“Memories in the corners of my mind. Flashback of us laughing all the time. I taught em’ all about the (heat and curves), but I wish I had a chance to say these three words… After Laughter then comes Tears”
That’s the ending of the first verse of Wu Tang Clan’s 1993 release "Tearz" on the Enter The Wu-Tang 36 chambers classic album.
I changed a couple of words to make it fit the discouraging situation Jackie Robinson West Little League finds itself in. Such a hip-hop quotable also represents the emotions that thousands of young baseballers, proud parents, coaches, community members and advocates of diversity in sports and opportunities for inner-city and underserved kids, feel today.
Little League Baseball has stripped the U.S. championship from Jackie Robinson West and suspended its coach for violating a rule prohibiting the use of players who live outside the geographic area that the team represents, it was announced Wednesday.
Snatch those Cookies
Jackie Robinson West must vacate wins from the 2014 Little League Baseball International Tournament -- including its Great Lakes Regional and United States championships. The team's manager, Darold Butler, has been suspended from Little League activity, and Illinois District 4 administrator Michael Kelly has been removed from his position.
Little League and its International president and CEO Stephen D. Keene found that JRW used a falsified boundary map and that team officials met with neighboring Little League districts in Illinois to claim players and build what amounts to a “superteam.”
If that was JRW’s intention, the league succeeded. Chicago’s little ballers were beyond fantastic and carried a regal presence as "The Dark Knights" and brightest stars of the 2014 LLWS.
"This is a heartbreaking decision," Keener said in a statement. "What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome. ...
"As painful as this is, we feel it a necessary decision to maintain the integrity of the Little League program. We have over 7,000 leagues around the world looking for us to provide leadership...no team can be allowed to attempt to strengthen its team by putting players on their roster that live outside their boundaries."
LLB Misses The Mark
Little League Baseball says it did what it had to do, but its entire approach to the ordeal is outdated and doesn’t reflect the realities of the state of baseball in this country. Some major restructuring is needed as they approach 70 years of LLWS tournaments.
With baseball’s dying hold on the collective athletic interests of kids across the country, it’s hard for some leagues to even find enough kids to field teams. The financial burden is real-deal-Holyfield for parents and the commitment that coaches must make to recruiting, developing and fielding a squad that has the talent to compete for a national title is akin to a second job.
A team recruiting from outside of their designated geographic boundaries is a common occurrence. I played baseball my entire life—from Pee Wee league to Little League to travel ball—and coaches have always been forced to be “creative” with player borders in order to field a squad capable of thriving on youth baseball’s biggest stage and against teams from all over the world. Especially when the foreign squads are competing under less stringent regulations.
I am not surprised by these findings of misconduct, but I’m almost certain that if you investigated the other squads at Williamsport, PA you would find similar indiscretions and liberties taken with player-eligible boundaries.
The cardinal sin in Little League Baseball is age tampering. Under no circumstances should a player who is too old to be playing in a certain division be allowed to break the rules.
However, this is no Danny Almonte situation. Almonte, an assistant baseball coach at Cardinal Hayes H.S. in NYC, became the subject of considerable media attention in 2001, when he led his Boogie Down Bronx team (Rolando Paulino All-Stars) to a third-place finish in the 2001 Little League World Series. Almonte had a blazing fastball that overpowered players and he even tossed the first perfect game in LLWS history, whiffing 16 of 18 helpless batters.
Almonte was thrust into national prominence, until he was revealed to have actually been two years too old to play Little League baseball. Although there were many allegations during the 2001 Series, the truth was not revealed until weeks later
Age is everything at the lower levels of athletics and playing above your age group provides kids with physical and mental advantages. To my knowledge, the JRW squad was completely age-eligible, which is usually the only thing incorrigible enough to make opposing teams start dropping dimes for the same crime.
This is more a case of sour grapes and snitching than anything else. The people who supposedly initially reported JRW’s border infractions are apparently butt-hurt parents from a team JRW smashed 43-2.
Everyone is saying the adults are at fault, but the kids are the ones who will suffer greatest. They obviously weren’t hiding anything. According to the dime-dropping Evergreen Park officials, it wasn’t difficult to discover evidence of supposed wrongdoing, thanks to modern technology: "All you had to do was Google any one of the players' names and their hometowns outside of Chicago pop up."
Almonte’s indiscretion was adult-driven as well. He was a 14-year-old kid who couldn’t fake his own birth certificate. The coaches obviously did it, but he's had to live with the ridicule and rep of being a cheater and he suffered for it. After two plush seasons at Western Oklahoma, where he was a first-team NJCAA Division II All-American with a .472 average, 18 home runs, 76 RBIs and a 9-0 record on the mound, he couldn't shake his past and his MLB aspirations eventually fizzled.
Destruction Of A Ghetto Dynasty
How do you strategically destroy the athletic lifeline of a legendary baseball community?
Label the “adults” as cheaters. Make it a league synonymous with cheating and “doing things the wrong way” -- as competing league directors and even the President has now labeled JRW.
RW's rise to baseball supremacy as the first all-black team to win the LLWS tourney captivated the summer media mill. It brought a pride and feeling of “worth” to a community that desperately needed a hero. While Ferguson, Missouri and the Michael Brown incident created a firestorm of racial division in the country, the boys from the Southside of Chicago were annihilating squads, closing racial gaps and transcending baseball with a flair and cultural appeal never seen before at the LLWS.
The energetic, charismatic and articulate squad's U.S Title was a positive reflection on their race, embattled city, youth sports participation in this country, and a blow to the baseball heads who continue to promote the statistical fact that African-Americans don’t dig the long ball anymore.
My main concern is the future of the JRW Little League, which has been a vital, productive and positive entity in the Chicago community. A true source of pride. Now, the league is forever stained. They can never get that back. Unfortunately it's "collateral damage" as certain callous sportscasters describe.
What kids will want to go play for JRW now? Black kids on the Southside of Chicago have enough of a stereotypical and societal stain on them as soon as they walk out the door. With this decision to strip the players of their hard-earned championship, Little League Baseball has also stripped them of their dignity, community-standing and integrity as well as the ability to walk the already oppressive and pessimistic streets of their neighborhoods.
Do the stores now rip down the pictures of these boys? Do the kids who were so inspired by the accomplishments of Pierce Jones who hit three homers in a LLWS game against Washington, forget it ever happened, run back to the ghetto and chuck the mitt in favor of a pistol?
Will the bus drivers and teachers and well-wishers look at them differently now?
Nobody seems to be worried about the psychological and social effect this will have on that entire team of black men. It’s almost the worst trick you can play on a kid. Might as well incarcerate all of them, because they are surely trapped in a prison of bitter-sweet memories, confusion and pity.
The Jackie Robinson West program is one of the last bastions of black baseball in this country with a long-standing tradition fueled by a community’s generational love for the sport. They advanced to the first round of the 1983 World Series, coached by the late Joseph Haley. His son William took over the league for his dad and continued promoting “baseball” and all of the invaluable opportunities and life-lessons that the sport provides. The soulful JRW squad, comprised of kids from the 28-team (T-ball to 18-year-olds) league, drawing from the Englewood, Auburn-Gresham, Morgan Park and Washington Heights areas are feeling like losers today.
Once again, they are feeling “less than.” All of the dreams and goals, enlightenment and opportunities that blossomed from JRW's 7-5 U.S. Title Win over Nevada, have been tainted to a large extent.
Should they now question their own self worth?
That’s what happens when you become great and hand out ass whippings along the way. Somebody is going to try and bring you down. A lot of times -- as is the case in this suspect situation -- you do it to yourself.
I believe the intention of JRW’s braintrust was to casually cheat the system, but not the game. That’s a tough line to walk and when you break rules, nobody has to listen to your mitigating circumstances. When you already wear the bull’s-eye and drop your guard in a dogfight you become an easy target.
JRW’s World Series victory was a slap in the face to all of the haters who doubted their team’s legit championship pedigree. A punch in the gut to primitive thought and outdated theory that African-American kids can’t rule the diamond. Or only want to shoot hoops and crack ribs on a football field.
JRW went totally against the grain as they always have. The league’s desire to go the extra mile and dream big made it more than just a baseball factory. It became a safe haven and dream-builder for Southside Chicago kids trapped in a war zone and a never-ending cycle of poverty and police contact.
While LL Baseball acknowledges that the kids did nothing wrong, instead of penalizing the coaches and league administrators for committing what equates to a jaywalking infraction in legal terms, the organization thought it was in the best interest of all parties involved to wipe out the accomplishments of a once-in-a-generation, all-black Chicago team bearing the name of an American legend who integrated Major League Baseball (and then award the title to an all-white squad).
Something about that just doesn’t sit right with my black ass, but rules are rules and fools are fools.
I was laughing as I sat with my 8-year-old, baseball bashing son JC and watched JRW make LLWS history this summer. Today I’m crying because it was sad seeing a JRW player having to speak at a press conference about something he probably doesn't even understand.
Jesse Jackson and the parents of the players feel it's a blatant attempt to humiliate the kids and discredit their accomplishments. They fail to understand why after two investigations, Little League Baseball would finally succumb to "bullying" then play Biggie and make us believe it was all a dream. For the thousands of kids who have experienced the positive influences of the JRW baseball league over the past four decades, this is a nightmare.