Man, this is a wild one.
That Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West baseball team was forced to give up its Little League national title has so many side issues — from alleged racism to the abuse of kids, to institutional corruption, to imbedded hypocrisy, to profiteering, to the vendettas of bad losers, and, perhaps, the dubious mythology of fair play itself — that there’s no easy way out.
Over the games of fifth-graders?
The whistleblower here (or witch-hunter, if you’re infuriated) has been painted as a sour-grapes Caucasian interloper in a feel-good story of African-American triumph over adversity. Funny, then, that the white guy from Evergreen Park has a black wife and four kids that are as African-American as President Barack Obama.
Obama, who once lived not too far from Jackie Robinson Field at the corner of 107th and Aberdeen, has had to rephrase his exuberant support for the team, which visited the White House last fall. Though the president is still “proud of the way’’ the team “represented their city … and country,’’ according to White House spokesman Josh Ernest, “The fact is, you know, some dirty dealing by adults doesn’t take anything away from the accomplishments of those young men.’’
No, it doesn’t. Sort of.
Those young players have to live in the shadow of what those men did. If the baseball maps and lines and districts were manipulated, as they clearly were, it sure wasn’t the kids who did it.
Yet in the course of one day, Wednesday, when the decree came down from on high, those young boys who thrilled us with their wild ride through the thicket of skepticism and, yes, segregation and prejudice, went from heroes to losers.
No, it’s not fair. History can’t always be written in vanishing ink.
But there’s something else that stinks here, and it’s something maybe we ought to focus a lot more of our attention on. Simply: adult humans want to win. Forget the blather about teaching and fun and happy play for the kids. That’s nice, but that’s not what floats our ego-loaded boats.
You put two kids in gunny sacks at a family picnic — and some adult is going to try to coach one of them to a hop-along victory. It’s how we’re wired. Losers, symbolically, don’t get their DNA into the future, which is what we, as animals, mindlessly pursue.
Evolution laughs at losers. It salutes winners. It salutes Little League champions.
If winning is all anybody in power cares about, then winning is all that matters.
So if all you want is the best team, then the hell with rules or anything else.
Nor can we indict the Jackie Robinson West folks without thinking about the Philippines Little League team that was disqualified in 1992 for having overage players, or the 2001 Bronx team that had fireballing pitcher Danny Almonte, even though Almonte, who had just arrived from the Dominican Republic, was 14 years old.
After all the wins were stripped from those champion “Baby Bombers,’’ Little League president Stephen Keener said that Danny and his pals had been “used … in a most contemptible and despicable way.’’
Same goes, in a sense, for all the Jackie Robinson West boys. The coaches know what’s going on.
Back in August when the 2014 Little League World Series was taking place in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, I wrote after JRW lost a 13-2 mercy-kill, four-inning game to Las Vegas, “that the Chicago kids got smoked by a long-armed Las Vegas pitcher who stands 6-2 and weighs 168 pounds. He was throwing 76-mph pitches from 45 feet away, the same as 100-mph pitches on a big diamond … Little League is all about hormones.’’
You see, I don’t trust that second-place Las Vegas team, either. Does every kid on that team live in the ballfield neighborhood? Isn’t Vegas built on gambling, beating the house somehow, getting the edge any way you can?
So Las Vegas is the new Little League champs. Woo-hoo.
I think of Findlay Prep here, the Las Vegas “high school’’ with an enrollment of 11, all basketball players. The “school’’ is named for car dealer/owner Cliff Findlay, a former UNLV player, and it boasts a 245-16 record since its beginning in 2007. Woo-hoo.
Why has Little League gone the way of winning at all costs, like Findlay Prep? Because that’s way we go in America.
We adults can’t stop ourselves.
And so, every now and then, whistleblowers must stop us.
Or, as some would say, witch-hunters.