Monday, August 22, 2005

Little League

Anyone who has been watching the Little League® World Series this year will likely hear some version of the following discussion in pretty much every single game:
PBP Guy: Jones comes into play left field, which will count for his three defensive outs. he also needs one plate appearance under Little League® rules.

Color Guy: And that's a great rule. All the kids get a chance to play. It's really all about the kids having fun, and you come here to play, not to sit on the bench.
Well, I'm here to tell you that they're wrong. First, a little background. My dad has been involved in Little League® baseball since before my brother was old enough to play (he's four years older than me). He coached my brother's teams, did three one year terms as league president (my mother also did one of her own, and when she wasn't president, she was the league's official scorer), and managed a couple of my teams. He still serves on the district staff, and spends virtually the entire month of July at various Little League® fields monitoring the tournaments of champions and all star tournaments, the latter of which, at the 11-12 year old level, is what leads eventually to Williamsport. So I've been around Little League® for a long, long time.

My brother made the all-star team in 1981. At that time, sixteen kids were selected to the team. All sixteen got hats and snazzy nylon jackets with sewn lettering, which were worn in the July heat with a great deal of pride. After a couple weeks of practices, two players were cut and named alternates (my brother was one of them). 14 kids dressed for every game, putting on fancy uniforms with tackle twill lettering. Four years later I was selected to the team. Now, I wasn't all-world or anything, but I was pretty decent for a 12 year old. Once again, 16 players were selected and given their jackets at closing ceremonies. I'll never forget the moment. My knees buckled a little bit when my name was called, even though I was pretty sure I was going to make it (c'mon, my dad was a coach and my mom was the president - it was a foregone conclusion). I wasn't cut, but I didn't start, either. I knew my role.

We lasted only three games. We won the first game 3-2 in extra innings on a sac fly in the top of the 7th. In the bottom of the seventh, I went into right field, replacing the center fielder who had been pinch hit for in the top of the seventh. The other team (Alhambra National, I think) loaded the bases with no one out in the bottom of the seventh. The next batter hit one to me in right, I caught and gunned it to the plate (fired from the rocket attached to my right shoulder). The runner was called safe, and I was pretty upset. Seconds later, our pitcher stepped off the rubber, and appealed to the third base ump that the runner had left before I caught the ball. Amazingly, the ump called the runner out, we went back up 3-2, and won when our pitcher struck the next batter out. We were on cloud nine.

The next game, we lost 18-0 on a one hitter with 15 strike outs. I got to the plate once, walked, and went to second on a passed ball. It was the farthest anyone on our team advanced all day. The pitcher would later be drafted by the Angels and would play in their system for a while. And he was their #2. That team would later get screwed out of going to San Berdoo against Mexicali, who eventually played in the championship game.

But to bring this somewhere back near the point, I was the type of player this rule was aimed at. I was the kid who the men in Williamsport were so worried about. The only thing is, I didn't care. We were a collection of the best players from the five teams that made up Temple City National, and I knew that nine of them were better than me, or at least eight, but I'm not going to quibble about the ninth. When you sign your kid up for Little League®, you want him to play. You paid your money, and your kid paid his (or her) dues, and he (or she) deserves his (or her) three innings (the regular season rule). That's only fair. But all-stars is different. It's an add on. The league, and Little League®, didn't owe me anything. I'd already gotten everything I was promised. And I knew the team had the best chance to win when the best players were on the field. And you know what, 99% of the kids playing today know that too, and probably 80% of the parents.

"But Seitz", you say, "how can you be against a rule that simply ensures every kid gets a chance to play?" And I'd say "Haven't you been reading?" And you'd say "yeah, but you haven't done anything but pat yourself on the back for a couple of measley innings and a runner you failed to throw out!" And I'd say "Oh yeah, sorry about that."

Anyway, here's the point. This is a bad rule for three main reasons:

First, it's unnecessary. All-star teams don't carry kids that can't play just because they have a roster to fill out. Although most teams will enjoy as little success as mine did, you have to build a roster to go all the way. Hey, you never know. So generally, every kid on that roster can play. And over the course of the tournament, they're all going to get in. Look at me, I didn't start, but I played in all three games, and had a fairly significant role in one of them. There was no player on our team who did not play, and we dressed 14 guys, and only played three games. Circumstances dictated it, and we had a coach who wasn't a total asshole, although he did look pretty cool after our big loss when, in a fit of controlled anger, he bit the filter off his cigarette and spit it out before lighting up. I should note, he was the only coach who didn't have a kid on the team, which was for the best. His son was an 11 year old, and was a lock for the team the next year. So rule or no, over the long, or short, haul, everyone is going to play, and the kids who aren't playing know they probably shouldn't be playing.

Second, it can lead to stupid results. A year or two ago, a game in District 18 (our district, which included teams from El Monte, Alhambra, Temple City, Rosemead, South Pasadena, San Gabriel, etc.) ended in forfeit when one team beat another through the slaughter rule (which didn't exist when I played). The only problem was the game ended much sooner than the victors expected, and they couldn't get everyone in the game before it ended. That's a violation of the rule, and the much better team went home with a loss on a technicality. Rules are rules. Even dumb ones.

Finally, the rule actually limits opportunity. I know, that sounds funny, but I'd bet nationwide, you could probably count on one hand the number of teams that still dress 14 kids. That's two kids in the western San Gabriel Valley who don't get to make the team anymore. And I'm guessing it's a hell of a lot more kids across the country. What coach wants to have to worry about getting five extra kids into every game? Three is tough enough as it is.

So to sum up, the "everyone plays" rule as it relates to tournament play 1) is unneccessary, 2) makes for stupid games, and 3) actually limits kids opporunities to play. So ultimately, it sucks, which is why I will cringe and yell at the screen everytime I hear the ass-kissing anouncers tell me what a great rule it is.

4 comments:

Josh said...

I totally agree, well stated. The Little League regular season is not about winning, it is about having fun and getting everyone to play. All-Star teams are made out of the best players and they enter tournaments where the goal is to win so that you can move onto the next tournament.

matt said...

Anyway, I re-watched the original Bad News Bears tonight, and you're totally a communist.

Seitz said...

Ah, but wouldn't a communist be in favor of a rule forcing everyone to play?

That doesn't mean I'm not a communist, of course.

Anonymous said...

No, you are quite the communist, just not on this occasion. When can we expect your treatise on Little League baseball, oh ya, you just wrote it.