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July 11, 2012

BP Unfiltered

A Correction from Down Under

by Jay Jaffe

Recently, I received an email from a former professional ballplayer named Barry Stace who wished to set the record straight about a piece that I had written back in 2009, extolling the wonders of Baseball-Reference's addition of minor league statistics. Stace, who hails from Australia, was one of several players whom a man using the name of Richard Perone helped obtain a professional contract back in the early 1970s, often — but apparently not always — under false pretenses, as part of a larger and more intricate yarn:

Eliot Asinof made his name writing about the 1919 Black Sox scandal in Eight Men Out, but for his first novel, Man on Spikes, he drew more directly on his two years in the Phillies' chain before joining the Army at the outset of World War II. Spikes' long-suffering protagonist, Mike Kutner, was loosely based on one Mickey Rutner, a fellow Phillies' minor leaguer whose major league career lasted all of 12 games with the 1947 Philadelphia A's; he spent the better part of a decade beating the bushes waiting for another shot. A lesser-known Asinof protagonist, from the never-anthologized short story "The Secret Life of Rocky Perone" has his own page on B-R as Richard Perone, which is half right. In 1974, 36-year-old Richard Pohle, a former amateur star in Maine who lost out on a pro contract due to illness, passed himself off as 21-year-old Rocky Perone from Sydney, Australia, and briefly got away with it thanks to the ineptitude of the Padres' front office. He played one game for the Walla Walla Padres and went 1-for-2 with a walk, but the jig was soon up. Asinof's tale ran in Sports Illustrated in 1979, and the following year, the 42-year-old "Perone" made a cameo appearance for Salem of the Northwest League.

Pohle's assumed identity was just the tip of the assumed-identity iceberg. According to newspaper clippings from a previous version of Pohle's website (he has worked as a scout for several major league teams and now works as an instructor), he helped a handful of other over-age players get contracts under false pretenses during the 1970s. Barry Stace was a 38-year-old lefty pitcher from Australia who posed as a 22-year-old and became the first Aussie to play baseball in the US. He pitched 82 innings for three low-level Royals affiliates in 1973, going 6-4 with a 2.52 ERA. Twenty-one-year-old Thomas Anthony (actually 24-year-old Tom Rowan) spent four years in the Giants' system (1977-1980), playing 335 games in all. He tore up the Pioneer League in 1977, hitting .333 and driving in 62 runs in 63 games, and climbed as high as Double-A Shreveport. One of Anthony's Pioneer League teammates, 21-year-old Nicholas James, was in reality 31-year-old former University of Arizona player Mark Worley, but he only lasted 31 games while hitting a thin .227. Even baseball lifers like Phoenix Giants manager Rocky Bridges, longtime Giants scout Jack Schwarz, Padres minor league director Mike Port, and Padres scout Jim Marshall were conned by the assumed identities of Pohle or his proteges. (For more on Asinof and Pohle, see here.)

In his email, a rather upset Mr. Stace wrote, "Richard Perone signed me to attend spring training in 1973. I wish to note that at no time was I 38 years of age posing as a 21 year old. I was in fact 21 years of age and he at no stage helped me assume a younger identity. My year of birth is in fact 1951 and if the claims are to be believed I should be well and truly retired at the grand age of 80+ rather than managing a flooring company in Perth Western Australia. I would ask that this false accusation is removed immediately."

Retracing my steps to see how I arrived at my erroneous characterization, I came up with the following:

• The San Francisco Examiner clipping from 1983 referred to Pohle as having "Passed off a real Australian, he claims, as a 21-year-old reliever, although, Pohle said, he was actually 38. The Kansas City Royals signed him to a minor league contract."

• The Portland Press-Herald clipping from 2002 referred to Pohle arranging a tryout for "Barry Stance" [sic]) with the Royals.

Based upon that, it's not hard to see how I made the leap to connect those sources with Stace's B-Ref page identifying him as an Australian-born pitcher in the Royals system in accordance with the basic timeline of Pohle's account. My error was based upon a yellowed 26-year-old newspaper clipping detailing the apparently unverified exploits of a man who was not given to telling the truth 100 percent of the time. My deepest apologies to Mr. Stace, as no harm was intended; hopefully, i have set the record straight on that score.

Alas, I was also incorrect about Stace' status as the first Australian to play baseball in the US, a distinction that belongs to Joe Quinn, who played in four different leagues (the Union Association and the Players League as well as the AL and NL) from 1884-1901. I did unearth a 1973 newspaper clipping from the Ocala Star-Banner that reported, "Stace believes he is the first Australian ever to sign with an American League team," a claim I haven't been able to verify.

As for Pohle/Perone, who strove to see his story realized on the silver screen, he got his wish when a director named Steve Sturla put together a short film that debuted at the LA Short Film Festival in 2010. The film included a cameo — and an inspirational message — from the man himself. It's up on YouTube, and I present it here.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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