Richard Lutz sadly looks at the latest sports news out of the States.
A good wholesome moment in my young life in the States was joining Little League, the mom and apple pie teams that for many were the first organised sports ever played with adult coaches, umpires and even, sometimes, actual scoreboards.
I loved my team, which was peopled with many of my 10-and 11 year old friends from the streets of Brooklyn.
Saturday mornings meant putting on my uniform – my first sports uniform – grabbing my baseball glove and proudly getting on the bus (you could do those things at 11 in NYC then) with Monaco Cleaners emblazoned in deep blue across the shirt.
Yes, good old Monaco Cleaners…. and it was to this long gone shopfront store on Nostrand Avenue that I owed one of my first moral crises (of many).
It went something like this:
Mr Monaco Cleaners guaranteed that if we won a Saturday morning game we could come in and be offered 25c each for an ice cream sundae. As we were 8-8 on the season (you remember these things) let’s just say we would show up about noon every other weekend for our cash prize.
One of the guys, it may have been Robbie Berger or even golden boy Stu Leder, thought things through one day as we gobbled down the ice cream and asked no-one in particular that how would Mr Monaco Cleaner actually know if we had really won or lost? Theoretically, we could go on every Saturday and say he owed each of us our 25c. He wasn’t at the games. He was busy putting through stained shirts and chasing down missing receipts.
You won and took the small happy prize. Or you lost and didn’t. Plus, Mr Monaco Cleaner wasn’t a half bad guy. We liked him with his cigar in his mouth and his bald head.
But it did raise the hoary old chestnut of simple honesty, which is something my parents drilled into my head incessantly.
Well, those were halcyon times indeed and when my wife recently asked me to remember Happy Days from glorious boyhood, I do think of playing Little League baseball with my friends (though we were 8-8 in that glorious spring and if we had beaten Harry’s Hardware in that heartbreaking game when all was lost on an error, we would have been 9-7).
But now comes unsettling news from the world of Little League baseball.
But first a little context.
Little League is followed nationally in the US to some extent. In its national championships, held for some reason in Williamsburgh, Pennsylvania, big time baseball commentators are plucked from covering Yankee or Dodger games to give ball by ball cover on the Little League finals. It has that red, white and blue sheen to it.
But now comes that unsettling news as referred to above.
A Little League team from Chicago won the championships last year. But were recently stripped of the honour when it was revealed they had recruited good young players from outside their area. They had ‘bought’ them in. They hired ringers who should not have been on their team.
The Chicago team, and more horribly the adult managers, had cheated. At Little League.
Well, in the marginal world of Little League websites, you can imagine the debate. Some say, hey, you can’t strip a winner after a game. Others say think about the losing team (from Las Vegas) and how they felt losing to a fake team. They should be handed the crown. Others say no, they shouldn’t get the first prize because they never won. It’s getting a bit testy in Little League land where ten year old boys and girls just dream of hitting a home run.
Meanwhlle, the disgraced Chicago team now has, god forbid, hired a lawyer to handle their case, albeit a shabby case at that. And on and on it goes.
Little League is tarnished. Baseball is tarnished. American sports is even more tarnished. But my childhood doesn’t seem tarnished. I still feel the hardball go into the pocket of my glove at second base when I twisted across my body, spun and threw the batter out.
It is A Moment.
It remains my childhood though big trouble in a little league has made hundreds of thousands of former players sadly shake their heads as they remember the simple thrill of playing for a team in their golden years. When they too spun and threw someone out, smacked a triple, threw a no-hitter, hit a pitch so cleanly that you didn’t feel the fastball when it hit a sweetspot on your bat.