Dodger Chairman Robert Daly said Tuesday he thinks Senior Vice President Tom Lasorda was speaking out of frustration at the prospect of the club losing third baseman Adrian Beltre when Lasorda expressed the opinion earlier Tuesday that major league teams have signed dozens of underage players and said the Dodgers should be reimbursed for the time and effort put into Beltre's preparation if he is declared a free agent.
"I don't know about [the signing of] any other players, but I do know that Tommy is one of Beltre's biggest fans and supporters," Daly said. "Knowing how emotional Tommy is, I'm sure he feels very disappointed and frustrated [over the situation]. He considers Beltre a wonderful kid and great young player."
The commissioner's office is investigating a complaint by Beltre's agent, Scott Boras, that his client was signed by the Dodgers out of the Dominican Republic at 15 rather than the minimum age of 16 for foreign players not subject to the amateur draft. Boras has asked that Beltre be declared a free agent.
The Dodgers have resisted comment other than to say they are cooperating with the investigation and will abide by any decision. But Lasorda, attending a New York function honoring Met Manager Bobby Valentine, left the door ajar Tuesday, and Daly bumped it open a bit more, saying the clear indication is that the Beltre situation "is all about money. I mean, nobody has said that Beltre doesn't like being with the Dodgers. In fact, his agent said just the opposite in his letter to us, so he obviously wants to be on the open market and be paid more money."
Daly was asked if the timing wasn't suspicious, considering Beltre has been in the organization for five years and Boras is only now, with Beltre coming off an impressive performance in his first full season at the major league level, raising the possibility of an illegal signing. "I don't know anything about the timing or why they would choose to come forward now," Daly said. "I don't know if they'd have come forward if he had played at Albuquerque this year."
Many baseball executives believe there is widespread abuse of the 16-year-old signing requirement and that the club is often victimized by deceit on the part of the player and/or poor documentation in a country such as the Dominican Republic.
In New York on Tuesday, Lasorda said he would "bet there's 50 ballplayers in the major leagues that have signed illegally. If this was done illegally, they gave the birth certificate to us, which simply means that they knew that he wasn't the right age."
Boras called this latter allegation by Lasorda "gross malfeasance" in that neither Beltre nor his parents spoke English or were aware of the rule.
"Do you think the Dodgers were going to explain the rule to him when they wanted to sign him so badly?" Boras said. "They requested and received a birth certificate that showed him to be born on April 7, 1979." That meant Beltre would have been 15 at the time of the signing in July 1994, although the Dodger media guide lists his birthdate as April 7, 1978. Boras insisted he was unaware of the discrepancy until it came up in a discussion with Beltre this summer and that Beltre was shocked to learn of the rule for the first time.
Boras also said that it does not benefit a Dominican player to lie about his age and sign as a 15-year-old because all clubs can bid for him when he is 16, driving up the price.
The Dodgers were fined $200,000 earlier this year and two Cuban players from their system--Josue Perez and Juan Carlos Diaz--were declared free agents after an investigation determined the Dodgers had scouted them illegally in Cuba and signed them in the Dominican Republic without the required tryout camp open to all clubs. An emotional Lasorda referred to Perez and Diaz on Tuesday when he said, "The two Cubans we signed, what did we do differently than Joe Cubas [an agent who has represented many of the defecting Cuban players]? [Cubas] brings these guys in and says they were left on a raft for 14 days. [But] these guys never lost an ounce [of weight] from the time they left Cuba.
"They pick 'em up two miles out of the limit, get them on a yacht, take them to the Bahamas, put them in a suite, feed them like kings, and these guys said they were on a raft for 14 hours, fighting sharks, and landed in the wrong place. They never saw the Dominican Republic [where many of the Cuban players establish residency so they can avoid the draft and be signed more lucratively as free agents] and we in this country believe it."
Lasorda also said that if Beltre is declared a free agent "how about giving us the money back [for] the hours I spent with him? You know how much per hour I charge working with players?"
Lasorda was involved in Beltre's development as both the Dodger manager and general manager and was not paid extra for working with any individual player.
Cubas didn't return messages Tuesday, and Sandy Alderson, who will head the investigation, said he will not comment on Lasorda's remarks regarding widespread illegal signings because "anything I say in that context would reflect on the Beltre matter."
Because of the concern they might lose Beltre, the Dodgers have increased their efforts to reacquire free-agent third baseman Todd Zeile, who was traded to Florida in the 1998 Mike Piazza deal and played last season with Texas.
Times staff writer Jason Reid contributed to this story.
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