When I read that Jackie Robinson West Little League, the U.S. champions in the 2014 Little League World Series, was stripped of its title due to rules violations, it was extremely upsetting and cringe-worthy to me. One of the most seemingly innocent sporting events you are going to find has become overrun with greed and corruption.
First off, the fact that these kids were stripped of their title is unfair, just like when Danny Almonte’s team saw their third-place finish vacated in 2001. The players had nothing to do with their coaches and parents sleazing their way to the top and living vicariously through their children.
The real victims in this story are not the teams Jackie Robinson West defeated on their way to the championship. Those teams are filled with bloodthirsty parents as well, as evidenced by the way they so vigorously sought to take down a bunch of 11, 12 and 13-year-old kids to claim a trophy their kids did not deserve. No, the real victims are these innocent kids who gave their all and played some incredible ball (outscoring their opponents 39-20 in U.S. bracket play) to have everything taken away from them six months later. It’s not fair to them after they played their little hearts out to have it all washed away for reasons outside their control.
The blame is squarely on the coaches and parents in this one. The main problem with Little League Baseball (and youth sports in general) is that the adults have become absolutely out of control. They get so obsessed with winning at all costs, so caught up in the fame and glory of being at the crown jewel event of youth sports, that morals go out the window. These maniacal people are ruining these kids.
No one is saying Little League should disband or anything radical like that, but it does need to do a better job of background checking its coaches and parents. If a team is bringing in ringers, it should not be that hard to find out and disqualify the team right away. If such an investigation is launched to determine whether these kids were playing illegally, there is no excuse to not do your homework before the fact when the team first qualifies to Williamsport. It’s not rocket science.
The Little League organization has been around for 76 years. The fact that a controversy like this is reprehensible and shameful for all adults involved. They knew the rules and they broke them, and for what? I’m sure the kids on the Jackie Robinson West team will tell you the effort to bend the regulations set in place for decades was not worth it. Young players who had so much to celebrate now have nothing to show for it.