The year is 2001 and a young superstar by the name of Danny Almonte is plowing through Little League teams all over the country in the lead-up to the organization’s annual World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
After dominating in the County, State, and Regional rounds, the Dominican Republic native hailing from the Bronx took the mound for his first game of the Little League World Series and proceeded to pitch a perfect game against the kids from Apopka, Florida.
That doesn’t tell the full story, as the hurler struck out 16 of the 18 batters he faced (that’s right—only two of the hitters he threw to did not strike out). It was one of the most dominant performances of all time, in any sport, at any level.
Here’s the whole game if you’re interested.
The 5 ‘8″ lefty had an arm that helped him throw upwards of 76 MPH (equivalent to 102 MPH in the Big Leagues), and Almonte was given the nickname “Little Unit” thanks to the many people who compared him to Randy Johnson (a.k.a. the “Big Unit”), which is quite a nickname for a 12-year-old to earn.
In the next game he pitched, Almonte once against struck out 16 opponents while facing off against the squad from Oceanside, California.
While Danny and the Raulindo Paulino All-Stars had the chance to represent the United States in the championship game, Little League rules designed to prevent unnecessary stress and fatigue stopped him from taking the mound in a semifinal rematch with Apopka, who got their revenge and a chance to play for the title.
However, Almonte got the call when his team faced Curacao in the third-place game, where Danny took the mound for the final time of the tournament and struck out 14 batters to help his team secure the bronze medal at the 2001 LLWS.
To call the performance “impressive” would be an understatement. When everything was said and done, he finished the tournament striking out 62 of the 72 batters he faced while giving up only 3 hits and 1 earned run.
While they walked away without a championship, the team dubbed the “Baby Bombers” (thanks to their proximity to Yankee Stadium) was the talk of the town and received the Key to the City of New York from Mayor Rudy Giuliani upon returning home.
It was quite a ride for someone who wasn’t even a teenager—or at least that’s what the world was led to believe.
In the end, it turns out Rudy should have held on to those keys for a few more days, as shortly after they were handed out, the world learned Almonte was two years older than the maximum age to play in the tournament he took by storm.
How did Danny Almonte trick the world into thinking he was younger than he was while playing in the Little League World Series?
Depending on who you ask, the Danny Almonte scandal was something no one could’ve seen coming or a house of cards that was inevitably going to collapse at some point in time.
However, when the news broke, there were plenty of questions that needed to be answered. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Was this plan hatched from the brain of a teenage mastermind intent on fooling the world?
Well, let’s start from the beginning.
In the weeks leading up to the LLWS, teams from all over the country were suspicious of Danny’s age; it reached a point where coaches and parents whose kids were playing for the teams the Baby Bombers faced off against began hiring private investigators to determine Almonte’s eligibility (as well as some of his teammates).
One of those adults claimed to have spent $10,000 on P.I.s tasked with looking into Almonte and his team. Now, you could argue that it would be foolish to spend that much money to dig into the life of a Little Leaguer and that the person in question represents the worst kind of Sports Parent, but when you consider they were right in the end, it’s kind of hard to blame them.
Interestingly enough, those investigations didn’t turn up a smoking gun, but Sports Illustrated was able to get its hands on some bombshell evidence after a trio of reporters (Melissa Segura, Luis Fernando Llosa, and Ian Thomsen) insisted on flying to Almonte’s place of birth in Moca, Dominican Republic to try to sort it all out.
After arriving, the team discover Almonte’s father Felipe had registered his son’s birth date as April 7th, 1987 in 1994 (in the country, it’s fairly common to register a birth after it actually occurred).
However, that clashed with the handwritten birth certificate Almonte’s mother registered in 2000 that stated he was born on the same date in 1989, which put him under the cutoff for the LLWS.
Both parents insisted their son was really born in 1989—claiming the other document was the false one—but it was too late.
A separate investigation by Victor Romero (the head of the Dominican Republic National Public Records Office) determined Danny was indeed born in 1987, therefore making him decidedly ineligible to compete. That led to the Little League World Series stripping the Baby Bombers of all their wins (and Danny of all his strikeouts and other achievements).
The saddest part is that we ultimately discovered Danny—who barely spoke any English at the time—genuinely believed he was 12 and was cleared of any personal wrongdoing because he had no knowledge of the scheme his parents dreamed up.
And for what? Being able to say your kid won a Little League World Series championship? Maybe getting a free trip to Disneyland at the expense of breaking thousands of little 12-year-old hearts? It really felt like an “It’s not my dream Dad, it’s yours!” moment.
Imagine if they pulled this little stunt and broke Alfred Delia’s heart?! The parents would have been persecuted!
Danny—who is now a high school baseball coach in the Bronx— went on to play college baseball and actually excelled as a hitter. While he never ended up being drafted, he played semi-professional baseball until the day he hung the cleats up and stepped into his current role as a mentor.
Oh, he also married a 30-year-old woman four years later at the age of 18, although they eventually separated after he learned she was really 42 (I’m kidding about that last part, but the marriage did actually happen before eventually falling apart).
What a ride.