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How to Kill a Mockingbird

694008That’s what my younger daughter calls it: “How to Kill a Mockingbird.” Like it’s a cookbook.


— Gotten quite a bit of dissent on this piece about this video essay on Jackie Robinson West. My argument is that Little League got it very wrong, that they punished the wrong people, they punished kids — kids who accomplished something extraordinary and who even the hard-liners don’t blame for whatever rules violations were committed — and that what Little League should be worried about more than crashing down on Jackie Robinson West is building on what they did and use that expand baseball into the inner cities, something I think they’ve done very poorly for a quarter century. I’m not saying there should have been no consequence at all; I am saying that stripping the title was beyond excessive.

Many people have reached out to say that I’m defending cheating, that I often defend cheating, and that I don’t understand these things at all. Perhaps.

This gets into a much longer and deeper conversation about crime and punishment, about rewriting history, about what I think is often an over-the-top reaction to make sure that “cheaters” don’t get away with it rather than a measured response that maybe doesn’t satisfy the pound-of-flesh wishes but actually does some good.

— I am very slowly — VERY slowly — trying to get some of my old blog archives up over at the JoeVault. Here’s one I had forgotten all about from 2010 — I listed the 10 best players who hit a home run in their first plate appearance. I haven’t had time to update it, but might be fun to read for you — it also includes the fun trivia question of the time: Who is the oldest Hall of Famer to have hit a home run in his first plate appearance? The answer then was Ace Parker, who was in the Pro FOOTBALL Hall of Fame. Ace Parker, though, died in 2013.


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22 Responses to How to Kill a Mockingbird

  1. “It’s a cookbook!”

  2. Mikey says:

    Ask your daughter what Atticus Finch would think about adults knowingly breaking the rules to win a youth baseball tournament. Declining African-American participation in baseball is a problem but condoning cheating isn’t much of a solution.

  3. Jon W says:

    I’m a huge fan but I think that you have incorrectly absolved the kids of their responsibility in the scandal. Almost 30 years ago, I played in a state Little League tournament. (We were quickly eliminated in two games, but had a blast.) The single most common discussion topic among participants was whether or not opposing teams were really in compliance with the residence (and age) requirements. Every kid on the team was fully aware of the eligibility rules and knew that a player who didn’t live in our neighborhood or go to our school was illegal. I don’t view stripping JRW of their title as punishing the kids. I view it as an appropriate attempt to recognize the only kids who have truly been punished – those who played for rules-compliant teams but lost their opportunity to have a Little League World Series (or qualifying tournament) experience. Picture yourself as a parent of a kid who would have gone to Williamsport if they hadn’t lost to the JWR team – there’s your person to feel sorry for.

    • Rob V says:

      I can see the big issue both ways, but one thing I’m certain of: it’s not the parents in any of this who we should be feeling sorry for. Really: the parents?? That comment says altogether too much about youth sports.

    • Marco says:

      “Every kid on the team was fully aware of the eligibility rules and knew that a player who didn’t live in our neighborhood or go to our school was illegal. ”


  4. Bob Post says:

    “Books are useless! I only ever read one book, To Kill A Mockingbird, and it gave me absolutely no insight on how to kill mockingbirds! Sure it taught me not to judge a man by the color of his skin . . . but what good does that do me?” – Homer Simpson

  5. David says:

    Bill James, just the other day (in his Hey Bill! column on his website), wrote my favorite thing about forgiveness that I’ve ever read. I’m not sure whether or not others would consider it germane to this discussion, but I do, so here goes:

    “I’m inclined to forgive; I’m always inclined to forgive because I am, perhaps, more in need of forgiveness than others.”

  6. MikeN says:

    So she’ll be totally bored by The Twilight Zone. So did she figure out The Sixth Sense before or after Matt Damon(the restaurant scene)

  7. I love it when people “refuse to condone cheating” even if it means the punishment falls on the innocent. Like “send that guy back to Mexico AND send back his kids who were born and raised here.” This from people who have absolutely nothing at stake in the outcome, but ‘WE CAN’T CONDONE CHEATING.”

    Grow some humanity, please. All the Little League had to do was to give the other team a co-trophy, point out that it wouldn’t allow that league to participate next year or two, and leave it at that. Stripping the team of the title was way, way over the top.

    • MikeN says:

      What about people who lose their jobs or get lower wages because of the people here illegally?

    • edfromyumaaz says:


    • stratobill says:

      Being part of a team is all about sharing. You have a shared responsibility to help the team achieve success and a shared responsibility for it’s failures. The kids who were on this team legitimately would almost certainly not have gotten as far as they did if not for the presence of the out-of-district ringers on the team. Like another commenter pointed out, kids in this kind of competition are usually quite aware of the rules regarding eligibility so they probably knew their team was not legitimate. The bottom line is that nothing was taken away from these kids that was rightfully earned by them.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Good points. I agree. Stripping JRW of the title didn’t really help the teams they beat because they got a meaningless title. Even if JRW cheated, the other teams got a title they did not win on the field. Is this something those kids are going to be talking about for years-“hey, we won this championship because the other team got disqualified for cheating?”

      The JRW kids may have known that they were cheating but what were they supposed to do, tell the adults not to do it?

      Having said that, let’s face it, if the cheater had been a suburban team from an affluent suburb, no one would be complaining about the punishment.

  8. Marco says:

    Comments, in no particular order:
    1. It stinks for the JRW kids, but I suspect they and their parents are telling themselves “we know who the champions are, whatever they say”.
    2. It stinks for the kids who didn’t get to go to the white house as champions who should have. They missed out on the experience of a lifetime.
    3. In many cases, punishments are outsized to avoid people making the calculated decision: I’ll do the crappy thing unabashedly because I like the reward more than I dislike the punishment.

  9. BIP says:

    The vacating of wins after the fact is a slap on the wrist, really. I get that the kids were probably disappointed, but it’s not like they magically forgot about playing and winning those games or visiting the White House. And here’s the thing: if the roster violation had been caught before the tournament started, the team would almost certainly have been disbanded, right? That’s MUCH harsher than simple revisionism, but would anyone possibly have argued that it isn’t fair to the kids and they should be allowed to play?

  10. Jacob says:

    If the roster of the JRW All-Star team was comprised of kids who didn’t reside in nor fully compete in the JRW Little League district, then they have no claim on any title, and actually defrauded their competition in achieving that title. I don’t see this as even a debatable consequence really. JRW, as it should have been comprised, did not win the title; a team relying on players outside of the JRW did. The only logical conclusion is to negate their fraudulent achievement.

    Joe, if your daughter joins her high school swim team, and her team loses a state title to a school that falsified addresses so that highly-skilled swimmers, who lived outside the school district in clear violation of state policy, could compete, what should be the consequence if the discretion is discovered? Likewise, what if your daughter loses a chance to compete at the state meet because her coaches organized the falsifying of addresses and illegally brought in better swimmers from outside her school district (as this was also a consequence of JRW’s fraud; some legitimate JRW league members were denied a chance to compete)? Would you be ok with that?

    In reality, the kids haven’t been punished at all, especially the kids who played in violation of the rules (to echo someone earlier, LL district participation rules are clear and kids and adults alike are very much aware of them); the kids have been ultimately rewarded due to the action of the adults.

    • Mr. Fresh says:

      “if your daughter joins her high school swim team, and her team loses a state title to a school…..(with) highly-skilled swimmers who lived outside the school district”……

      you mean, like a private school?

  11. edfromyumaaz says:

    This is certainly as bad as what the Patriots did, and they were denied the league title and banned from the Super Bowl.

    Oh, they weren’t. Oooops.

  12. John says:

    The “they’re punishing the kids” argument doesn’t work for me. By that logic, we shouldn’t put anyone in prison because their families will suffer. The adults broke the rules and were punished. Sadly, the kids were collateral damage. But that’s on the adults that broke the rules, not on Little League. And you can’t refuse to punish a team just because they were a good story. Secretly and illegally expanding the boundaries (and then covering up that deception) to build a super team is about as blatant cheating as it gets. Stripping their title was the only possible result that would be justified. If we aren’t going to enforce rules, what’s the point of even having them? We either believe in the rule of law or we don’t. JRW cheated, got caught and were punished. As it should be. And it’s not “rewriting history” either. History will state that JRW won the US Little League title, but the title was vacated when it was discovered that they cheated. That’s exactly what happened. Nothing is being rewritten.

  13. Wilbur says:

    A question about Little League:

    In the 60’s I grew up in a small Midwestern city (pop. 40, 000). There were four separate Little Leagues in the city, each with three leagues based on the level of ability (A, B and C leagues). Each league had it’s champion play the other champions for the city champtionship at each level. Each level also had an All-Star team from each level play the other leagues after the season.

    I never heard of any team from our city playing in the Little League World Series. Would or could someone have chosen an all-star team from the best players in each league to represent our city? Who would have been authorized to choose the players? I suspect our entry would have advanced at least far enough for local people to hear about it, or at least some announcement about which players were chosen to represent out city.

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