Almonte's perfect game erased

Posted: Sunday, September 02, 2001

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) -- Danny Almonte, the Little League pitcher who wowed fans with his 70 mph fastball, was too old to compete in the World Series, league officials announced in stripping the team of its third-place trophy. Little League Baseball Inc. president Stephen Keener said the Bronx, N.Y., team would also forfeit all its 2001 tournament victories, and Almonte's perfect game.

-- the first in 44 years at the tournament -- would be erased because the boy was actually 14, not 12.

The announcement came after a government official in the Dominican Republic, Almonte's home country, declared that a birth certificate that showed the boy was 12 was a fraud.

''Clearly, adults have used Danny Almonte and his teammates in a most contemptible and despicable way,'' Keener said. ''We're clearly sad and angry that we were deceived. In fact, millions of Little Leaguers around the world were deceived.''

The only other team forced to forfeit at the Little League World Series was from Zamboanga City, Philippines. That team won the tournament in 1992, but was disqualified after Little League found the team used players outside its district.

The Bronx team was forced to forfeit its district, section, state and regional championships as well as the third-place finish last week.

Rolando Paulino, founder and president of the league that bears his name, was banned for life from any affiliation with Little League, as was Almonte's father, Felipe de Jesus Almonte, who is believed to have forged a birth record for his son.

Officials in the Dominican Republic began looking into Almonte's age Monday after a Sports Illustrated reporter found two birth records for the boy, one showing him being born April 7, 1987, the second -- filed just three months before Almonte moved to New York, showing him being born April 1989.

To be eligible this year, Little League players had to be born after Aug. 1, 1988.

Victor Romero of the public records office in Santo Domingo investigated Almonte's birth documents in Moca, about 90 miles north of the capital, and in nearby Jamao and spoke to witnesses.

''There are a number of contradictions in the second birth certificate,'' Romero said, referring to the document listing the 1989 date. ''Neither the witnesses, the hospital, nor the local authorities could confirm Almonte was born in Jamao.''

The witnesses denied knowing the family or having signed the birth certificate, said Ramon Morel Cerda, the president of the Dominican Electoral Committee, which is in charge of most public records.

Morel said the local official in Jamao who registered Almonte's age as 12 had been suspended. He said the government planned to charge the boy's father with falsifying documents and was considering charges against the mother, Sonia Rojas Breton.

''I feel like the government has sold us out,'' Almonte's maternal uncle, Jose Rojas, told The Associated Press by telephone from the boy's hometown of Moca. Almonte's parents both maintain that their son is 12 and that any document that says otherwise is a forgery.

On Thursday, a U.S. official who asked not to be identified, said Almonte and his father were in the United States illegally, their tourist visas having expired in late 2000. Officials in New York also were investigating why Almonte had not been enrolled in school during his time in the United States.

The city's investigation could lead to his removal from his father's home and placement in foster care, although officials more likely would work out another solution.

Almonte first gained recognition after pitching a no-hitter against State College, Pa., in the Mid-Atlantc Region championship.

In his first game at the Little League World Series, Almonte threw the first perfect game since 1957, striking out the first 15 batters from the Apopka, Fla., team that would go on to a second-place finish.

Almonte followed that with a one-hit shutout in the U.S. semifinals against an Oceanside, Calif., team that came in averaging .333 with five batters hitting at least .500. He finished the tournament with 46 strikeouts, giving up only three hits in three starts. A run scored in the last inning of his final game was the only one Almonte gave up all summer.

The team's only loss was a rematch against Apopka in which Almonte couldn't pitch because of a rule that prohibits pitchers from starting consecutive games.

Almonte fast became the darling of the baseball world, receiving calls and gifts from major leaguers Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr. Almonte was even singled out for congratulations by President Bush, who watched part of the World Series title game.

''I'm disappointed that adults would fudge the boy's age,'' Bush said after learning of the Dominican government's findings. ''I wasn't disappointed in his fastball and his slider. The guy is awesome. He's a great pitcher.''

Rumors about Almonte's age plagued the team throughout the tournament, and Little League coaches in Staten Island, N.Y., and Pequannock, N.J., said they hired private investigators to find proof that Bronx players were ineligible, to no avail.

When questioned, Rolando Paulino league officials had a birth certificate, passport and visa to back their assertion that Almonte was 12 -- although all, apparently, were based on the fraudulent second birth record.

At a news conference in the Bronx, Paulino said he, too, was duped by the documents provided by Almonte's father.

''I trust all the parents in the league to present original documents,'' said Paulino, flanked by team members and parents -- but not the Almontes. ''If the parents lie to the league, that is not my problem. I accept the information that the parents gave to me.

''If Danny's father has provided information that is inaccurate, we all feel bad,'' he said in Spanish through an interpreter

But this wasn't the first time Paulino and Little League clashed, Keener said. In 1988, Paulino brought a team from Moca to represent the Dominican Republic at the Latin American Little League tournament in Puerto Rico. The team won the tournament, but was stripped of the title because six players were found to be too old.

That led to Paulino's ban from participation in the Latin American Little League. Paulino denied the report.

Still, Keener said, officials chose not to strip Paulino's league in the Bronx of its charter, saying that would be unfair to hundreds of players who had done nothing wrong and calling the league ''an asset to the community.''

Little League also chose not to prohibit Almonte from playing in the future, saying he would be welcome in the Senior League, for players 14, 15 and 16.

After the World Series, Almonte and his team were honored in New York, receiving the keys to the city, a parade through the Bronx and a tribute at Yankee Stadium, even as the controversy flared.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the city would not ask for the keys back, saying ''it would only add to the hurt and pain that the innocent children of this team are already experiencing.''

But the Universal Orlando theme park, which planned a parade Tuesday for the Bronx team, withdrew the invitation Friday.

''We wanted to recognize what these kids had accomplished,'' a statement said. ''In light of the Little League's decision to disqualify all of the team's games, that is now obviously inappropriate.''

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Editors: Contributing to this report were Andres Cala from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Katherine Roth from New York.



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