Cheers and Jeers
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?