I’ve spent several days reading the various news reports and many blogs that have provided information and opinions on the widely-reported “banning” of a 9 year-old pitcher from playing youth baseball because he throws too hard. Naturally since this story had the makings of instant headlines, it quickly became the talk of major news outlets and late-night television.
As usual, the chattering class got the story wrong, preferring the sensation to any substance of facts. Since I’m not one to sit on the bench if I have the chance to play, I’m going to take my own swings at this issue for whatever it’s worth.
To begin with, Little League International which establishes the Rules of Baseball followed by most youth baseball organizations and which sponsors the Little League World Series is NOT involved in this matter in any way. In most news reports the term “Little League” has been used as a synonym for youth baseball, but in a situation like this where official league actions lead to bans, sanctions and the inevitable lawsuits it is important to be accurate. There are countless youth baseball organizations throughout the country, but not all of them are affiliated with Little League® Baseball.
This particular program is a community-based recreational league called Liga Juvenil De Beisbol De New Haven (or New Haven Youth Baseball League if you’re a gringo) in Connecticut. As is typical with most recreational leagues the emphasis is on fun and “development” which is to say the bar on player abilities and expectations is not set very high. According to most reports, one of the participating teams (Will Power Fitness) was officially disbanded after local league officials asked its sponsor/coach to no longer use 9 year-old Jericho Scott as a pitcher in games since he was “too good,” throwing 40 mph fastballs which were deemed too fast and threatening for opposing players to face. Indeed, the team’s winning 8-0 record was directly attributed to the “unfair” advantage of Jericho’s heat. When the coach refused to comply, first a game was forfeited. Then when the coach may or may not have resigned in protest (depending on which version you read), the team was disbanded by the league.
Originally I was astounded that a 9 year-old who throws 40 mph would even be described as anything like a “PHENOM,” since in my experience many 9 year-old pitchers with good mechanics can do exactly that. My son Matt threw 40 mph at 9, 50 mph at 10 and now 60 mph at 11, and no one is diving for cover or complaining that he is too good to face. Fans of the Little League World Series will remember that talented 12 year-olds regularly throw fastballs over 60 or 70 mph and they don’t come from Mars. Either the media was too hyped-up about the story or else la Liga de Beisbol needs to seriously promote batting practice and the parents need to remember that kids grow from being challenged outside their comfort zones. Probably all are true in this case.
In the middle of all this commotion is 9 year-old Jericho Scott and his teammates who just like to play baseball and are enjoying a winning record at the same time. What to make of it all?
Well, according to the New Haven Register (www.nhregister.com), the backstory is even worse and involves some Major League manipulation by adults. It seems that young Jericho already has experience playing competitive baseball and is on the roster of an All-Star team in the Dom Aitro League in New Haven. He was actively recruited by “officials” of la Liga de Beisbol to also play in the recreational league for one of the “stronger” teams (Carlito’s Barbershop) because of his pitching talent. The primary “official” in question was actually the league president who was also that stacked team’s sponsor. However, Jericho’s parents wanted him to help a less experienced team along, so he joined la Liga but on the roster of a competing team (Will Power Fitness) for which there were far lower expectations.
The rest is a classic baseball movie script: The underdog team goes undefeated thanks to the renegade All-Star ringer who pitches more than he should (since now his coach finally has a horse to ride to victory) while the conniving league president with a fundamental conflict of interest watches his own stacked team of ringers stay locked in second place after being “champions” the previous two seasons. Unheard of! Imagine the frustration of those entitled parents. Since Plan A didn’t work, the same “officials” of la Liga who recruited the ringer to begin with now worked to have Jericho removed from play. Despite public statements of the league’s mouthpiece/lawyer to the contrary, the real danger wasn’t to the other batters, but rather to the place of the league president’s own team in the standings.
I feel very bad for Jericho who only wanted to play baseball and was manipulated by adults who took advantage of his talent. Sometimes grown-ups become over-involved in youth sports and forget to let the kids just be kids. Clearly it is the adults who are the real losers here. Unfortunately it is also a sad reality that talented players of every age are vulnerable to those in positions of power who have their own agendas, whether they are parents, coaches, managers or agents.
This is a cautionary tale for all of us, players and parents alike.