New “D’s Corner”…
Rules or Hypocrisy?
The Jackie Robinson West team was recently stripped of its Little League U.S. Championship by the governing body of Little League International due to residency violations!
Before I delve into this situation I would like to share a story with all who read this column about a personal and similar situation I experienced before I give my take on JRW!
In 1974 I played on a Little League Softball Team called “The Fulton 49ers” that played in an organized Block Club League (ages 13-17) out of the Garfield Park Chicago Park District located on the West Side of Chicago.
The name “49ers” is distinctive because in order to play on this team you had to live in the 4900 block of Fulton St. in Chicago on the West Side. I lived however, in the 5000 block of Fulton St. and technically was ineligible to play on that team. Excuse my lack of modesty, but because I was the best player on that team and I grew up playing with all of the members of that team I was allowed to play simply by one of the mothers of the Block Club board listing me as ‘living’ at her address.
Our 1974 team went 0 and 14 that year so NOBODY cared where any of us lived because we ‘stunk’! Fast forward one year later…1975…our coach on the 1974 team resigned and we got a new coach…the late, great Ernie Terrell (RIP)!
Yes! THAT Ernie Terrell, the famous boxer who fought and lost to Muhammed Ali in the Houston Astrodome in 1968 (with Ali shouting “say my name” because of Terrell’s insistence on calling him “Clay”)! However, Ernie Terrell was our coach ‘in name only’ (he dated one of the women on the Block Club board at the time). Because we were so bad the previous year the league wanted to kick us out and replace us with another Block Club team ‘in waiting’ but because his name carried ‘weight’ he was needed to grant us at least one more year.
However, our ‘real’ coach was a gentleman named Bob Johnson and he was a great coach for us because he really took time with us and loved the game. But because we were so bad the year before most of the 1974 team quit due to lack of interest. Bob was somewhat new to the neighborhood so he asked me (I was the team captain) to ‘recruit’ us some new players since I grew up in the neighborhood and knew pretty much everybody. And I did, I loved recruiting and I went around the neighborhood and recruited the best players (all within the age range and within a two block radius) I knew…guys like (I’ll use their nicknames) “Tony Rome”, “Jethro Bodine”, “Bay-Bay”, “Pompeo”, “Baptiest” and a few others…and guess what?
We went from 0 and 14 in 1974 to 17 and 0 in 1975 and won the league championship! Now, EVERYBODY cared where we lived? Why?
Easy, because we won the damn championship after going winless the season before. Why care now? Winning does that…it brings scrutiny, second guessing, jealousy, envy, you name it (see the New England Patriots and “Deflategate”). But what it also brings are those who now want to get religion and make sure YOU played within the rules (even if they didn’t) those are usually the losing teams who could care less about themselves and everybody else who also may have also broke the rules.
I went out at 15 years old (I’m not blaming the adults) and put together the best team I possibly could and my only rules concern was everybody meeting the age requirement (you can’t have any 19 and 20 year old’s on your team…THAT to me was cheating). Plus, since most of the 1974 team quit there weren’t enough boys left in the 4900 block of Fulton St. to field a team…I HAD to ‘go outside’ of the block. However, I still knew I was breaking the rules but my attitude was “I’m sure all the other teams players don’t live on their respective blocks” so if everybody else is doing it…well…you get my point. Is it still breaking the rules? ABSOLUTELY!
I would love to close this column with some fantastic moralistic act on my part but I can’t and I won’t! I willingly broke the rules by recruiting players I knew didn’t live in the 4900 block of Fulton St. and I realized there may be consequences but I/we (because the Block Club board knew) were willing to take that chance.
So at the end of the day while most teams in the league whispered about us nothing ever came of it. We received our championship trophy at an outdoor ceremony from former NBA forward Mickey Johnson who at that time played for the Chicago Bulls. We were never stripped of our title and I’m (as you can tell) still proud of what we accomplished as a team some forty years later.
Why didn’t the league or any other team investigate and/or turn us in? Probably because I was right in my assumption that they were doing the same thing so if ‘we’ go down they ‘all’ go down. This is where the hypocrisy comes in.
Back to JRW…did they break the rules? It appears they did according to the rules set forth by the Little League International governing body. Was it wrong? Absolutely! Should they be punished? Yes! Should their punishment be this severe? I say no!
These rumors had been floating for months (many say JRW had been breaking the rules for years) and at one point the Little League International governing body deemed the matter closed. However, they received so much increased and intense pressure from various coaches (here in Illinois and Nevada) and apparently from an investigative reporter from DNA Info Chicago who had ‘new’ information to share that they had no choice but to re-open the case hence their decision.
If many knew JRW had been breaking the rules for so long why wait until AFTER JRW won the Little League U.S Championship to get religion?
Now it comes out that Evergreen Park, IL Little League VP Chris Janes (who brought the majority of these allegations AFTER JRW beat one of his teams 42 to 3) ALSO tried recruiting players he knew didn’t meet residency requirements for a team in his league…talk about hypocrisy!
Look, rules are rules (no matter how dumb) and if they are broken there should be consequences but sometimes, when you have a rule that’s almost unenforceable it’s time to examine the rule not necessarily those who may be breaking it. Stripping these kids of their title I feel is a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime. They earned that ON the field!
Taking the title away from these kids does absolutely nothing but hurt the kids. They played on the team they were told they could play on by adults who we assume knew the rules. If anything, punish the adults…not the kids!
Am I to believe that every player on every team in the Little League International governing body met the residency requirements? Unless you can tell me the ONLY team that didn’t meet residency requirements was JRW you can miss me with that!
JRW, you know ‘in your hearts’ no matter what, YOU are champions! They can take the trophies and wins but they can’t take what you did and what we and the rest of the world saw you do!
So here’s to you Jackie Robinson West…oh, and by the way…Happy Black History Month!
D can be seen also on thestartinglineup.net