Little League International stripped Chicago's Jackie Robinson West baseball team of its national title following a boundary remap that Little League International now says allowed the team to bring in star players from outside its boundaries.
Officials from the Williamsport, Pa.-based league awarded the title to the Nevada team Jackie Robinson beat in the championship game, suspended manager Darold Butler from Little League activity, and removed Michael Kelley, the top administrator from Illinois District 4, which oversees several leagues on Chicago's South Side.
"After an extensive review of the operations of Jackie Robinson West Little League and Illinois District 4, the Little League International Charter/Tournament Committee has determined that the Jackie Robinson West Little League and Illinois District 4 Administrator knowingly violated Little League International Rules and Regulations by placing players on their team who did not qualify to play because they lived outside the team’s boundaries," Little League stated.
The boundary issue came to light in December after DNAinfo Chicago reported that a suburban league, upset that some south suburbs were praising players on Jackie Robinson West's supposed all-city roster as their own, complained to Little League International.
Little League International at the time said it re-reviewed paperwork submitted by Jackie Robinson West before the summer tournament and considered the matter closed.
But Little League’s charter committee reopened its investigation into the cheating allegations levied against Jackie Robinson West after DNAinfo Chicago reported new information about changes made to the U.S. Champion’s 2014 boundary map in violation of Little League rules.
"For more than 75 years, Little League has been an organization where fair play is valued over the importance of wins and losses,” said Stephen D. Keener, Little League International president and CEO. “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."
Little League officials said they determined Jackie Robinson West used a falsified boundary map for its 2014 tournament, and that Jackie Robinson West Little League officials met with other leagues in District 4, which includes Jackie Robinson West and several other South Side leagues, "to try to get the territory they wrongfully claimed was theirs for their 2014 tournament."
In a series of intense closed-door meetings in Chicago earlier this month at the Chicago Hilton on South Michigan Avenue, Jackie Robinson West sister league officials told Little League International officials new details that prompted the additional probe:
• In October 2013, all District 4 league presidents had agreed on “clearly defined” boundaries — the season before Jackie Robinson West leaders allegedly secretly expanded their territory to overlap existing leagues.
• South Side, Rosemoor and Roseland league presidents confirmed they did not approve any changes made to Jackie Robinson West’s 2014 boundaries that infringed on their territory, protected under charter agreements with Little League International.
• After winning the U.S. championship, Jackie Robinson West officials, with help from District 4 administrator Kelley, made a failed attempt to ask sister leagues to agree to boundary changes that already had been filed with Little League International without their permission.
When that news broke, the president and coach of the Las Vegas team that lost to Jackie Robinson West in the World Series semifinal game contacted DNAinfo Chicago to call on Little League international to strip the Chicago team of the U.S. Title.
Kristi Black, the president of Nevada's Mountain Ridge Little League during last summer's series, said this week she was concerned the U.S. title already “has an asterisk on it like the one on Barry Bonds home run record,” and the Las Vegas team “rightfully deserves to be recognized as the legitimate team that went the farthest” in the World Series tournament.
On Wednesday, after her team was named champs by default, Black said the ruling was about the kids who missed a chance to compete.
“This has nothing to do with the championship. It has everything to do with all the kids along the line who lost their chance to play in the World Series," she said. "All the kids Illinois and the Great Lakes region, especially the team from Indiana who lost in the regional final, who lost their opportunity to achieve their dreams because adults decided to fraudulently expand their boundaries to create a super team,” she said.
The controversy went public in December when DNAinfo Chicago first reported Evergreen Park Athletic Association Vice President Chris Janes filed a formal complaint with the Pennsylvania-based youth sports organization accusing Jackie Robinson West officials of “manipulating, bending and blatantly breaking the rules for the sole purpose of winning at all costs.”
In an email, Janes called for an investigation into whether Jackie Robinson West recruited all-star ringers from the suburbs. He cited online posts from a congresswoman, a suburban mayor, an elite traveling baseball league, a village newsletter and a Sports Illustrated post that detailed the players' suburban roots as cause for investigating the matter.
At first, Little League International issued a statement saying the organization looked into the matter and felt “confident that the documentation provided to the organization from Jackie Robinson West Little League meets the residency regulations for the 2014 Little League Baseball tournament season … [and] considers the issue closed at this time.”
Then, in an email meant to put the controversy to rest, Little League issued a statement that revealed, “In advance of the 2014 season, Jackie Robinson West Little League made the decision to expand its boundaries ... Working with the Illinois District 4 Administrator, the league submitted an approved, new boundary map to the Little League Regional Office, in effect for the 2014 season.”
Neighboring presidents of three sister leagues said they were unaware of the secret boundary change that overlapped their territory and allowed Jackie Robinson West to pick up all-star players who helped them win the U.S. title.
According to Little League rules, "A league’s boundaries must not overlap or encroach on another chartered Little League's boundaries." And to do so requires permission from the president’s of affected leagues.
Las Vegas coach Ashton Cave said that if Jackie Robinson West changed its boundaries against Little League rules to create a super team “it can’t be something that’s swept under the rug.”
He challenged Little League officials to live up to the organization’s motto, “character, courage and loyalty” that was sewn into the World Series uniforms this year.
“I’m a firm believer in integrity, and that’s something we teach our kids … and that’s what Little League is designed to do. If we’re going to live by its motto, we need to make things right … and everybody needs to be aware of it,” Cave said.
“Little League relies heavily on the commitment of principled volunteers to serve as a system of checks and balances in preparation of and throughout Little League International Tournament Play,” Keener said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, no allegations against Jackie Robinson West Little League were made until well after the tournament ended, contributing to the difficulty of resolving these many complex issues. As an organization, Little League has faced issues similar to this in the past, and we felt that we must take the appropriate action set by that precedent.”
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: