Today in Sports History: August 31st

8/31/1969 - Marciano dies in plane crash

Rocky Marciano, widely respected as one of the greatest boxers of all time, dies in a plane just outside Newton, Iowa. He was one day shy of his 46th birthday and a surprise party had been planned for him when he arrived. The NTSB concluded that the inexperience of pilot Glenn Belz, who had only 231 hours of total experience, was the reason for the accident, stating, "The pilot attempted operation exceeding his experience and ability level, continued visual flight rules under adverse weather conditions, and experienced spatial disorientation in the last moments of the flight." Belz and another passenger, Frank Farrell, also perished in the crash.

At 45, Marciano had been retired for over a decade. He left the sport of boxing as the first heavyweight champion to end his career with a flawless record: 49 wins, 43 by knockout, zero losses. A man of Italian decent, he was born "Rocco Marchegiano," but he changed his fighting alias to the more Italian-sounding "Marciano" when a ringside announcer struggled to pronounce his last name.

Perhaps an even greater footnote is that Marciano was the inspiration for the Rocky series, widely viewed as some of the best sports movies ever made.

8/31/2001 - Almonte too old for little league

The 2001 Little League World Series was dominated by headline-making phenom Danny Almonte. He threw a no-hitter and a perfect game during the playoff and, even though his team finished third, he was clearly the story of the tournament. His performance was all the more bigger because he was pitching for a New York team; mayor Rudy Giuliani gave him the key to city and he was predominantly featured on ESPN.

Almonte appeared to be a man among boys, which got a few people thinking that maybe he was a man among boys.

Two Sports Illustrated reporters did some snooping and discovered a birth certificate saying that Almonte was 14 and not 12, which would make him ineligible to play Little League Baseball. Almonte's parents claimed he was 12 and that they had the paperwork to prove it. Yet an investigation ensued and sure enough -- on August 31 -- it was confirmed that Almonte really was 14. His team's performance was erased from the record books and Almonte's accomplishments were disallowed.

Almonte never played in a Major League Baseball game, despite once being honored at Yankee Stadium for his outstanding baseball talent. Pitching against kids two years younger than him destroyed most of his prodigy status. He tried out for the Mets and Yankees to no avail. In 2007, Almonte signed with the Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League but was released after six starts: he went 0-1 with a 5.28 ERA.

Danny also made news in 2006 for marrying someone eleven years older than him. Of course, if anyone should look at age as just a number, it might as well be Danny Almonte.

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