Little League Baseball has stripped the U.S. championship from the Chicago-based Jackie Robinson West team and has suspended the coach for violating a rule prohibiting the use of players who live outside the geographic area that the team represents, it was announced Wednesday.
The Jackie Robinson West team, the first all-African-American team to win the championship, must vacate wins from the 2014 Little League Baseball International Tournament — including its Great Lakes Regional and United States championships.
The team’s manager, Darold Butler, has been suspended from Little League activity, and Illinois District 4 Administrator Michael Kelly has been removed from his position.
The organization found that the Jackie Robinson team used a falsified boundary map, and that team officials met with neighboring Little League districts in Illinois to claim players and build what amounts to a superteam.
As a result, the United States championship has been awarded to Mountain Ridge Little League from Las Vegas.
“For more than 75 years, Little League has been an organization where fair play is valued over the importance of wins and losses,” Little League International CEO Stephen D. Keener said in a statement. “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.”
Jackie Robinson West drew significant attention as it advanced to the tournament’s title game, where it fell to Seoul, South Korea. In a sport that increasingly struggles to attract African-Americans, the team representing Chicago’s South Side emerged as a force, beating Las Vegas 7-5 in the U.S. title game.
The Chicago players were lauded for not just their prowess on the field but also for their sportsmanship, and they later were honored by President Barack Obama at the White House.
Little League embraces policies designed to preserve traditional community-based leagues in which classmates play with classmates, friends with friends.
“Little League takes these matters very seriously and has spent countless hours gathering information about the many issues facing Jackie Robinson West Little League and Illinois District 4,” Keener said. “During our review, it became clear that both Jackie Robinson West officials and District Administrator, Mike Kelly signed documents to make players eligible who should not have been.”
The national organization said it was Kelly’s responsibility to verify player eligibility based on player information that is gathered and signed by the league president, player agent and team manager.
Little League also said that it wasn’t until meetings in January that local league officials acknowledged that they knew of the violation, but had never reported it to Little League International.
“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,” Keener said. “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.”
Jackie Robinson West isn’t the first team to have its Little League title stripped. In 1992, Little League baseball took away the title from Zamboanga, Philippines, and handed it to Long Beach, Calif., after Zamboanga used several players that lived outside its district or were over-age. In 2001, a team from the Bronx, N.Y., that finished third was forced to forfeit its games after pitcher Danny Almonte was revealed to be over-age.
Tom Farrey of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” contributed to this report.