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Little League Cheating Scandal Revealed

February 11, 2015

Little League (R) International just announced they found Jackie Robinson West Little League violated rules and regulations and as a result revoked their U.S. Championship title.

This is a tragic development: for Little League, for league officials, for the United States internationally, for parents of players, and especially the innocent Jackie Robinson Little League players whose legacy will now be tarnished by the decisions and actions of a particular individual or individuals who were aware of the dishonesty.

But, while I could bore you with an opinion piece about who is to blame for the the debacle (something I don’t know all the facts about), or what should or shouldn’t be done about it (judgment not easily passed without all the facts), instead I’m going to make this personal and come clean about my own experience of “cheating” in Little League.

In 1975 I was drafted by the Marauders, a then minor league Little League team in Midlothian, IL.  The team was comprised of 9 to 12 year old players, mostly boys, but we were an unusual exception and had one girl on our team. There were two girls in the league that year.

In my first game as a 9 year old Marauder, I was our starting shortstop.  That was surprising, even to me, that as a 9 year old ballplayer I was the starting shortstop on a team that had kids who were older, bigger and better than me. I was a pretty good ballplayer, but not great.  I considered my coach’s confidence in me an honor.

The first game that season was played against the Bobcats on a field at Memorial Park in Midlothian, IL.

Early in that first game I remember there was a pop-up hit right to me at shortstop.  I got under the ball, reached up for it as it descended to me, and felt it hit my glove. But as quickly as it hit, it popped out of my glove, and I bobbled it repeatedly trying to control it with my hands and body.  As the ball bobbled off my hands and body, in what seemed to be slow motion, the ball and I getting lower and lower toward the ground, I lost the battle only to have the ball hit the ground as I curled around it on the ground.  I picked the ball up immediately and stood up with it to see what I had to do with the ball to make a play.  In my falling to the ground I had turned my back to home plate where the umpire was and had curled my body around the ball.  As I got up with the ball the umpire, to my surprise, signaled that the batter was out. He had not seen the ball hit the ground!  Many probably couldn’t have seen whether I had caught the ball or not because my back was to the infield and benches and the ball fell to the outfield side of my body as the ball and I hit the ground.

I did not correct the umpire that he was wrong and that the batter should have been safe.  I didn’t think it was my place to.

We went on to win that game versus the Bobcats 11 to 6. (I know this fact because The Marauders team for which I played put out a book at the end of the season to record team records and history that year, and every year since then, and we still have every book from the 40+ years of Marauders history since because my dad managed the team in subsequent years and my mom is still the team scorekeeper!  In 40+ years of baseball, our family, team and community always did our best to play and honor the game, even if we weren’t perfect.)

We had a 15-2 record that year and went on to win the Midlothian Village Championship.  When we won we celebrated our team success like we had won the World Series and had a parade back home to a wonderful team party. It was glorious.

Does my memory of that dropped pop-up, the wrong call by the umpire, and my failure to be totally honest about the error haunt me and make me feel guilty about our team’s success that year?

Not at all.

Why do I bring it up?

I don’t know.  Probably because it is interesting as a story and is a personal reflection on what some might consider cheating in Little League.

Did I cheat?  Did we win a game we shouldn’t have?  Did we win a Championship we didn’t deserve?

I don’t think so.  But purists might argue otherwise.

While I appreciate all the efforts of Little League and its officials to organize baseball for for kids, and to do the right thing for all involved, it is not an easy task to sort out the facts and be absolutely fair to everyone effected by what happened.  Some Little League districts may be bigger than others.  Some Little League districts may have more kids than others.

As much as we love baseball, and want to keep it honest, and fair, and pure, it is not so black and white.  From PED’s in Major League Baseball to district boundaries and birth certificates in Little League, there are all sorts of ways to get competitive advantages in baseball.  And it happens all the time as much as we don’t want it to or think it shouldn’t.

And sometimes those making the calls just get it wrong.

Let us remember that baseball is a game.  We play baseball.  We compete in it.  We have fun playing it.  We enjoy watching it.

It is not work.  It is not life and death.  It is not a battleground.  It is not torture.  There are far more serious things in the world to worry about and focus our attention on, especially these days.  But we choose baseball to get away from all that.

While the rules serve their purpose, and we have to live with the consequences of the outcomes, let us not forget the sheer fun of baseball, and the joy it brings us.   It will never be totally fair at any level.  But as long as we’re trying to keep it fair it will always be good.

Maybe Little League should do a better job of policing their rules and policies BEFORE the games are played.  That would keep embarrassing things like this from happening in the future.

But like the umpire in my first Little League game, they can’t be everywhere and see everything.

And we should all learn to live with the outcomes, no matter what they are, and be OK knowing that we all did our best.

Kudos to all the innocent players on the Jackie Robinson West team for playing with heart, passion, skill and love for the game. And for bringing many of us thrills one glorious summer.   They may take away your championship.  But they can’t take away your glorious memories, or your heart of a champion.

 

 

 

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