Saturday, August 12, 2006


Before the beginning of the Cal Ripken World Series last year in Aberdeen, Maryland, Cal Ripken Jr. gathered the coaches of the teams for a chat.

Congratulations, he told them. Have fun. Good luck.

Oh, and one other thing: Don't try to win the game with tricks and technicalities. If there's an ambiguous situation, create some slack. Remember that the game exists for the kids. Don't teach them to play every angle.

This comes to me from Lance Arakawa, the coach of the Hawaii team that won the 2005 Cal Ripken World Series at the same time another Hawaii team was winning the Little League World Series.

I bring it up because of the events yesterday in Bristol, Connecticut.

In the semifinal game of the New England regional tournament, the all stars from Colchester, Vermont, were leading the all stars from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 9-7, going into the sixth inning. A two-run home run from Nate Frieberg gave the Vermonters the edge.

Then Vermont's manager, Denis Place, realized something was seriously wrong. One of his players had not played the requisite one inning in the field and one turn at bat. He gathered his pitcher and infielders on the mound for a conference. Whereupon, the Vermonters started to throw wild pitches, with the purpose of giving New Hampshire a couple runs to tie the game -- and give Vermont one last chance to get their last kid in the game.

See, if you don't play all your kids, you lose by a 6-0 forfeit.

Before long, the New Hampshire team figured it out. Rather than advancing around the bases on wild pitches and bad throws to second base, they stubbornly played just as badly.

So the Vermonters who led the game were trying to give up runs, while the trailing New Hampshireites were trying to avoid scoring runs.

The Vermonters were trying to avoid having to forfeit because of a technicality -- which they wanted to fix before the six innings were over -- and the New Hampshireites were trying to win on that same technicality.

Ultimately, the game finished with Vermont on the winning side of a 9-8 score.

But Little League officials in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, two hours after the game, ruled that Hew Hampshire would be declared the 6-0 winners. And so New Hampshire will play in the regional championship game against the all stars from Peabody, Massachusetts, on Sunday at 1 p.m. on ESPN.

New Hampshire and Massachusetts get their shot at TV glory.

What would Cal do? Hard to say for sure.

But under the spirit of the rules -- and the spirit of Cal Ripken's pep talk before his World Series last summer -- the Vermonters would have had some opportunity to correct their mistake. Sure, they messed up. They waited for too long to get their last kid in the game.

But why not give them a chance to correct the mistake? Because they were winning -- silly boys! why did they have to rally for that two-run lead? -- they weren't going to get a chance to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning. Wouldn't the spirit of youth competition call for the managers to get together and work something out? Why did both sides feel the need to game the system?

Did those Colchester kids deserve to lose on a stupid technicality? Did the Portsmouth kids deserve to be caught in a war of wills over that technicality?

Yes, the Vermont manager knew the rules ahead of time. But he wanted to correct his mistake within the regulation six innings. Wasn't there a way for the teams to rise above the intensity of the competition to maker it to the ESPN-televised championship game?

Imagine the two managers huddled to deal with the issue. What a great lesson it would have been for both sides to deal with the problem without resorting to on-field shenanigans and post-game legalities.

How should this have been resolved? Tell me in an email ( or in a comment to this blog entry.

Rick Reilly, the incomparable columnist for Sports Illustrated, explores the tensions between sport for fun and sport for winning in this week's column. Check it out.


Blogger tarheelcoach said...

Personally, if I was coaching the NH team, I would let them give away the lead, then I would call my team together and say "Now, we're going to win this on the field."
The punishment for not playing the kid was losing their lead. Now, my team would have a shot to win the game. I think the NH coach was just as bad for not allowing his kids to play ball - he should have been ejected as well for making a travesty of the game.

7:06 PM  
Blogger David Kessel said...

Charles: I left additional comments to your email address.
I agree with the previous comment, but I would add that the impact of this game on Colchester Vermont as a team will be much more profound, since so much was on the line.
I would have let the kids sovled this issued along with some direction or confirmation from the umpires and coaches. Your book really opened my eyes to these issues and I have noticed in all of the regionals that the adults and media are very much a part of the game and have a significant impact.

9:23 PM  
Blogger KMac said...

The problem is the LL rules. "Must play" rules are great for the regular season but should be dropped for the tournaments. Each team should be limited to a 12 man roster and leave it up to coaches who to play. Parents and players would know going in what the situation is. Presumably, all twelve players would have something to contribute and would see some playing time during any tournament.
This is already the case in LL Seniors Tournaments. Why not make it universal and avoid these situations?

3:59 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

That's a really unfortunate scenario, but the "everybody gets to play rule" should still be a cardinal rule for tournaments. As it is, the rule is relaxed somewhat for tournaments to 1 defensive inning rather than the regular season 2 innings. The principle is extremely important: everybody has a role to play in the team's success. This summer my 9-10 all-star team faced an opponent team that had a substitute/non-starting player hit a three run homer over the fence. Tough experience for our team, but what a memory for that player and that team. Many great teams have superb depth throughout the line-up and don't just rely on a core set of dominant players.

On balance the fault here inevitably and overwhelmingly falls on the Vermont coaches. Especially with so much on the line in these regional games the coaches need to make substitutions early, even as early as the 2nd or 3rd inning if possible (no later than the 4th inning) to ensure that a scenario like this does not develop. With 9 runs on the board it seems unlikely to me that there weren't ample opportunities available to Vermont to make the appropriate substitutions earlier.

8:08 AM  
Blogger epken said...

Love the blog. I don't accept the premise of your theory or question. Being a Little League president and coach for 13 years my guess is the reason he didn't get the kid in is not that he forgot. It probably was because it was a tight game and he didn't want to sub at that point. There's no reason a coach that made it to the region final should ever fall into this situation. I'd accept this happening in a district game were you have coaches who don't know or understand the rules. Why do you think it's happening so much in the regions? The coaches are holding back, gambling. When you gamble you lose sometimes. As someone who's coached 6 district teams, 4 advancing to state, I don't believe any of these coaches forgot.
Evergreen Park

11:12 AM  
Blogger Section1Guy said...

This was all the guy from Vermont's problem, and nobody in their right mind would not try to do what the Vermont coach or New Hampshire coach did at that point in time. The Vermont coach screwed up. He FORCED the NH coach to do what he did.

It was a tight game. I was there. It was one of the best games of the week until the bottom of the 6th. The coach only had TWO subs and he couldn't find a spot for one of them earlier. The top of the lineup had FOUR at bats. He just flat out blew it and it's his problem.

10:11 PM  

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