BIG LITTLE LIES?
Ken Hoffman handicaps Little League's wild World Series
This article originally appeared on CultureMap.
This has been the best Little League World Series ever — with championship weekend still to go.
The coach of the New Hampshire All-Star team accused the Rhode Island team of stealing signs, a definite no-no, totally against the honor code of Little League. Thou shall not steal signs or bases. There's no leading off bases in Little League.
Online gambling sites are taking wagers on the Little League World Series this year. Bovada, one of the most popular sports books on the web, has the international children a -150 favorite over the U.S. tykes. The Japanese and South Korean teams are the bettors' picks to win the title.
Bet on these kids
Why not bet on Little League? I've bet on dogs, horses, jai alai players, celebrity boxers, the Academy Awards, and whether a tiny little ball will land in a red or black slot.
A player on the New Jersey team threw a hissy fit on TV after his coach pulled him for a pinch runner. You don't see that too often in Little League. I was rooting for the Jersey boys because the team was from Elizabeth, New Jersey, and practiced on the same fields in Warinanco Park where I played Little League.
Here's the thing about Little League that you don't hear mentioned on ESPN, maybe because ESPN paid $60 million to air the Little League World Series.
A big drop for Little League
Little League's popularity is in steep decline. Participation is way down across the U.S. In the Southeast Region (Georgia, Florida, Alabama, the Carolinas), once a hotbed of Little League, the number of players has dropped 43 percent from 2007, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The culprit is select baseball, which takes youth baseball to crazy levels of competitiveness, expense, and sometimes heartbreak. This is the sales pitch select managers give to parents of a talented 12 year old, "Do you want your kid playing Little League … or real baseball?"
Little League...or Select?
Little League doesn't allow leads off bases, the bases are only 60 feet apart, there are strict pitch limits, everybody makes the team regardless of ability, and everybody must get in the game.
Select ball pretty much plays by the same rules as college and professional baseball. The highest levels of select ball are super serious and cutthroat. A player could pour his guts into making a team, only to be replaced if the manager finds a better player. That's life, kid.
True story. I once wrote a column about a local, absurdly successful select baseball program with teams in several age groups. These teams travel to tournaments across the U.S. Parents pay about $3,000 for their kids to be in the program. I met a woman who said her family was moving from North Carolina to Houston, so her 13 year-old son could play for one of the teams.
How dominating are these select teams? I asked the manager, if your team of 12 year olds played the Little League champions, who would win? He laughed at me. "We'd win every time. Give me a number, that's how many runs we'd win by."
As for the Rhode Island team being accused of stealing signs, the coaches and kids allegedly used an elaborate system of hand gestures to relay to the batter what pitch was coming. I never saw sign stealing when I coached in Little League, but here's how I watched coaches work it during summer travel ball.
If the third base coach caught a glimpse of the opposing catcher's signs, he'd let the batter know by innocently saying his name. If a fastball was coming, the coach would shout "Come on, Jimmy!" If a curve was on its way, the coach would yell, "You can do it, Johnson." A changeup was "Let's go, son." First name, fastball. Last name, curve. Son, changeup.
Continue on CultureMap to find out if Little League is still dangerous.