LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIOUS.
August 23, 2002
by Bill Hogan
I was able to catch a lot of Little League action from Williamsport, Pennsylvania this past week thanks to the extensive coverage provided by ESPN and ESPN2.
The fact that ESPN is offering such extensive coverage has come under fire by some who fear that these twelve-year-old little leaguers are being, at best, over-exposed and at worst, exploited.
Britney Spear's navel is over-exposed. Foul-mouthed rapper Eminem is over-exposed. Both are listed among the young player's 'favorites'. That, to me, should be of far greater concern than the television cameras circling Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport.
There's a bunch of kids from Hawaii that have been on the road – away from their homes, friends and trusty blanket - for over a month. And there are some sixth and seventh graders missing the start of the school year. But a brief post-game interview is exploitive?
"Great game, Jimmy, what are you going to do tonight to celebrate?"
"Gee, I dunno, maybe go for a swim and play some Nintendo with the guys from Guam."
Now that's exploitation.
For a lot of these kids, Williamsport is going to be the pinnacle of their baseball careers. Five years from now, some of them won't even make their High School team. And in the long and distinguished history of the Little League World Series, only 23 participants have gone on to play in the Major League.
Why shouldn't they be rewarded for the time and effort it took to get to Williamsport with a little national attention?
And while it's true that I really don't need to know that little Mikey's favorite television show is 'Spongebob Squarepants' or that he once knocked out his two front teeth playing roller hockey in the living room, I doubt he feels exploited by ESPN for releasing that information. And it's great to watch him rip a line drive to the opposite field for a run scoring double.
Another criticism is that the extended television exposure is causing many of the kids to act like showboating hot-dogs.
In reality, what we are watching is part big-league emulation and part twelve-year-old child.
They're encouraged to hit like Sammy Sosa, throw a fastball like Randy Johnson and gobble up grounders like A-Rod. But they are admonished when they spit, grab their crotch, pound their chest and 'call their shot' in classic Ruthian fashion.
Little leaguers have been emulating their professional counterparts for decades. The problem is, now they are following in the footsteps of self-promoting millionaires. I'm not a big fan of the pre-teen-chest-thump, but what do you expect?
If Little League wants these baseball prodigies to stop the big-league antics the first thing they have to do is change the name of the tournament. If they insist on calling it the World Series, of course people are going to behave like it's the World Series.
And since the first LLWS in 1947 consisted of about a dozen teams all from the state of Pennsylvania, the only reason to label it as a 'World Series' in the first place was to emulate Major League Baseball.
Of course, when Hamtramack, Michigan won the 1959 LLWS, their baseball heroes were Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Al Kaline. Not players who think a puny two-million dollar salary is the basis for an insufferable working environment and a legitimate reason to walk out on the game.
The term 'World Series', by definition, implies serious competition and undermines the initial intention of Little League's founders to establish an annual celebration of youth athletics.
The title itself puts as much pressure on these children as any parent or coach. One forgivable error at the wrong time and some poor seventh grader is doomed to go through life thinking he's Bill Buckner.
I say call it the Little League Baseball World Festival and keep the cameras rolling. Eliminate the obvious link to Major League Baseball and let the kids have their fifteen minutes of fame.
The best baseball game I've seen all summer didn't involve the Braves or Diamondbacks or Yankees. And there was no talk about steroids or luxury tax or strike dates.
It was baseball at its finest. It was a true pitchers duel that produced the first-ever double no-hitter. It was a group of boys from Kentucky finally outlasting their Texan contemporaries after eleven exciting innings of the best kind of baseball.
I'm glad ESPN was there to
broadcast that experience into my living room.
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