Missing the mission

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Jackie Robinson West, the first all-African-American team to win the U.S. Little League and, as of just a few days ago, the first team stripped of its title because it allegedly used players who were not in their boundaries. Some see this as a adults once again messing up children’s games, some see it as another sign of how cheating ruins sports, some see it as an unfair or racially driven punishment for a group of kids who did something extraordinary.

As often goes, I find myself thinking about my old friend Buck O’Neil, the great Negro Leagues player and manager and the first black coach in Major League baseball. African-American participation in baseball has been declining for decades, and Buck talked often about baseball dying in the American inner cities. Few things made him sadder. He would say, “Baseball is so important in the inner city because you need nine people to make one team. It isn’t like basketball where you only need a ball and a basket or football where you can play with four or six people. You need everyone to play baseball.”

Little League Baseball is a wonderful organization, but they missed this one entirely. Little League has done poorly getting into those inner-city communities that worried Buck. That takes money, organization, travel options and, more than anything, a special kind of dedication from coaches and players and families. And that is what Little League should be concentrating on.

Jackie Robinson West showed us what’s possible. Even if they did cross boundaries to build a SuperTeam, stripping their title doesn’t fix anything, solve anything or even punish the right people. It is another in what seems an endless attempt in sports to rewrite history.  But instead of rewriting history, Little League Baseball should be concentrating on what Jackie Robinson West did right, and building on that that to write a new future.

— Joe Posnanski

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