Thursday, August 10, 2006

Going Too Far in Little League?

Sports Illustrated has an interesting column by Rick Reilly about a 9 and 10 year old little league baseball game in Bountiful, Utah that is now stirring national controversy. In the league’s championship game, in the last inning the team at bat was losing and there were two outs, but the potential tying run was on third and their best hitter was at the plate. On deck for the team was a weaker kid, a cancer survivor with a shunt in his brain.

The pitcher, at the instruction of his coach, intentionally walked the slugger. The cancer survivor, with tears in his eyes, struck out, ending the game.

The crowd booed at the time, and the coach has been vilified ever since, with every sort of punishment short of execution having been suggested for him for having ordered the intentional walk. That is unfortunate. It was a championship game, and the coach used a strategy that helped his team win.

As much as anyone, the Oracle has been concerned about childish behavior and win-at-all-costs attitudes by adults who think it is appropriate to scream at umpires and coaches over calls and playing time in little league games. That being said, one of the purposes of sports is to teach kids to compete, to play both fair and hard in order to win. Within the boundaries set by the written rules of the game and the unwritten rules of sportsmanship, the point of a sport is to compete to win.

Contrary to the ideas of some contemporary psychologists, competition is healthy and can teach some important lessons. There are important lessons to be learned about competing and winning graciously. There are lessons about perseverance and sportsmanship when competing and losing. One might digress to note that some of those lessons for both winners and losers are sometimes lost by those pontificating in the political realm.

The child and his parents were understandably upset about what happened. However, the next day the son told his father, “I'm going to work on my batting. Then maybe someday I'll be the one they walk."

That is the lesson I would have wanted my son to learn. I suspect that this father has helped his son deal with far worse adversity than striking out in a baseball game, and those lessons have carried over to this situation that the father evidently doesn’t think he should have had to endure. Nevertheless, the value of that lesson is the reason I say it was all right to walk the slugger.


Blogger John H said...


I have loved baseball from the first time I discovered Micky Mantle (1960). I was also a really really lousy baseball player. I was not handicapped other than being really skinny and not particularly athletic. I knew baseball well enough to know that I WOULD HAVE WALKED a good hitter to get to me. I didn't want patronage. I just wanted a chance. The few hits I got just felt all that much better. I suspect the young man in your story feels much the same.

great post, MCO.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Mark A. Rose said...

That's a very fair assessment, MCO.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Sarcastro said...

Damn right.

Why play at all if everyone gets a trophy?

Why not pretend to pitch to the cancer kid, and just let him take a base and pretend he got a hit?

Good take.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Short and Fat said...

I'll get behind you on this.

In gym class one year we had a handicapped kid. He only had one leg.

One day during dodgball, I was first to the line and got the ball. I scanned the opposition and drilled gimpy right in his one leg. Sure there were other bigger, stronger guys on the other side, but if I'd done that I might have lost.

I followed the rules so it must be ethical.

10:37 PM  

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