Little League to announce decision

ByTom Farrey ESPN logo
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
ESPN

Little League Baseball has met to review facts surrounding the eligibility of the Chicago-based team that won the 2014 U.S. championship, amid allegations that the much-celebrated squad violated a rule prohibiting the use of players who live outside the geographic area that the team represents.

Stephen Keener, CEO of Little League Baseball, told ESPN that the findings of a recent review of the matter are complete and were evaluated Tuesday. He declined to say whether Jackie Robinson West, the first all-African-American team to win the championship, could be stripped of its title, as one of its rivals has called for.

Keener said the organization likely would release a statement on its findings Wednesday.

A source close to the investigation told ESPN's Karl Ravech that it would not be a surprise if the decision results in the title changing hands and the suspensions of officials.

In an email Monday night to ESPN, Keener said Little League's Charter Committee was meeting Tuesday to discuss "the findings from our review, which included meetings a week ago with neighboring leagues in Chicago."

Jackie Robinson West drew significant attention as it advanced to the tournament's title game, where it fell to Seoul, South Korea. In a sport that increasingly struggles to attract African-Americans, the team representing Chicago's South Side emerged as a force, beating Las Vegas 7-5 in the U.S. title game. The Chicago players were lauded for not just their prowess on the field but also for their sportsmanship, and they later were honored by President Barack Obama at the White House.

But, with reporting from Chicago website DNAinfo.com, the squad has been accused of using players from outside its local area by recruiting players from neighboring Little League districts to build what amounts to a superteam.

Little League embraces policies designed to preserve traditional community-based leagues in which classmates play with classmates, friends with friends. But in 2014, Jackie Robinson West officials reportedly expanded their territory to overlap with neighboring leagues.

Kristi Black, who was president of Nevada's Mountain Ridge Little League when it lost in the U.S. championship game, has asked that Little League strip Jackie Robinson West of its title. She told ESPN that she is not asking that Las Vegas be declared the champion, though.

"It's not a matter of changing the name on the title or the championship," Black said. "The outcome of the game is what it is, and the kids have moved on. For us, it's more of an ethics thing, a matter of doing what's right. Our intention is to not have the next 27 kids put in this position."

Black said Little League officials last week requested the boundaries for her local league as well, which she said she provided.

Jackie Robinson West wouldn't be the first team to have its Little League title stripped. In 1992, Little League baseball took away the title from Zamboanga, Philippines, and handed it to Long Beach, Calif., after using several players that lived outside its district or were over-age. In 2001, a team from the Bronx, N.Y., that finished third was forced to forfeit its games after pitcher Danny Almonte was revealed to be over-age.

Mike Aker, Little League administrator for the state of Nevada, said he and other administrators have received considerable "hate mail" from Chicago supporters for asking that the national office review the case.

"If they did cheat the rules, make it right," he said. "If they're legal, let it stand. But from what I'm hearing, something is stinky."

A league official with Jackie Robinson West declined comment, pending the release of Little League's decision. In the past, coaches and officials have denied any wrongdoing.

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