Thursday, August 28, 2008

Talent Division

For many of you it’s old news by now, but the story about nine-year-old Jericho Scott that was told he couldn’t pitch any more because he was too good, is exactly part of the reason we started this web site 10 months ago. The right-hander has a fastball that tops out at about 40 mph. He throws “so hard” that the Youth Baseball League of New Haven told his coach that the boy could not pitch any more. When Jericho took the mound anyway last week, the opposing team forfeited the game, packed its gear and left, his coach said.

This is the type of anguish you get when your talented sons play Rec Ball. We don’t dislike Rec Ball. In fact, we absolutely support any league that promotes the great game of baseball. The more kids playing baseball, the better off America is.

We do think that the leagues need to re-write their mission statements and decide what level of baseball they want to compete in. I have been a huge advocate of Talent Division. Talent Division is a term I just made up as I was writing this post, but it is a philosophy I have been promoting on this site for months.

Talent Division is just like it sounds…dividing the talent of baseball players up by their ability. The best players play with and against the best players, the developing players play against alike players and the rec ball, 18 games and out players, play with their peer groups.

In this system, there would be no Jericho Scott's terrorizing players on a 40mph fastball. In fact, Scott's 40mph fastball would be very mediocre against better, more established players his age. He should not have even played in that league to begin with if they thought his 40mph was too fast.

Don’t blame the mom. She signed her son up in what she was told was a league that was commensurate with her sons ability. All baseball leagues have a responsibility to help athletes grow, compete and develop. The Youth Baseball League of New Haven was purposely being oppressive, by stifling and holding back a player. Instead of praising and encouraging Scott's play, they humiliated and downgraded his talent…making the kid feel like a freak of nature, not a player with superior skills.

League attorney Peter Noble says the only factor in banning Jericho from the mound is his pitches are just too fast.

"He is a very skilled player, a very hard thrower," Noble said. "There are a lot of beginners. This is not a high-powered league. This is a developmental league whose main purpose is to promote the sport."

Yes, folks, you read that right. This league has an attorney. That is no doubt, one of the biggest problems. Little League’s do not need attorneys turning the game into a safe haven for every paranoid parent that thinks their kid should be wearing complete, head to toe body armor to play baseball.

Also, Nobles comment about being a developmental league to promote baseball is very off-base. If it’s a developmental league, why are they demoting and demeaning the talent of their best player? They should be developing him into a better player right? Instead, they are telling him not to be so good and are banning him from the very thing he does well.

Coaches, parents and league officials, if you don’t want a New Haven scenario in your community, then start by adopting a Talent Division model. USSSA, in many parts of the Midwest and Southeast have a similar model. They split up their Team Division model by calling each division, Major, AAA and AA. In order to qualify a team for any of those divisions, there is a pre-season, 4 day tourney to determine that if the league the coach signed a team up for, matches the talent level of the team. Majors is for teams that want to play 50 or more games a year including many qualifying tournaments in and out of state. AAA is for teams that want to play 25-50 games and also play in a few tourneys and AA is for teams that want to play a league schedule of 20 games.

And, it’s not just separating the good from the bad. It’s about being fair. Many coaches purposely sign up an above average team to play down a division so that they can win a trophy. USSSA steps in and says, “Do your players a favor and play-up! Challenge them, develop them and they will get better.”

The Youth Baseball League of New Haven should have had an idea that Jericho Scott was a good player in a weak league and guided him to play up or in a different league that would have challenged him a bit more. Instead, they made it a national story by reacting to a bunch of overprotective parents that just wanted their sons to play their 20 games and get this whole baseball thing over with. I wonder if their sons felt the same way about Jericho? I wonder if they were really frightened of Jericho or awed by him?

There was a kid when I was 10 that was a foot taller than anyone in our league. He was a terror on the mound, at the plate and on the base-pads. His name was Phil…the coaches called him “The Philnomenon.” It was a rec league and there was a mixture of awful and decent talent on each team. But not one parent, player or coach complained when we had to play against The Philnomenon. In fact, those games were our most attended. Moms actually stocked up on the hot dogs at the parent run concession stands when The Philnomenon came to our home field. Phil was a rock star…We were awed by his talent and wanted to be like him. It certainly made an impression on me, because I am still talking about it 40 years later.

So, I feel sorry for the other players in the New Haven League. Their Rock Star is gone…abolished and diminished to a mere mortal…all because of a League that has a lawyer.

RT Staff

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