officials of Hernandez’s true identity and said he had falsified a birth certificate. When Hernandez’s father didn’t pay the woman $26,000 in hush money, she turned him in.
Hernandez spent time in a Dominican jail, then made countless trips to the consulate trying to get his visa. He said those trips were too many to remember, and were the worst part of his experience.
“I apologize to the fans, my teammates and the team and to everyone who looked up to me at that point,” Hernandez said through Dash, who added: “He says this is a new chance for him and he’s going to go forward.”
Since being outed, Hernandez has spoken to many kids groups and camps in the Dominican.
“I was there so they could ask questions, and say not to do it,” Hernandez said.
Going forward means getting himself in pitching shape while sitting out three weeks of a major league suspension. Hernandez will be eligible to pitch Aug. 11, but where the Indians are at that point is anyone’s guess.
Cleveland has been fading of late, and Sunday they lost for the third time in three games to Baltimore — giving them seven losses in nine games.
The 4-3 loss dropped the Indians below .500 for the first time since April 14.
Cleveland’s woeful lack of right-handed hitting and struggles by the players they depended on are starting to take a toll. The Indians scored three runs in the series and have been out scored 23-6 in the last four.
With the bases loaded Sunday, Carlos Santana looked at five pitches before jumping out of the way of strike three. Santana had three hits and a two-run home run, but he did not swing once with the bases loaded. And he is one of the players the Indians thought would lead them.
Hernandez was near gleeful to be out of the Dominican and back with his team. Before the game he took time to sign autographs in left field, using his actual name for the first time in Cleveland.
His teammates welcomed him with three birthday cakes, and manager Manny Acta said “he’s a guy we value here.”
Only thing is he’s aged three years the last six months.