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Rules Are Rules, Year Round

It happens like clockwork. Each and every district, state, and regional tournament someone shows up with a bat that doesn’t meet specifications, or catcher’s masks without dangling throat-guards, or the coaches insist on standing outside the dugouts (as if their voices can somehow be heard better if not passing through a chain-link fence). Their excuse: “We’ve been doing this all year and nobody has said anything.”

The sad thing is … that’s probably true. Which begs the question, why in the world have they been allowed to do this all year long? The coaches aren’t the only ones with the excuses when it comes to these matters, though. We have our own like: “We haven’t enforced that rule all year because, well, it’s just regular season.”

I am not without my own selfish reasons for bringing this up. This causes problems for me, as I am quite often the one who has to tell these coaches and players that, while they may have played with an illegal bat or in violation of another rule without complaint all year long, we will be playing by the rules from here on out. It is my experience that the teams with which tournament directors have the most problems, are the teams that play in leagues where the enforcement of rules during the regular season are the most relaxed. But there are other considerations that should be looked at as well.

It is unfair to the player if we allow him/her to use a bat all year long and suddenly, in the Little League International Tournament, tell that player that they must use a different bat. Additionally, the ensuing disagreement acts as a distraction to the team in question at the very outset of the game, placing the team and the umpires as adversaries before the first pitch is even thrown. Thus, by trying to be a nice guy during the regular season, and allowing rule violations to be overlooked, we do the players and the teams a disservice.

One of the many functions of Little League is to teach the game of baseball. The game, of course, has rules, rules that must be enforced by the umpires. Not just the ones we choose to enforce, but all of the rules – all of the time. The end result will be the teams becoming use to the idea of following the rules, the players will be using equipment that they have been use to using all year long, there won’t be any reason for there to be an adversarial relationship between the team and the umpires, I (or some other tournament director) won’t have to break the bad news to anyone, and we have a smoother running world tournament.

By Jeffrey Knoebel
Central Region Umpire-In-Chief