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Another Black Sox Scandal?

February 16, 2015

by William Szczepanek

The Little League was established in 1939 with the following mission: “assist children in developing the qualities of citizenship, discipline, teamwork and physical well-being. By espousing the virtues of character, courage and loyalty, the Little League Baseball and Softball program is designed to develop superior citizens rather than superior athletes.”

1954 Topps Jackie Robinson #010The Little League World Series was first played in 1947, the same year that Jackie Robinson broke into the Majors. It is ironic that the latest Little League World Series Champions from the US were from the Jackie Robinson West Little League team, the first all-African-American team to win the championship.

It is also ironic that the decision to strip the Chicago Jackie Robinson League team of its title for recruiting players from outside their district comes just after the death of the most famous Chicago baseball player of all time, Ernie Banks, who played in more games than any other player without participating in the playoffs or World Series. Robinson and Banks were examples of leaders as both players and citizens.

The Little League organization goes to great lengths to ensure that rules are followed and teams are constructed fairly and it could be argued that the validity of the players should have been checked more thoroughly, but when cheaters want to cheat, whether it be Little League coaches and parents or corporate leaders, they will find a way. The decision to strip the title from this team was the only correct decision to be made and I applaud the organization for doing so.

1954 Topps Ernie Banks #094While the loss of the championship is a big disappointment to the young players it still seems that they just don’t understand, and understanding the lesson to be learned is the most important factor in this situation. The kids were probably not in a position to challenge authority, they may not even have thought anything was done wrong (other teams are doing it, so it’s okay), but the coaches and parents knew, so the kids will suffer for it. But the kids also need to understand certain other facts, the main one being that many other kids were victimized because of their team. Many of the teams that they played against in the Series may have had the chance to move forward and had a chance to win the Series, not just the final team that lost to the Chicago team. And what about those players on the Jackie Robinson West team who had to either sit or be eliminated by the newly recruited players. The players need to understand that their team without the newly recruited players just wasn’t as good as the team that won the Series.

We must also note that Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team did not win the Little League World Series, but was the US winner. The Series trophy went to a team from Seoul South Korea, a country about one fifth the population of the US. The cultural differences between these two countries is immense. Much can be gained by looking at these differences that are analyzed in Why Shouldn’t South Koreans Dominate the LPGA.

The problems that we see in this US Little League scenario are cultural problems that exist in this country at all levels. These problems have existed forever, but maybe not as extensively as they exist now. Coaches of Little League teams across the country are known to cheat. The cheating occurs in the lily white suburbs where men and women consider winning more important than teaching values to their kids. Cheating occurs at all levels and it is quite likely that some of the other teams were put in the same situation by their coaches. Because the Jackie Robinson West team was all African-American the cries of racism stream from parents and leaders like Jesse Jackson. I would think that the children would have a lesson in character building if they were helped to understand the situation rather than to learn how to blame others. These players need to understand in the future that if and when they do see something wrong they need to challenge authority. The same goes for the parents.

I would not equate this occurrence with the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, but the real point that I’m trying to make is that if ethics aren’t taught in this environment, at this early age, and kids see that advantages can be had by cheating, then we are building the culture for more Black Sox Scandals in our future.

Current American culture is all about winning at all costs. All coaches need to read the mission statement of the Little League. It’s not about winning. It’s about how you play the game. I think I’ve heard that statement before somewhere.

“It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game.” Grantland Rice, 1908

What many Americans don’t understand is that if you don’t play the game the right way, you may lose so much more in other ways. I hope the kids will learn this valuable lesson. From what I have seen, they haven't yet.

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