Monday, August 14, 2006

Cheers and Jeers

As the regional tournaments draw to a close, some cheers and jeers for the winners and sinners of the Little League World Series qualifying competitions:

CHEER to Lloyd McClendon, the star of the 1971 Gary, Indiana, team. Thirty-five years ago, this young stud hit five home runs in five at bats and was the pitching star of the team as well. McClendon and his Gary teammates pushed the Taiwan dynasty to the first extra inning game in LLWS history before melting down in the ninth inning. McClendon went on to a good major league career as a player, coach, and manager. He's a good guy who will be honored this year when Little League inducts him into its Hall of Excellence.

JEER to the managers who wait until the last minute to use all their players. Two managers threatened their teams' chances by waiting until their last turns at the plate to use their reserve players. Teams that do not use all their players for one at-bat and one inning in the field automatically forfeit the game.

But the managers of the South Charles Lake (Louisiana) and Dimond-West (Alaska) tempted fate. South lake Charles was leading the team from D'lberville, Mississippi, 1-0, when it batted in the bottom of the fifth. Even though three players still had not batted, South Charles Lake still did not use the reserves right away -- and only got them all in the game when a batter reached base. If The Louisianans went down 1-2-3 in the inning and retired Mississippi in the top of the sixth, they would have ended the game with a 1-0 lead -- and then lost by a 6-0 forfeit. Alaska was also leading in the sixth inning without having played all of its reserves. Only Murrayhill, Oregon's comeback prevented a forfeit. We all know what happens when teams don't use all their players. Bureaucrats rule and controversy ensues.

CHEER to Little League Baseball, for its study of pitch counts. For years, Little League has limited the number of innings pitchers can throw. But this year, the Williamsport organization conducted a study of pitch counts. Some 500 leagues participated in the program. Many insiders believe that Little League will adopt the pitch-count rules for its tournaments as soon as next year.

To me, it's a no-brainer to limit pitches. The American Sports Medicine Institute has documented that throwing more than 75 pitches in a game imperils a pitcher's short- and long-term health. Last year, nine pitchers threw more than 100 pitches in the LLWS -- and one, Martin Cornieles of Venezuela, threw 137. That is abuse. The one potential SNAFU is if opposing teams run pitch counts deep to get top pitchers out of the game. But smart coaches and pitchers will respond to that by getting hitters to put the ball into play rather than going for strikeouts all game long.

JEER to broadcasters who shamelessly extol the virtues of corporate sponsors. Yeah, I know, they pay for their sponsorships. But there are limits. The ESPN broadcasters for the Oregon-Alaska Northwest regional championship game were drooling at Nike's sponsorship of the hometown Little Leaguers, zooming in on the swoosh on the players' uniforms.

CHEER to parents who draw a line to protect their kids' physical wellbeing. Coaches come under incredible pressure to abuse their pitchers by throwing too many many pitches or using the curveball. The only real recourse is for parents to draw a bold line. Joe Daugherty, the father of a player from Owensboro, Kentucky in 2004 and 2005, set firm rules for his kid Luke. Joe came under pressure from coaches and other parents, but he always said no to requests for pushing Luke beyond his limits. We need more Joe Daughertys in youth sports -- parents willing to take a stand whatever the pressures.

JEER to teams that don't bring all 14 eligible players to Little League World Series tournaments. Teams have the option of bringing 12, 13, or 14 players to the LLWS tournaments. Most American teams use 12, while most foreign teams use 14. Come on, America! use all the kids you can! You're always making excuses for overusing pitchers. If you had all 14 players on the team, you could spread out the pitching burden. More important, you could give the ultimate Little League experience to two more kids. People associated with the LLWS seem to think that it's OK to limit the number of players on the team. One ESPN announcer talked about how lucky one team was when one of its players broke an arm. Now they won't have to get 'em all in the game, he explained. Kind of sick, no?


Blogger John said...

Dart to Little League West Regional officials for scheduling Utah for a Sunday. Utah chose to be true to it's religious principles and forfeited the game. This is not a new situation, and to my knowledge, regional officials have scheduled around it for many years. How hard would it have been to tweak the schedule to avoid this. It wasn't fair to Utah to have to make that choice. It wasn't fair to the team they were schedule to play (Nevada), who lose out on playing a game. It wasn't fair to the rest of the field, since Nevada's pitching rotation gets altered.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Why play on Sunday to begin with???

But the LLWS Championship game is played on Sunday. If Utah would have made it to the final game, should that have been re-scheduled?

I think that no Little League games be scheduled on Sunday, to avoid this scenario.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Charlie Euchner said...

Avoiding Sunday games makes some sense. In the old days, blue laws shut down all kinds of activities on Sunday. A few years ago, a Jewish LLWS player had to wait until sundown on Saturday to enter his team's game.

3:36 PM  
Blogger John said...

While I appreciate that the championship game is scheduled for Sunday, Utah would still have to earn it's way there, then make their own decision (such as that Jewish player did). It's a one-time thing that cannot be forcast. Utah plays in the West Regional every year, so it is an issue every year. Tournament officials should have known better. I could have even understood had they been placed in different regional for the first time (ala Hawaii this year). But they have always played in that regional.

Now I won't argue with an overall avoidance of Sunday games; it is food for thought.

9:04 PM  
Blogger CarrieM said...

How could San Bernardino "know better?" Is it safe to assume that every Utah team is Mormon and therefore unable to play on Sunday? That seems like a gross generalization...

5:45 PM  
Blogger Section1Guy said...

I agree that the region should've been able to switch the schedule to accomodate them. It wouldn't be hard to do that.

The problem is that LL is so archaic they don't switch schedules at all, besides rotating which states don't play, they keep the same schedule right down to who opens with who and when.

10:02 PM  

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