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El Duque shaves years off his age.

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When Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez signed his four-year, $6.6 million contract with the New York Yankees in March 1998, the Cuban defector dismissed rumors that he was older than his stated 28 years. "I don't know where the discrepancy comes from," he told the Times. Hernandez added that he was born on October 11, 1969, "as told by my mother." According to this account -- repeated in the Yankees' media guide and yearbook and on the club's Website -- the pitcher hits 30 this week.

But hold off on those "big 3-0" parties, since it appears that El Duque has rolled back his odometer (and, significantly, that of his throwing arm) by four years. According to a February 1997 divorce decree filed in Havana, Hernandez was actually born on October 11, 1965. A copy of the decree -- and a certified English translation of the Cuban document -- recently surfaced in connection with a child-support case brought against the athlete by his ex-wife, Norma. The couple's seven-and-a-half-year marriage ended ten months before El Duque fled Cuba.

The decree, the legitimacy of which Hernandez has acknowledged in court papers filed in Miami, states that the actual 1965 birth certificate can be found in the Civil Registry of Havana's files at Book 213, Page 492.

In a year when the Yankees' two oldest hurlers -- 37-year-old Roger Clemens and 36-year-old David Cone -- have posted disappointing numbers, George Steinbrenner's pitching rotation now finds itself with another veteran arm -- one that's aging especially quickly.

For more intriguing documents, visit 'The Smoking Gun' online at thesmokinggun.com.


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