Sorry, Mary, breaking rules and cheating are same

  • Written by Bob Rakow

If I ever commit adultery and my wife finds out, I plan to tell her that I didn’t cheat, I merely broke the rules. There is, after all, a difference.


Just ask Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell.


I’m not so sure my wife would see the distinction. Chances are I’d be in big trouble if I stepped out on her—I mean broke the marital vows that we took in 1991.


Mitchell’s Feb. 11 column came the same day that Little League International rightly stripped the Jackie Robinson West baseball team of its U.S. championship for violating boundary rules.


I’m not surprised that Mitchell defended JRW. She’s a black columnist who often writes about the social injustices faced by African Americans. She’s written many good columns over the years and raised issues that deserved attention.


But hard as I try, I can’t get my head around Mitchell’s contention that there’s a difference between cheating and breaking the rules.


It’s the same thing. You are a cheater if you break the rules. Students cheat on tests, people cheat on their taxes. They cheat when they break the rules set forth by a school, the government and so on.


Later in her column, Mitchell switched gears and opined about the severity of the infractions committed by JRW.


She writes: “Maybe I’m missing the seriousness of the accusations, but is that all there is? We’re not talking about corked bats, or a 14-year-old pretending to be 11?”

I’d argue that placing a ringer on a team is on par with manipulating geographic boundaries. Either infraction is designed to give a team an unfair advantage.

I spent several years watching my son play youth baseball and came to understand that some players—the ones that play on All-Star and travel teams—are immensely more talented than other boys the same age. Put enough top-tier players on one team, and there’s a good chance they’ll go places.

That’s what JRW did, but Mitchell justifies the move.

“We’re talking about officials making adjustments to ensure kids who have played together for most of their young lives got a shot at going to the Little League World Series — together,” Mitchell continues.

Two words caught my eye: “making adjustments.”

Baseball teams make adjustments when they alter the batting order or bench one player in favor of another. Recruiting top players from other communities is not “making an adjustment.”

As far as corked bats, Mary, Little Leaguers use aluminum ones.

Mitchell added that stories about the JRW controversy cast black families in the worst possible light.

Here, I agree. Any coach or parent involved in this controversy or who stood by and said nothing is complicit. Shame on them for bringing a win-at-all-costs approach to Little League baseball.

“I don’t advocate that people break the rules, even when rules seem unnecessary or unfair,” Mitchell wrote.

I’m sure she doesn’t support rule breaking, but if fudging league boundary lines to gain an advantage isn’t cheating then what is? I’d love to hear Mitchell’s thoughts on how best to organize a baseball league in which the competition is fair and balanced and the formation of super teams is disallowed.


The Reporter has kept a close eye on this story because officials from the Evergreen Park Athletic Association first raised the allegations. It should be noted that the Evergreen Park team played JRW last year and never stood a chance.

EPAA officials said that game had nothing to do with the decision to bring the boundary violation issue to the attention of Little League International. I tend to believe them.

Chris Janes, vice president of the league, told me there were whispers of cheating for a long time, but no one wanted to burst the bubble on the feel-good story that was JRW’s Little League World Series run.

Janes refused to be silent and has received death threats as a result.

This controversy eventually will go away and Little League players will be back on the field soon enough. But don’t let Mary Mitchell or anyone else tell you the JRW boys are still champs. They’re not. They got caught up in something not of their own making. Rules were broken and now consequences are being paid.

Chicago Teacher’s Union President Karen Lewis had this to say about the decision after noting that it was made during Black History Month.

“I do not respect the decision of Little League International because the officials have not respected the ethical and emotional well-being of the children involved in this matter,” Lewis said.

Lewis’ comments should have been directed at JRW coaches because in the end they’re to blame.