There is no doubt some absurdity in complaining about the officiating of a baseball game played by 12- and 13-year-olds. As a reasonable human being with no real skin in the game, I would let a lot slide. But the display of blown calls and general malpractice at the Little League World Series has broken me.
Yes, the umpires are volunteers and it is a great honor for them as well. Yes, this is reflective of the true spirit of Little League — adults graciously giving their time to facilitate the games. Yes, winning is not supposed to be the only thing.
Outrageously bad calls that impact the game and make it inherently less fun is not really the true spirit of Little League either. And winning takes on a bit more importance in a tournament to get to Williamsport, then another one for the international crown. Important enough that they air the games on ESPN and in front of tens of thousands of people.
Here’s a small sampling of the Yakety Sax effort turned in during crucial moments thus far.
Texas was eliminated after the right-field line ump (we need this guy?) set his best screen.
Last night, Staten Island got hosed on what could be the worst call at first I’ve ever seen. They were unable to challenge because, an inning earlier, the Staten Island shortstop was ruled off the base at second while performing a toe-drag double play.
There are more, but why belabor the point? Why not search for a way to improve the situation?
Well, friends, I do believe I have one.
Allow high-level umpires — either from Major League Baseball or the high minors — to volunteer their services? That way we would presumably get higher quality officiating while still maintaining the quaint unpaid nature of the job.
The players, parents, and fans would benefit. The quality of play would improve. The product would get better. The only casualty would be the low-level umpires who currently fight for the honor. It may sound harsh, but the cost-benefit analysis seems clear to me.
Look, this may not be popular and could prove difficult. But it is abundantly clear that Little League has a problem on its hands. Continuing to ignore it won’t make it go away.