Sad for Jackie Robinson West Little League but players will be fine

It was a sad day when the Jackie Robinson West little league team lost its title, especially for Chicagoland folks, like me. Like many people, I have mixed feelings on the news of the little league decision to strip the title from them.

I do not disagree with what little league baseball did. Cheating must have consequences. And, I usually feel sorry for the kids involved with over ambitious adults in youth sports, but, I do not feel sorry for the Jackie Robinson West players. I do not feel they need that, but do not take that the wrong way, that is the good news. It’s normal to feel sorry for the teams that lost to them, though.

More than once, I have heard and read something to the effect, “There they go again, adults have ruined things for the kids.” The JRW adults did ruin it for many fans by adding another all too common blotch on the current youth sports environment. But in this case, things were far from ruined for the team itself. The Jackie Robinson West adults built a super team and gave the players the thrill of their and any kids’ lives. From being TV stars to flying around the country afterwards, winning gave them much. Future life experiences may get no better for some of them from here on out.

The Jackie Robinson West players received stardom, notoriety, adulation, respect and confidence they would never have had, if not for winning. Those things, and the on and off field experiences cannot be taken away. Sure, the kids may take some flak from some people about how it came about, but they will overcome that pretty quickly. To suggest that the team members were devastated with losing its title is not close to accurate, in my opinion. They are tough, they are athletes, and learning to overcome adversity is part of the game. Without the title, those kids still know what they did. Character people, as the team showed they were, have resiliency on and off the field. Kids often have more of that than the supervising adults and parents. The players handled everything from day one with class, by most accounts.

I had an interesting, somewhat similar situation back in the day. When I was nine years old, one ambitious little league coached slipped me onto his team before the required age of ten. I thought nothing of playing or that it was against a rule, to me it was just another game. I am sure my parents knew, but they were probably convinced that it was OK because I was under age, not over.

I do not believe my parents were trying to relive their playing days vicariously through me. That is another familiar statement often used in youth sports that means little. I don’t believe parents try to relive their careers through their kids, they just want the best for them. Parents love their kids and do what they can to help them. They want challenges and success for their children. That does not make them evil parents, but just overambitious ones, at times. Unfortunately, sometimes, they become blind to rules in that pursuit. People often pay the price for being too determined at some point, but they mean well in the beginning.

Jackie Robinson West All Stars

Jackie Robinson West All Stars

I am sure no one would have raised the matter in my or the Jackie Robinson West team’s rule breaking, except for success. As a nine-year-old, I went two for four against a twelve-year-old pitcher. Whether I did well or not should have been irrelevant because bending the rules is never right. But, people forgive a little bending when success does not follow, that is just the way it is. The losing team protested, and I waited a year to join little league baseball.

That gets to the point – the experience was far from a negative for me. It was the biggest confidence boost a kid could get, succeeding against the big boys and I enjoyed the notoriety of performing well against much older athletes. The same goes for the Jackie Robinson West All Stars. The players move on with confidence knowing they were the best, other things are possible, and they can handle the adversity involved with life and sports. My situation helped propel me to the major leagues, and it will drive many of those players to accomplish things down the road.

Does the end justify the means? No, success should come at a price when done by illegitimate means. Losing their title was appropriate. Unfortunately, the wrong way wins out sometimes. In some instances, it is better to win in the beginning and suffer the consequences later than never to have won. I am pretty sure the adult rule breakers are quite content with their decisions for those kids, even though not done with the rules.  Breaking the rules was wrong, but the rule breaking gave everyone an unbelievable ride. Not the same for sure, but I believe Lance, Mark, Sammy, Barry and others would not necessarily change things if they could go back and do so – the ride and memories were too awesome. Also unfortunate and for that reason, rule breaking will never end. Many will risk it all just to have a journey that is impossible without cheating. Being “King of the Mountain” is worth the risk for some, even if it only lasts a short while.

Finally, many tried to justify the Jackie Robinson West situation as being an economic thing and that should allow some maneuvering. Sorry, cheating is never the way to empower anyone.


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