The Chicago team that took America by storm last August at the Little League World Series will have to vacate all of their wins and titles according to a decision handed down by Little League Baseball.
What Little League cannot take away are the Sports Illustrated cover, a celebratory trip to the White House, being honored by the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and the immeasurable optimism these youngsters provided for Chicago and sports fans everywhere. Jackie Robinson West won the Great Lakes Region and the United States Championship, before falling to Seoul, South Korea in the World Championship game.
According to the ruling, Jackie Robinson West violated the Little League rules that prohibit teams from using players outside of the geographical areas the team represents. Manager Darold West has been suspended from Little League activity and Illinois District 4 administrator Michael Kelly has been removed from his position.
“Quite honestly, we had to do this,” Little League International president and CEO Stephen D. Keener told ESPN on Wednesday. “We had no choice. We had to maintain the integrity of the Little League program. … As painful as this is, it’s a necessary outcome from what we finally have been able to confirm.
“The real troubling part of this is that we feel horribly for the kids who are involved with this. Certainly, no one should cast any blame, any aspersions on the children who participated on this team. To the best of our knowledge, they had no knowledge that they were doing anything wrong. They were just kids out playing baseball, which is the way it should be. They were celebrated for that by many, many organizations, many people. What we’re most concerned about today is that it’s going to be hard on these kids. And that’s the part that breaks your heart.”
Controversy and illegal or ineligible players are nothing new to Little League or the LLWS in general. From forged birth certificates to out of boundary players, this is something that tears at the integrity of the program across the United States and other countries as well.
Little League banned the participation of foreign countries in 1975 after it was deemed too difficult to regulate boundary lines while preventing year-round practices. Foreign countries were allowed to participate again in 1976. In 1992, the Philippines won the Little League World Series but was forced to vacate the title after it was determined the team used players from outside of geographical areas. Little League announced in 1997 that it would strictly enforce residency rules and Taiwan promptly withdrew from the tournament.
In perhaps the most famous Little League controversy, the Rolando Paulino team from the Bronx was forced to forfeit their third-place finish in 2001 after it was revealed star pitcher Danny Almonte, who threw a perfect game, was 14 years old, lived outside of the boundaries, and didn’t play enough pre-tournament games to qualify as an active team member.
Last summer Jackie Robinson West appeared to represent everything that is great about Little League baseball, but as it turns out fans and the media should have been celebrating the Mountain Ridge Las Vegas team that lost to Jackie Robinson West in the U.S. Finals 7-5.