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Feb. 11, 2015 — Hype as an incentive

The announcement of the vacation of the 2014 U.S. Little League Championship because of allegations of cheating by the Jackie Robinson Little League of Chicago is the latest in a series of sorry episodes which have occurred since 1990 involving ineligible players.

It hasn’t escaped my notice that the first scandal — the 1992 Zamboanga City, Philippines affair — roughly coincided with an era of monetizing the Little League World Series with sponsors and saturation coverage of the tournament on television and over the Internet.

It’s supposed to be an affair of innocence, this Little League World Series. However, the Little League organization operates much like the International Olympic Committee, the NCAA, and FIFA — using free labor from its athletes and lots of volunteers to put on a television spectacle, creating its own monetary fiefdom.

Don’t believe me? There has been a sponsor tent at recent Little League World Series events where cronies from ConAgra to the United Fruit Company to Subway have been allowed to market to parents and families, their corporate and environmental histories all whitewashed for the public.

Despite the fact that games are free for the public, the Little League organization has become so monetized that the South Williamsport complex where the World Series is played was able to double its footprint, building a second stadium which can hold thousands of spectators.

The thing about the hype surrounding Little League World Series participants is that players who star at the World Series rarely excel as adults.

Think about it. Cody Webster, from the 1982 champions from Kirkland, Wash., was relegated to being a reserve outfielder in Pony League ball as a teenager because he threw too many curveballs. Sean Burroughs, who once threw back-to-back no-hitters for Long Beach, Calif., has been relegated to independent minor-league baseball, playing in the Atlantic League’s Bridgeport Bluefish in 2014.

Danny Almonte, coming off his cheating scandal (being 14 years old when he starred for his Bronx team in 2001), was never drafted by a major-league team, and played short stints for a New Mexico community college and for a team in the independent Frontier League. He is now coaching his alma mater in the Bronx. Chris Drury, who pitched his Connecticut team to a World Series win in 1989, instead played professional hockey.

And it’s likely that the star of the most recent Little League World Series, Mo’ne Davis, will never pitch a baseball again; her best sport is basketball.

The regrettable thing coming out of this episode is that most in the echo chamber of hype within Little League do not realize that the best professional players have been the late bloomers who often change positions in low-level pro ball or in collegiate baseball.

I guess the news that ESPN is tripling its college baseball coverage this spring is a recognition of this fact.

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