Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Jackie Robinson West (Chicago) stripped on U.S. Little League World Series Title


Well... this finally came to a head. I generally ignored this the whole off season because it's like beating a dead horse. It was obvious they were cheating from the beginning, but nobody wants to hear about cheating in Little League because almost everyone that is successful is doing it in some form. It's always considered "sour grapes" though. Well, in my experience, where there's smoke, there's fire, and it was billowing in Chicago.

Here's my problem though. What Jackie Robinson West did was blatant, flat-out cheating. They deserve to lose all their wins. But, they haven't lost any of the glory. They still went to the White House, went to the World Series, had parades, etc... Little League was too concerned with the great publicity this specific team gave them. This needed to be handled way earlier. Little League needs to get out in front of these major issues. LL is trying to bring charters back from Cal Ripken, so they're allowing larger populations. It's no coincidence that huge urban areas were represented in many of the regions this year.

Here's another problem, while Little League isn't littered with blatant cheaters at every turn, there's A LOT of cheating going on. Teams in California and Georgia were disqualified after winning sectional and state titles. There's always something fishy going on with perennial state championship teams. It's everywhere.

Taney Youth Baseball Association (Mo'ne Davis' team) is not in the same boat as JRW because they didn't actively cheat, but Little League knows they had kids from all over Philadelphia, it was part of their chartering deal. They "grandfathered" in all the kids who played in the league previously for life, no matter where they lived. They had authorization from Little League to do it though, but it was still unfair to all the leagues in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region.

Jackie Robinson, on the other hand, secretly added kids from outside their boundaries with the help of their corrupt district administrator. Completely unauthorized. Both leagues had "super teams" but only one was allowed to do it.

So how does Little League fix their problem of "super teams" (because there is a definitely a problem)?

For starters, the paperwork checking for tournament teams needs to start earlier. Everyone knows that Little League is all about the tournament. Drop the stupid June 15th or two weeks before rule. Everyone is playing together all year long. Just make sure everyone is of age and of residency. Otherwise, let teams play and practice together as much and as early as they want. International teams are doing it because their seasons run on different schedules.

District Administrators are the only line of defense against cheating until the teams reach regionals. There's not enough time to check the validity of teams until they're already eliminating teams and once a team is a media darling (like Danny Almonte's team in 2001, Harlem LL the next year, Jackie Robinson West, or Taney), they're going to let it play out because they don't want negative publicity during the tournament.

Little League needs to figure out this gerrymandering problem real fast though because they're biggest test in years and years if not history is coming up and it's this age change that everyone hates.

The real 12 and 12 1/2 year old kids are going to be playing in an anonymous 50/70 World Series in northern California and 11 year old kids will be on national TV in Williamsport with home runs and 70mph pitching being way down (i.e. not good for television). This is a massive change to how Little League is run and perceived. Meanwhile, Cal Ripken's WS will still be 12 and 12 1/2 year old kids playing 50/70 in a beautiful ballpark. I'm not if sure Little League is making itself more attractive or less attractive with these wholesale changes.

Let's end today with some positives of Little League though... Dave Belisle's speech to his team after being eliminated in Williamsport.

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1 comment:

Matt said...

Only time will tell, but I don't think Little League has too much to worry about in regard to the popularity of its World Series. Even if the quality of play suffers due to the age reclassification, the LLWS has one thing going for it that its competitors will never be able to overcome.


Despite all the various other tournaments, leagues and associations competing for ball players' and spectators' attention, we are increasingly an event-based society. And the LLWS remains THE youth baseball event in our national consciousness. Going back to its explosion in popularity in the 40's and 50's, its emergence on Wide World of Sports, the storyline of Taiwan's dominance, Cody Webster's heroics, to now being annually omnipresent on ESPN/ABC...the LLWS is the perfect attraction for the casual sports fan. And that's what TV networks covet -- the casual fan. Millions of LLWS viewers don't know or care about the differences between Ripken and the various travel associations and Little League. They know the name "Little League" and they know the beautiful images of Lamade Stadium, and they are eager to embrace whatever storylines develop each year. ESPN/ABC is not going to forsake that for Ripken or any other youth baseball organization when they have spent the last 30+ years telling the public that the LLWS is the most prestigious, compelling youth sports tournament in the entire world. There are certain things in this world that once you are entrenched in the public's consciousness, you have to screw up to an unbelievably catastrophic level to blow it. The Little League World Series is in that enviable position, and the Chicago scandal, or putting younger, less powerful players on the field and screen, is not going to be enough to remove them from it.

And as one of those casual fans looking for an enjoyable week and a half diversion every August, I am glad that's the case.