Little League quality suffers from new rule

By Travis Brown
STAR Staff
tbrown@starhq.com

   As yet another season of Little League Baseball comes to a close, we are encouraged to look back upon the season and look for ways to improve the caliber of the game.
   This season, youngsters in the area have come accustomed to a new way of doing things, thanks to a new rule that changes the way the game is played.
   This year, every player on the roster, not just those playing defensively, are put in the lineup and allowed an opportunity to hit.
   Previously, under the rules of Little League, coaches were required to play every ballplayer a minimum of two innings in the field and at least one trip to the plate per game.
   This new ruling is accepted by most and is widely accepted as a better way to play ball.
   I, however, have witnessed some changes this season that I cannot fully explain. Perhaps I am wrong, but the ball games that I have covered and attended have shown an overall drain on the game of baseball.
   Youngsters appear to have lost interest in the game at times, and they seem to give up just a little too soon. I feel as if this new practice is to blame, and let me tell you why.
   There are five main reasons that explain how this new rule has been bad for the game.
   1. The ballplayers that are generally considered better ballplayers (all-stars and such) are getting less at-bats per game. Consequently they are less effective as leaders, and teams suffer due to the absence of offense.
   2. The less talented players (and typically younger players) are already guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup. Although I like to see these youngsters play ball (after all, that is why we play the game), I feel as if they have less incentive to improve. After all, they are starting. This makes it harder for coaches to motivate young players.
   3. Disciplinary problems that are deemed a benchable offense, suddenly become a problem. This new practice makes it more difficult to bench a youngster for poor conduct. We are here to teach kids strength of character, and although punishment should be a last resort, benching a ball player is often times the best way to improve their play.
   4. Kids at the bottom of the order tend to be less aggressive. Games tend to get rigorous because the youngsters that are still learning the game will not swing the bat. This makes for a more boring game, and the spirit of both teams suffers.
   5. When a team shows up with less than their full complement of 12 ballplayers, they tend to have an unfair advantage on a team with a complete roster. Although this is still a problem under the old system, coaches could minimize the impact by mixing up the batting order to accommodate for a weaker player.
   Fundamentally this practice of allowing all team members to be listed in the starting lineup is sound. However I feel as if this practice is nothing more than a Trojan Horse. It looks like a good policy but at it's core it is bad for the game.
   Last year some fine individuals in our area created a fall ball league for those youngsters who needed work, to work on their game and improve.
   All those involved were overjoyed with the league's success and most are looking forward to doing it again this year.
   Instead of changing the way we play baseball, let's change the way the leagues are organized. Play fall ball, or re-arrange the team structure in both the National and American leagues to allow the younger players to play themselves in separate games -- something like a 10-year-old league separate from the main league.
   The bottom line is this, there are many good ideas floating around out there that will help improve the standard of play here in Elizabethton.
   Although this rule change was well intentioned, I think it has in some ways defeated its purpose. Regardless of how we decide to play next season, congratulations to all the athletes for a solid season, and most importantly I hope all of the youngsters had fun.
   After all, that's is why we play the game.