It was the ultimate photo op: Derek Jeter, the face of the Yankees, meeting Bernando LaPallo, who at 111 years old would be older than than Yankees franchise itself. Like every other good thing, it's probably not true. LaPallo's age is very much in dispute, and he's been accused of lying about it to sell books.
LaPallo met with Jeter and Joe Girardi before Saturday's game, and regaled reporters with tales of attending New York Highlanders games at Hilltop Park, which closed in 1912. He spoke of meeting Babe Ruth:
"I shook his hand and he said, 'My greatest admirer, my youngest admirer,'" LaPallo said. "I remember that like yesterday."
(Why Ruth, who made his major league debut in 1914 and joined the Yankees in 1920, would have called a teenager or 20-something his "youngest admirer" isn't clear.)
A day after the story made the rounds, a researcher who specializes in validating the birthdates of supercentenarians, or people over 110 years old, came forward to point out that LaPallo likely isn't a day over 103.
Robert Young of the Gerontology Research Group says public records show LaPallo was born in 1910 instead of 1901. "Many extreme age claims in the past have turned out to be false,’’ Young, who verifies ages for Guinness World Records, told the Associated Press.
What's nine years? A big deal in the "world's oldest people" racket. The United Nations estimates that there are currently 316,600 people over the age of 100, and fewer than one in 1,000 who hit that age will live to 110—the vast majority of them female. At 111, LaPallo would be the second-oldest man in the world, and the oldest American man. And with that rarity comes notoriety: LaPallo lends his name to a fitness website, gives lectures, has written a book on aging, and has a second one coming out this summer, which he's currently promoting. LaPallo made sure to prominently display his first book when meeting Jeter:
LaPallo's granddaughter/business partner insists he's 111, and that his birthdate was incorrectly written down in the 1930s, though his family can't produce any other records of his birth.
‘‘I don’t have any doubt about his age, no,’’ she said. ‘‘My grandfather has never lied to us.’’
This isn't the first time LaPallo's age has been the subject of controversy. The Gerontology Research Group maintains a file on him, and lists him under its "incomplete, exaggerated, or fraudulent cases." It states that in his many media appearances, LaPallo has various claimed a birth year of 1901, 1908, 1909, and 1910. His place of birth has changed too—he initially claimed to be born in Brazil, but on the occasion of his "111th birthday," he told reporters he was born in New York City. For this weekend's appearance at Yankee Stadium, his birth country was back to being Brazil.
In the long run (so to speak), none of this really matters. LaPallo is quite old, and in great health, and that's remarkable. His appearance at Yankee Stadium was a nice moment, and an appropriate one: he's probably closer to his listed age than El Duque, and moves to his left better than Jeter.