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Danny Almonte

The 11 Biggest Sports Scandals of All-Time

April 25, 2011 07:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
The baseball steroid scandal is often called the biggest scandal in sports history, but there are many contenders for that distinction. FindingDulcinea reviews 11 of the biggest sports scandals ever.

11: Lebon and Cinzano

Cinzano was a champion Uruguayan horse; Lebon was an also-ran who looked very much like Cinzano. The two were flown to the United States in 1977 by veterinarian Mark Gerard, and Cinzano apparently died soon after. Gerard collected a $150,000 insurance payment for Cinzano and bet heavily on Lebon in a race at Belmont Park. Lebon, with 57-to-1 odds, won easily and Gerard won $80,440.

A Uruguayan newspaperman, perhaps tipped off by a female acquaintance of Gerard who lost $10,000 in Lebon’s first race, alerted New York racing authorities that the horse that won was not Lebon, but Cinzano.

10: The 2000 Spanish Paralympic Basketball Team

The Spanish basketball team won gold in the intellectual disability tournament at the 2000 Paralympic Games. There was one problem: 10 of the team’s 12 players had no disability. “We were encouraged to pretend to be stupid,” said player Carlos Ribagorda. Their scam was discovered soon after the Games and they were forced to return their medals.

9: The 1951 New York Giants

The 1951 New York Giants made one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history, erasing a 13-game deficit to catch their archrival Brooklyn Dodgers and beat them in a three-game playoff. In 2001, several former Giants players confirmed the long-held belief of Dodgers players and fans by admitting to stealing signs during the final 10 weeks of the season.

The Giants had a coach sit in center field with a telescope and relay the opposing team’s signs to the dugout with an electronic buzzer. The Giants’ Bobby Thompson, who ended the playoff with a game-winning home run, insists that he was not given a stolen sign when he hit the “shot heard 'round the world.”

8: Tim Donaghy

In 2007, a story broke that NBA referee Tim Donaghy had provided professional gamblers with inside information, bet on games he refereed and manipulated the outcome of games. Though commissioner David Stern branded him as a “rogue, isolated criminal,” the credibility of NBA referees, which wasn’t strong to begin with, was damaged immensely.

Donaghy recently tried to release a book that detailed the way he and other referees would manipulate games. The publisher has canceled the book, but excerpts of it were printed on the Web site Deadspin.

7: Danny Almonte

Danny Almonte was the star of the 2001 Little League World Series, pitching a perfect game, no-hitter and one-hit shutout in three starts for his Bronx, N.Y., team. He became a national celebrity and received a key to the city from New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. However, there were questions surrounding his age, and on Aug. 30, a week after he pitched his final game, Sports Illustrated revealed that he was two years older than he claimed to be.

His team was forced to forfeit all its games, and his father and coach were banned from Little League. Today, the 21-year-old Almonte, after struggling in the low minor leagues, is playing junior college baseball for Western Oklahoma St.

6: Rosie Ruiz

In 1980, unheralded runner Rosie Ruiz crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon before any other woman, winning with a women’s record time of two hours, 31 minutes. Ruiz did not appear sweaty or fatigued, and nobody had seen her running early in the race.

According to varying witness accounts, Ruiz had taken the subway toward the finish line and entered the race with a half-mile left. Though she steadfastly denied cheating, she was disqualified and the victory was awarded to second-place finisher Jacqueline Gareau.

5: Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan

On Jan. 6, a month before the start of the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics, figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee after a practice for the U.S. Olympic Trials. Soon into the investigation it was revealed that the attacker had been hired by the ex-husband of Tonya Harding, one of Kerrigan’s competitors. Though Harding did not know of the attack beforehand, she learned of it soon after and lied to investigators.

The story became a tabloid sensation. At the Olympics, Kerrigan won silver and went on to sign many endorsements and host “Saturday Night Live.” Harding wept during her routine after her skate lace broke and finished eighth. A national pariah, she was banned for life by U.S. figure skating and has since had many run-ins with the law and briefly had a career as a professional boxer.

4: Pete Rose

Pete Rose retired in 1986 as baseball’s all-time hit king, but he might never make the Hall of Fame. In 1989, an MLB investigation determined that, as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, Rose had gambled on baseball games during the 1985, ’86 and ’87 seasons. That same year, commissioner Bart Giamatti handed Rose a lifetime ban.

Rose denied gambling on baseball for many years, and frequently pleaded to be re-admitted and inducted into the Hall of Fame. In 2004, he admitted to gambling on baseball and in 2007, he admitted to betting on the Reds “every night.”

3: College Basketball Point-Shaving in New York

In 1950, City College of New York shocked college basketball by winning the NIT and NCAA tournament. The following year, the team was at the center of a massive point-shaving scandal organized by New York mobsters.

The scandal included four New York-area schools plus Toledo, Bradley and Kentucky, all of whom had players manipulating the score during games at Madison Square Garden. In all, 32 players were arrested for fixing 86 games between 1947 and 1950.

2: The “Black Sox”

The 1919 Chicago White Sox were one of baseball’s best teams, but they were paid far less than players on other teams. Looking to make a quick buck, first baseman Chick Gandil organized a group of six other players to conspire with professional gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series. The White Sox lost the World Series five games to three to the Cincinnati Reds, with pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty” Williams—two of the fixers—combining to lose all five games.

Investigators uncovered the plot and the following September Cicotte and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson—whose involvement in the fix is disputed, as he played well during the series—admitted to fixing the World Series. The seven fixers, plus Buck Weaver, who knew of the fix but didn’t report it, were banned from baseball for life.

1: Nelson Piquet Jr.’s Intentional Crash

At the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix in September 2008, the Renault team ordered driver Nelson Piquet Jr. to intentionally crash his car, which gave teammate Fernando Alonso the victory.

The Times of London’s Simons Barnes, calling the act the “worst single piece of cheating in the history of sport,” wrote, “This is no run-of-the-mill piece of skulduggery. The Renault team’s crime was not an act of cheating as mere fraudulence. Rather, it was cheating as a potentially lethal act; as potential murder, if you like.”

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