Six months after making history as the first all-African-American team to win the U.S. Little League Championship, captivating the nation with their talent and grace, the Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago was stripped of its title and had all wins from last year vacated after a neighboring team reported alleged improprieties about using players from outside the squad’s district.
In a sweeping, emphatic decision that implodes the feel-good nature of the team’s feat, Darold Butler, the manager of the team, was suspended from Little League activity and Illinois District 4 Administrator Michael Kelly has been removed from his position. It is particularly devastating that this team many believed might revive an excitement for baseball among Black youth will forever be tainted with the label of cheater—a taint that will undoubtedly extend to other Black rosters in future years, considering the ways stereotyping works, particularly in the sports world.
“Little League takes these matters very seriously and has spent countless hours gathering information about the many issues facing Jackie Robinson West Little League and Illinois District 4,” Little League International CEO Stephen D. Keener said in a statement. “During our review, it became clear that both Jackie Robinson West officials and District Administrator, Mike Kelly signed documents to make players eligible who should not have been.”
Officials said the Robinson West team essentially fielded a “superteam” by enlisting players who did not live within the geographical boundaries. Little League officials say they found that maps were falsified to expand boundaries, which allowed players whose location made them ineligible to become eligible. They did not specify which players.
The championship has now been awarded to Mountain Ridge Little League from Las Vegas.
“For more than 75 years, Little League has been an organization where fair play is valued over the importance of wins and losses,” Little League International CEO Stephen D. Keener said in a statement viewed by ESPN. “This is a heartbreaking decision. What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome.
“As our Little League operations staff learned of the many issues and actions that occurred over the course of 2014 and prior, as painful as this is, we feel it a necessary decision to maintain the integrity of the Little League program. No team can be allowed to attempt to strengthen its team by putting players on their roster that live outside their boundaries.”
The decision is a harsh blow to a team that was honored by President Obama at The White House for its superior play and its charm and sportsmanship while winning.
According to ESPN, Jackie Robinson West isn’t the first team to lose their Little League title. In 1992, Little League baseball took away the title from Zamboanga, Philippines, and handed it to Long Beach, Calif., after Zamboanga used 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,” ESPN reports.