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Mendoza is shocked by the controversy. He had published his columns in the spirit of American sportswriting, of which he is an ardent student. Who among his U.S. brethren would not have wondered in print about these kids' eligibility? Letters received by Mendoza from jealous neighbors and relatives of the players suggested that the boys who had just beaten the U.S. team and earned President Fidel Ramos's gift of one million pesos (about $40,000) were overage. Who wouldn't have jumped on a story like that?
The charges in Mendoza's columns were speculative and did not directly contribute to the stripping of the team's title. Colleagues at the Daily Inquirer did the heavy investigative stories on the scandal. However, it is Mendoza who has become the center of the national debate, because even as he seemed to turn on his country, he consorted with the enemy. Perhaps he would have been a mere footnote to scandal had he not accepted an invitation to attend a Long Beach victory party (he happened to be visiting the U.S. when the decision to void the Filipinos' title was announced). Photographs taken at the party and printed in papers back in the Philippines showed Mendoza holding a key to the city of Long Beach. He was called a Judas Iscariot, a Vidkun Quisling. One columnist gave him the "Tokyo Rose Award for the Achievement of a Lifetime in the area of Treason." Nelson Navarro wrote in the Manila Standard: "The name of Al Mendoza will long live in infamy among his fellow Filipinos."
Is the national identity of the Philippines, a nation coming out from under U.S. influence, so fragile it cannot withstand self-investigation? "The journalist stops," wrote Teodoro Benigno in The Philippine Star, "where the Filipino begins." Or is it sturdy enough to survive the truth, as Mendoza hoped in a particularly melodramatic column: "If truth shall prevail, for truth had always been my beacon, then to hell with death."
Mendoza's nerves are quieted during dinner, although he insists on not being quoted so that he will not later be accused by his countrymen of "grandstanding." He's proud of his work, but he would like the controversy to quiet down. During coffee, though, Mendoza relaxes and reveals his uncomplicated interests, asking about the American sportswriters he has come to know and admire. "So, where is Scott Ostler now?" he says. "I used to like John Schulian; what became of him?"
As far as the official version of events goes, Mendoza and journalism had only a little to do with the reversal of Philippine baseball fortunes. The inquisition was all very straightforward: a query sent from Williamsport to Manila, answers returned, the title forfeited. It all happened in a matter of days, with a finality that still surprises Filipinos. "Where is due process?" asks Jose Lina, chairman of the senate committee on youth and sports, which is investigating the controversy in the Philippines. "We learned due process from the Americans, but they do not apply it to us."
But, in fact, there was very little to process. Members of the International Tournament Committee were originally suspicious of the Zamboangan team because the manager and coach "didn't seem typical," according to Little League first vice-president Steve Keener. (They would have seemed even less typical had committee members realized that the manager and coach weren't speaking the same language as their players.) But Keener says his people were assured that the two men were from the same league as the players and that they had coached during the regular season, as the rules require, and the matter was dropped.
However, persistent rumors and published reports from Manila alleging the use of overage and out-of-area players prompted Little League president and CEO Creighton Hale to fax a sheet of four questions to Armando Andaya, longtime district administrator of Little League baseball in the Philippines:
1) "Were all the players of proper age?"
2) "Were any of the birth certificates 'doctored' as alleged by reporter Al Mendoza of the Daily Inquirer!"
3) "Were all of the players from Zamboanga City or did any of them come from outside this specific area?"