The Evergreen Park Athletic Association has insisted all along that it wasn’t interested in having the Jackie Robinson West stripped of its United State Little League World Series title when it brought up allegations of cheating to Little League International months ago.
But that’s what happened on Wednesday morning as the organization stripped the Chicago team of its title and made the team forfeit postseason tournament games. It also suspended team manager Darold Butler and Little League District 4 Administrator Michael Kelly
A spark lit by months ago by the EPAA finally caused a major explosion thanks in part to neighboring Chicago Little League teams recently getting on board with added allegations about boundary tampering.
EPAA Vice President Chris Janes, who was the organization’s spokesman throughout this process said in January “At the end of the day, I could care less if they lose a trophy or not – that doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone is held accountable.’’
On Tuesday, when rumors swirled that JRW could be stripped of its title, Janes reiterated that was not his organization’s goal. But he said was satisfied that Little League International was taking the matter seriously.
“I have absolutely no regrets,” Janes said. “It just keeps on popping up. “It’s really cool to see other people coming forward.”
He added that much of the controversy could have been avoided if Little League officials had looked closer at the accusations Evergreen Park Baseball made shortly after the Little League World Series.
“We started at the district level way back in August,” Janes said. “This should have been addressed then.”
The Little League organization issued a statement Wednesday morning condemning the actions of the JRW officials.
“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,” the statement read.
“The Charter/Tournament Committee has decided to vacate the league’s wins from the 2014 Little League Baseball International Tournament, including its Great Lakes Regional and United States Championships, and suspend team manager, Darold Butler, from Little League activity.
“Illinois District 4 Administrator, Michael Kelly, has also been removed from his position. Jackie Robinson West Little League has been placed on probation with its tournament privileges suspended until such a time that new leadership in the positions of President, Anne Haley, and Treasurer, Bill Haley, have been elected or appointed, and that the league is fully compliant with all Little League International Regulations.”
Prior to the ruling, officials from the Las Vegas squad which lost to JRW in the U.S. championship portion of the tournament weighed in.
Kristi Black, president of Nevada's Mountain Ridge Little League, told the DNAinfo website that the Las Vegas team “rightfully deserves to be recognized as the legitimate team that went the farthest.”
The coach of the Las Vegas team that lost 7-5 to JRW in the U.S. title game described the Chicago team’s actions as fraudulent. His team defeated JRW in earlier round play 13-2.
“If all the information is factual about what has been said was going on … it comes down to fraud. We’re talking about multi-millions of dollars were invested into a program and the whole nation was deceived. They have to take a stand on this,” Ashton Cave told DNAinfo.
Cave compared the controversy to disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong, who denied doping allegations his entire career but ultimately was stripped of his Tour de France titles and banned from cycling for using steroids.
“Lance Armstrong went down that road and became an example of what happens when you say one thing and it’s actually the other. The truth comes out,” Cave said.
Jackie Robinson West’s success was the feel-good story of the summer as a team from Chicago’s South Side came together and rolled through the sectional and state playoffs before winning the U.S. title. It lost the title game to a team from Seoul, Korea.
Shortly after that, in an email to Little League International, EPAA officials called on Little League officials to investigate whether Jackie Robinson West engaged in “manipulating, bending and blatantly breaking the rules for the sole purpose of winning at all costs.’’
As being the designated voice of the organization, Janes received criticism and abuse via e-mail and social media. On Wednesday morning, a caller to WSCR radio who was hopping mad about the decision made a reference to the “losers in Evergreen Park.’’
During the postseason, EP lost to JRW 43-2 in four innings. In the books, that is now an Evergreen Park victory.
JRW players enjoyed significant recognition when they returned to Chicago from World Series site Williamsport, Pa., including a downtown pep rally and appearances at both Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field and a chance to meet President Barack Obama.
With this seemingly behind him, Janes said he that he’s looking forward to the coming baseball season.
“I can’t wait for baseball to start,” Janes said. “I’m looking forward to being on the field with the boys again.”