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Is televising the Little League World Series really necessary?

Aug 16, 2011, 1:04 PM EDT

Little League WS

Jelisa Castrodale — who has the good sense to both (a) write for NBC; and (b) come from the same hometown as me — has a column up today about the Little League World Series. Specifically, about it being televised. And she wonders whether it’s too much:

I know that ESPN is increasing the production values — and their broadcast product — to get the biggest impact out of Williamsport’s Little stage. But, to me, it has the opposite effect. It makes the players seem more like characters and less like kids. It seems less spontaneous and more staged, less precious and more pressured, equal parts Baseball Tonight and Toddlers & Tiaras.

It’s not some lame “will someone please think of the children” rant, however. There’s a good joke in there about birth control pills. Definitely worth your time.

Personally, I find the coverage of the Little League World Series a bit distasteful. I don’t think it’s ruinous or anything — these kids get way more pressure from parents putting them into hyper-competitive situations than they do from whatever Harold Reynolds or whoever has taken his place in these broadcasts dishes out — but I could do without the closeups of kids crying and the creeping professionalization of the whole thing. It’s way too slick, and Jelisa’s reference to the kiddie beauty pageants isn’t too far off.

Eh, it’s not like I watch it anyway. I’m gonna watch “The Bad News Bears” a few times instead. The Walter Mathhau version.

  1. okobojicat - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    There is no other version

  2. dashtreyhorn - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:11 PM

    Who is Walter Matthau?

    • Utley's Hair - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:37 PM

      Please tell me you are kidding…or being sarcastic…?

  3. drmonkeyarmy - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:12 PM

    I can’t watch it because of the umpires. The strike zones are ridiculous. Kids get into bad habits of swinging at terrible pitches because balls 8 inches off the plate are called strikes…or balls above their shoulders. Pitchers get into bad habits because of the expanded strike zone as well. It is bad for baseball.

    • paperlions - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:16 PM

      What part of this has to do with the fact that it is on TV?

      • drmonkeyarmy - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:23 PM

        Little to none.

    • Senor Cardgage - Aug 16, 2011 at 5:03 PM

      As a Little League umpire, let me just say there are some days you pray they can get it as close as you say just so there’s something you can call a strike (okay, maybe not quite to the extreme as you mention, but close). When the other team figures out the kid can’t hit the zone to save his life, they’re more than happy to take four balls and head to first. So a big strike zone is not bad for baseball. It keeps the game moving, and that’s most definitely good for baseball.

      • drmonkeyarmy - Aug 16, 2011 at 6:57 PM

        Not trying to criticize you and I understand the reasons behind it. I also realize that keeping the game moving is important but so is teaching baseball fundamentals….namely don’t swing at a ball 8 inches off the plate or at your head. Furthermore, there is a difference between having a big strike zone and blatantly calling pitches strikes that Vlad Guerrero couldn’t even hit.

      • Senor Cardgage - Aug 17, 2011 at 12:34 AM

        If they’re really as far outside the zone as you say, then of course that’s bad news. I kind of think, however, there may be just a little bit of exaggeration here. (Surely no one is calling an eye-level pitch a strike.) I watched three or four games last weekend, and the zones, while occasionally a little wide, seemed fair and reasonable.

  4. paperlions - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    I think it is good practice for the kids…this way, they get used to companies making big bucks by showing their skills on national TV while they don’t get paid a dime for it before they get to college…just makes that whole college transition thing a little bit easier.

  5. FC - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    Personally, I find the coverage of the Little League World Series a bit distasteful. I don’t think it’s ruinous or anything — these kids get way more pressure from parents putting them into hyper-competitive situations than they do from whatever Harold Reynolds or whoever has taken his place in these broadcasts dishes out – but I could do without the closeups of kids crying and the creeping professionalization of the whole thing. It’s way too slick, and Jelisa’s reference to the kiddie beauty pageants isn’t too far off

    I’m reminded of a book I once read about kids playing baseball in a empty lot. The smaller kids were awarded 1st Base if they hit the ball since they couldn’t realistically leg out a ground ball to 1st. It’s typical sandlot stuff. Then the adults get involved. First one comes in as an umpire, so the balls and strikes are counted correctly. Then they teach a better batting stance and draw a batter’s box. Others soon come in providing equipment so all the kids have gloves and no one goes short. The smaller kids are made mascots, eventually proper bases are bought instead of the old shoe, pizza box or whatever that was before. The lines are drawn for fair and foul. The kids are given uniforms to play. A scoreboard is placed on the fence. A makeshift set of stands are set up. then when the adults come to watch the kids play, the kids are nowhere to be found… they moved to another sandlot and played with their old shoe, pizza box, whatever, small kids awarded 1st base if they hit the ball and so on…

  6. isu1648 - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    it would be far wiser for ESPN to begin to slowly switch their focus to the Legion World series compared to Little League. Still contains the amateur factor, while providing superior baseball to watch.

    • sportsdrenched - Aug 16, 2011 at 6:02 PM

      I think you’re on to something there. I still wouldn’t watch Legion Ball. But I would watch the semi-pro summer leagues. Like the Cape Cod, and National Baseball Congress teams. A lot of those teams are on shoe string budgets and could use some revenue.

      • JBerardi - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:00 PM

        Those leagues also have a hell of a lot more future major leaguers on display. Not to mention they use proper wood bats.

  7. Kevin S. - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:33 PM

    Little League and AAU have been letting the professionalism creep for a long time without ESPN’s help.

  8. sdelmonte - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    I’m not entirely sure we need a Little League World Series in the first place. These kids are on the young side for this sort of pressure, even without TV. (It’s bad enough so many people put pressure on high school kids to win at sports.)

    • 18thstreet - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:51 PM

      Whenever I watch, I can’t get over how fundamentally sound these kids are. They must practice like crazy. I’d guess that they’re already under a lot of pressure even without a TV cameras there. Stage moms plus hockey dads and all that.

      I wish it weren’t televised at all.

    • HL - Aug 16, 2011 at 3:06 PM

      I’m guessing you might be one of those folks that encourages sports where they don’t keep score. Life sucks, and it’s full of pressure from the moment you take your first breath until the second you croak. “Young side for this sort of pressure”? That’s absurd. There are kids that work on family farms at the age of 6 because that’s what you do and it’s just the way things are. That’s definitely tougher than playing baseball on TV. How about the spelling bee? That raises another question: Why is THAT on TV? Where’s your bleeding heart for those kids.

      I didn’t know a single kid growing up that didn’t want to play in the Little League World Series.

      That being said, I think Little League needs to get some control of equipment. The bats these kids are using nowadays are like rocket launchers. The 225 foot fences are way to close for the bats ton the market. I say go back to wooden bats. That’ll make the Little League World Series interesting enough for me to watch. With the way things are now, each game is pretty much a homerun derby. Not interesting.

      Just my 2 cents.

      • ajknox88 - Aug 16, 2011 at 3:44 PM

        100% correct

      • 18thstreet - Aug 16, 2011 at 4:07 PM

        If you were “guessing” about me, you guessed wrong. I’m no fan of the everyone-gets-a-ribbon world.

        I’m sorry your life is so miserable. I really am. The definition of life as being full of pressure in every single moment is unrecognizable to me. Life is tough, sure. It’s also wonderful.

      • Kevin S. - Aug 16, 2011 at 6:03 PM

        Yeah, Little League isn’t nearly expensive enough. Make ’em use wood bats! That’ll show those whippersnappers.

      • JBerardi - Aug 16, 2011 at 8:03 PM

        That’s right kids, you’re going to be exploited by your corporate masters your entire life, better get started on it now…

  9. larrytsg - Aug 16, 2011 at 1:54 PM

    I guess I’m in the minority here…. not that I would condone pimping the kids out for corporate profit or for a parent’s delusion of recapturing the lost opportunities of their own youth, but I actually DO like to see the games. It’s nice to see a kid playing the game (hopefully) because they really like it, not to get themselves a shot at the next level…..

    I’ve been to Williamsport a number of times with my kids (my in-laws live nearby), and we all enjoyed the games (which are FREE!) a lot. For years my son loved the team from Japan (didn’t matter that the team was from a different city each year), and it inspired him to continue playing.

    Does it belong on TV? Sure, why not? It’s not like we need another 2 hour “World Series of Poker” episode.

  10. stoutfiles - Aug 16, 2011 at 2:38 PM

    First off, it’s not fair that America is guaranteed a spot in the finals vs the rest of the world. One American team should represnt America, it shouldn’t be Japan vs. Idaho.

    Secondly, make an all-star team for America. Take the pitchers from each state, which are the best players, and let them represent America. I’d rather have one great team than eight average ones, and then one of those average teams guaranteed a finals spot.

  11. ajknox88 - Aug 16, 2011 at 2:42 PM

    Your view is very misguided. Being a former little league player playing at this level it wasn’t anything that was stressful. It was very fun and exciting. Being on TV was cool. Losing wasn’t fun but you can’t always win in life. These kids are under pressure to do well, yes. But at the same time thats what these kids want. Before you assume that these kids are under way too much pressure you should ask them how they feel about it. Regardless of how they finish its something they can take with them for the rest of their lives and feel proud about it.

  12. ww2chas - Aug 16, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    I don’t think it’s necessary to show the semi-finals to the regionals or the first few games played in Williamsport. I enjoy watching the semi-finals and finals. That’s all that’s needed.
    I also HATE when HS Sports are shown on ESPN. BIG DEAL that one of the kids is better than any of the other players – happens all the time. Then when they get to college you find out that those “great” kids are sitting on the bench or maybe in the stands!

    • florida76 - Aug 16, 2011 at 2:52 PM

      Agreed, I could also see a scenario where a Little League player makes a costly mistake which costs his team the game, and is unable to handle the inevitable publicity and humiliation, especially if the player resides in a small town. It’s very possible such a player would turn to alcohol or drugs, or try to harm himself in some way.

  13. reospeedwagon916 - Aug 16, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    Ethically, I don’t have a problem with it being on but as an adult with no children to enjoy it with, I hardly find it to be all that entertaining. Seems like its just strikeouts and homeruns on a loop.

  14. trevorb06 - Aug 16, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    Craig, it’s on TV so Herbert can sit in his rocking chair and say, “mmmm JACKPOT!”

    • browngoat25 - Aug 16, 2011 at 3:32 PM

      worst posible “Family Guy” reference. Ever

  15. 5thbase - Aug 16, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    Little League exists in an interesting environment these days. The notion of the entire organization is a sort of throw back to days gone by. The idea that everyone makes a team and gets playing time and the ban on making anyone pay to participate (all fees are technically voluntary) make Little League a unique organization. What televising and promoting the LLWS does is to provide an incentive for the higher end players and their families to want to be involved. Almost none of these kids who make it to the end play a majority of their baseball through LL. They’re club players who get together to take a shot at making it to the big lights and publicity. I don’t think that this is a great thing, but it is reality that we humans are hugely motivated by money and fame, even at an early age. The good that comes out of it, however, is that the leagues are funded and staffed and the level of competition is raised because of this ambition. Leagues all across the country are made better by the mostly unrealistic hope of making it to Williamsport and even other leagues are made better simply by wanting to beat the dreamers in district play. I think that without the draw of fame made possible through the increasingly over-the-top broadcasting, Little League would soon become a shell of it’s current self.

    The irony is that it’s not even particularly good baseball. We watched Kiko Garcia and his Chula Vista mates play 13U club baseball in AZ about 6 months after they tore through the LLWS. They didn’t do well, losing one of the games we watched 13-1 to a team that wasn’t even the best club team in AZ. But nobody has heard of the AZ team because they’ve never played on television. Kiko was probably the 6th best player on the field in that game (even with an 0 for 3 he clearly has some good skills) but he’s the one people will remember because he has the LLWS records.

    I really like that Little League provides an entry into baseball for millions of kids. Some of those kids just play for a few years and (hopefully) just have some fun. Others do get serious and play more competitive serious baseball. I think that without the fame of the LLWS, the draw of Little League would subside, leagues would deteriorate, and fewer kids would ultimately play. So while I don’t like it, I think that the LLWS is a necessary evil, not just for the benefit of Little League but of youth baseball in general.

  16. crookedstick - Aug 16, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    I’m just curious if either of these two items would have been written if NBC was televising the LLWS as opposed to ESPN/ABC. Just seems like copy to suck up to the NBC bosses.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Aug 16, 2011 at 2:59 PM

      I assure you, nothing I write is intended to suck up to the NBC bosses. And no, my opinions would not be any different if NBC had broadcast rights.

      NBC’s biggest TV show of any kind — not just sports — is Sunday night football. I don’t think I’ve pulled my punches about hating football and its dominance over the airwaves at all.

      • gammagammahey - Aug 16, 2011 at 3:43 PM

        Where’s your preview of NBC’s fall prime-time lineup, Craig?

  17. ernestbynershands - Aug 16, 2011 at 3:03 PM

    It’s cool that it’s televised. But it’s not cool that the kids are encouraged to act like little douche bags like real major leaguers often do.
    I watched the games last weekend. Too much showmanship with kids doing hat tricks, dances, etc.
    Just start feeding them PED and teach them the unwritten rules like throwing at batters, charging the mound, etc.
    But, what do you expect from a sport that is losing relevance and uses ‘unwritten rules’ as it’s most important rules.

    • 18thstreet - Aug 16, 2011 at 4:12 PM

      Bring out the TV cameras, and people (not just kids) will act like douche bags.

    • larrytsg - Aug 16, 2011 at 4:41 PM

      But that’s why the coaches are so important. If you watched any of the Mid Atlantic regional games, the PA team shaved their numbers into their hair, and as soon as the coach saw that he made them all buzz it off. His line “That’s not how we do things”.

      One of the best things I ever saw was in a pool play game, I think it was Japan vs Mexico. The Japanese pitcher hit a Mexican batter, who went down, brushed himself off and went to first. The coach for Japan pulled the pitcher and sent him to center field. On his way off the mound, the former pitcher went over to first, shook the runner’s hand, and went on to his position. Now THAT’s sportsmanship.

  18. tomosbornesretirementcostjoepaatitle - Aug 16, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    As someone who recently (9 days ago) moved out of Lock Haven, home of the PA team I have to toss in my two cents.

    The boys are loving every minute. They are eating up the attention, and were featured on the local radio station in the week leading up to the regionals.

    As opposed to pressure what you are seeing in this small town is a coming together of people. There was a line out the door of the local newspaper to get copies of the “Extra Edition” that was printed. All of the money raised if going to help pay for team hotel and what not. For regionals, auctions and other means of donating $ were done to help the families of the boys afford the cost of attending and supporting the team.

    There are around 100,000 people who live in Clinton County. Every single one of them backs these boys at the moment, regardless of the outcome of any of these games.
    I will guarantee this, come Friday night, Williamsport is going to see one of, if not the largest crowd it has ever seen.

  19. irishjackmp - Aug 16, 2011 at 9:04 PM

    Sigh. Another bad cliched “I can’t stand to see the little lads crying after a loss, so take it off tv” article.

    Gee Craig, why do I suspect before forming that opinion you talked to exactly zero former kids who have played in it? I’ve driven up to Williamsport to see it many times and knew several (now much older) “kids” who played in it and to a “man” they talked about how it was one of the great experiences of their lives.

    Yes, I know the occasional kid cries… they’ll cope. Hell, I remember a few of my friends crying after we lost the local little league championship game. You know what those crying kids were doing an hour later? Laughing and playing Atari at my house. Stop trying to baby kids. They can cope with losing a sporting event. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it but no need to try to take it off of tv and take it away from the rest of us.

  20. sawxalicious - Aug 17, 2011 at 1:55 AM

    There’s no crying in baseball!?!?!?!? THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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