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Pitch or Walk?
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly put up a very interesting article yesterday entitled "You Make the Call" which posed an intriguing ethical dilemma that arose as a result of a Little League title game.

Here's the scene:

Two teams, the Yankees and the Red Sox, are facing off in the nine- and 10-year old PONY league championship game in Utah. It's the bottom of the last inning with two outs and a runner on third with the Yankees clinging to a slim lead. The next two batters are kids who go by the names of Jordan and Romney. Jordan is best bat the Sox have to offer and is in a position to put the Yankees in a very tough spot if he gets a hit and drives in the runner from third. Romney, on the other hand, happens to be the worst hitter on the entire Sox roster. Here's the question - if you were the manager of the Yankees, would you pitch to Jordan and risk losing your lead and possibly the game or do you walk the slugger and pitch to the weaker kid who more than likely will strike out because very rarely do the Hollywood endings happen in real life where the worst hitter on the team comes up with a clutch hit.

Problem is, there's the catch. (Come on, you didn't think that it would be that easy, did you?) Romney just happens to be an undersized cancer survivor who is forced to take human growth hormone, has a shunt in his brain and needs to wear a batting helmet even when manning the outfield to protect his head.

So, here's the question again, one more time - do you pitch to Jordan the slugger and hope that he does not deliver in the clutch or do you walk the good wood to strike out the cancer kid?

Of course, keep in mind that this is the title game; the stadium is loaded with parents who have put dollar after dollar into these teams for uniforms, bats, other various equipment, gas, hotel rooms and celebration pizza parties. Talk about a tough decision. (I don't expect this one to be easy no matter which choice you make.)

Yankees coach Bob Farley was stuck in quite a pickle but in the end, he decided to put Jordan on first with a free pass and brought little Romney up to the plate where he ultimately struck out, awarding the Yanks the title amid a slew of boos from the stands. Cries came from the stands that "they're picking on Romney!" Farley's staff and the Sox staff nearly got into a classic brawl immediately after the strike out, a non-event that could have made a sticky situation even worse if it had actually happened.

As one would suspect, little, weak, already-traumatized-from-the-cancer Romney cried himself to sleep. His father noted that it made him sick that the Yanks decided to "[go] after the weakest chick in the flock."

Farley's staff tried to pull the "we didn't know" card but Romney's mother shot back - reminding them that Farley's assistant coach was the basketball coach for Romney during basketball season and that he knew about her son's condition.

The local newspaper became the battlefield for both sides of the debate following the game. One side would claim that it was good baseball strategy and the other would remind the masses that it was a little league game between a bunch of kids and that is was all for fun. The rebuttal would then request to know what disabilities would require the Yankees to walk Jordan the slugger.

There are numerous questions in play on this issue. Sure, this isn't the Special Olympics and these kids are not retarded. And it is also true that any manager in the major leagues, minor leagues and college ball would almost always walk the slugger if there is an open base in favor of a weaker, less threatening bat. There is a reason why San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds walked 232 times in 2004, 148 times in 2003, 198 times in 2002 and currently has almost as many walks (2400) as he does hits (2803) in his career. If the right situation arises and Bonds is up to bat, most managers will put him on first after four pitches. That's baseball. That's strategy.

But where is the line where fun and doing the right thing comes before strategy and winning? Where does sportsmanship rule over the giant trophy and the pizza party celebration afterward?

To be totally honest, I do not know for sure. Certainly in the majors and minors, these guys are being paid to play the game and win. Although it would be great to play nice at those levels, careers, both for the players and for those within the organization, are on the line. At the college level, the players are playing for the chance of making such a splash that some major league club will take a flyer on them and put them in their minor league system or on their major league roster. It might even be true for the high school level because those players are playing for possible college scholarships if they establish themselves enough as a top player.

It's every level below the high school level that I would be inclined to say the winning is not as important as playing the game for fun and doing the right thing. Middle school is a time in a child/teen's development where they are working on learning lessons that they will remember for the rest of their lives. I have not been in elementary school in a while and correct me if I'm wrong but there are no elementary school teams - that's where Little League comes into play. Either way, the two go hand-in-hand in my take.

As much as winning is important and holding the big shiny trophy that brings a smile to any kid's face, the lesson of doing the right thing instead of playing cheap is more important. Although it would be great for little Romney to get a shot at the plate, that opportunity should not come just because he is a weak hitter and that should be exploited.

Thus, I think that Farley made the wrong decision to walk Jordan to bring up the cancer kid to the plate and collecting a cheap win. However, I am interested in hearing what the rest of you think. What is the right decision?

(Photo Credit: http://www.webmastersboston.com/Jim's%20web/pitcher.jpg)
posted by Blake Fought @ 8/09/2006 02:43:00 PM  
  • At 4:31 PM, August 09, 2006, Blogger a monster-free tokyo said…

    I wouldn't have struck the kid out. I mean, yeah, that's an awful position to be in for everyone involved. But, I think sportsmanship transcends winning, especially in a case such as this where nothing is on the line, save for a trophy that probably won't mean much to the kids after the season is over.

  • At 4:39 PM, August 09, 2006, Blogger Clint said…

    Everyone on the outside looking in would have loved to see cancer-boy smack a dinger to win it.

    However, I know a lot of sports parents, and they -do- invest a lot of time and money into their kids athletics. If the kid didn't have cancer, but was a big fatty, would people be nearly as outraged?

    (In reality, I believe that parents take little league FAR too seriously.)

  • At 7:14 PM, August 09, 2006, Blogger Blake Fought said…

    Again, it's hard to answer situations like these and give an answer that everyone would approve of but I'd be more inclined to say that having cancer is a whole lot worse than being fat.

  • At 3:36 PM, August 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Walk him. Teach the other kids that winning is important. Yea, you can be a nice guy, I guess, but the world simply is not like that. The Romney kid will get over it and as he said at the end of the article - he's going to work on becoming a much better player. Everyone ends up happy, doncha think?

  • At 4:47 PM, August 10, 2006, Blogger Clint said…

    I'd certainly agree that being overweight isn't nearly as bad, but it's still taking advantage of a kid's ineptitude/condition so your team can win.

    If the parents are that worried about him getting his feelings hurt, he shouldn't be playing competitively.

  • At 3:54 AM, August 11, 2006, Anonymous Jordan Butler said…

    walk the first kid and pitch to Romney. Walking good batters and pitching to weaker ones is part of baseball like it or not. When Romneys parents signed him up to play in the league they signed him up to play by the same rules as every other kid out there. If Romneys parents had a problem with him being pitched to like a regular player they should have either let him play a different sport or signed him up for a special needs league which many areas have. I find it funny how everybody expects society to adapt to individuals these days instead of the other way around. 20 bucks says theres a "no intentional walks" rule in that league next year.

  • At 10:18 AM, August 11, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What if the kid had made the "miracle" hit? I don't think anybody would be complaining. It amazes me that Romney himself has taken the attitude that he is going to make himself better so this won't happen to him again, while so many people out there are wringing their hands. This kid, and every other kid there, got a very good life lesson. Yeah, it's about fun, but if you're going to play baseball, you need to learn that it can be a harsh game. Sheesh!

  • At 11:12 AM, August 11, 2006, Blogger Blake Fought said…

    "20 bucks says theres a "no intentional walks" rule in that league next year."
    You're probably right about that.

    I guess for me, when you're playing the game at that age, winning isn't as important as having fun and such. That's probably the reason why I liked the ending of "The Benchwarmers." (Although how the game ended with two outs instead of three, I'll never know.)

  • At 1:46 PM, August 11, 2006, Anonymous Ken said…

    I would pitch to the slugger. I know strategy says to walk the slugger so that the weaker guy bats instead but to me, that is just a weak way to collect a win.

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