Therefore : It is the position of dennisotoole.com, its author, its affiliate sites, and its readers that no base-runner aged thirteen or younger should be allowed to take a lead off.
If you disagree with this, go away. There is nothing for you on this website. There are plenty of places for people to hang out and be wrong about things, but here is not one of them.
For someone who does not yet have kids, I watch a fair amount of Little League. I live two blocks from Welles Park, a four-diamond arcadia in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. Every Saturday and Sunday from late April until August, from early in the morning until early evening, the diamonds are full of games. So when procrastination, boredom or some blend of the twain starts to itch, I take a mosey.
The Pee-Wees, which was the term in my Little League for the 7-to-8 year-old group, is almost as bad. They can hit a ball that is not perched on a platform, true, but they can’t field. Worse, they don’t even get to pitch at Welles Park. Some father/coach stands next to a figurehead pitcher and does all the actual pitching.
“So, they just want someone who can throw heat?”
You’d think, but it turns out the coach-pitcher is even worse than a child. He just lobs the ball daintily, like it was beanbags and not the manly game of Base (as Whitman called it). We sure as hell didn’t do this where I come from. I remember the first time I saw this. I was about eleven, at a park miles from my South Side neighborhood. I thought it was a practice because the kid was just standing there, pantomiming while this grown man tossed it like a girl. When I finally figured out what was going on, I was so embarrassed for the kids I had to look away.
The 10-to-12 year-old games are much better, but still don’t make for satisfying baseball. The kids can field a bit, but they never get the ball to first in time to catch a runner. And the batters don’t exactly clobber the ball well enough to have genuine home runs or respectable grounders. It’s largely a battle of incompetents wherein the less-shitty team prevails. The few decent athletes—those strange biological misfits who have coordination and power before puberty—tend to dominate the game the way Waylon Jennings dominated Jeopardy. Impressive, yeah—but not fun to watch.
So it’s to the thirteen-year-old field that the procrastinating 36-year-old non-father gravitates. These kids can play. Not expertly, but it sure looks like baseball. The outfielders are spread out and deep. The infielders crouch and bounce on bent knees, ready to spring. The pitcher throws at least kind of hard, and sometimes genuinely hard. A grounder to third is stopped if not caught immediately, and after a bit of fumbling and a bounce or two, the ball makes it to first about the same time the runner does. The runner is rarely thrown out at first, but he definitely has to beat it out. An inning or two of the thirteen-year-old game is fine. It’s honest-to-God baseball, and always worth the two-blocks walked and the half-hour killed.
Except for the stealing. At Welles, they should just call singles “triples” because unless the kid is a useless dork better off at home playing Magic the Gathering, he will make it to third. Usually he only needs one steal-attempt to get there, since most of the time the catcher will overthrow the second baseman and neither the shortstop nor the centerfielder will be in position to stop the errant ball. Upon landing safely at third standing up the third base coach will, of course, high-five him. This high-five is dishonest, since that dad/coach had no doubt in his mind that the kid could steal two bases at once without sliding. It happens twice every inning!
Right now the only way to prevent meritless stealing, I said earlier, is to load the bases—but that’s obviously not ideal. Well then, as Vladimir Lenin asked on a much more trivial matter, what is to be done?
I would never suggest that we prohibit base-stealing. That’s not baseball, that’s an abomination. No, what we need to do is prohibit all lead offs. Take away those few feet and deny runners the right to even lean off the base. If he’s not running, he must have both heels on the bag--or he’s out. When he gets to high school he can take lead offs. There’s a Pacific between 13 and 14 called puberty, so I have full confidence in the ability of pudgy American lads in their mid-teens to whip it to second. But a boy just one year beyond his pre-teens? No. I have no faith in that person to throw accurately from a squat.
You might say that this post is too trite for the high standards of dennisotoole.com, its author, its affiliate sites, and its readers. Further, the vast majority of my readership (i.e., my mom) has nothing to do with Little League baseball rulemaking or operations. This plea, then, is a crazed message stuffed into a cracked bottle, doomed to sink into the abyss unread and unheeded. And besides, we live in a world where Lars von Trier jokes about being a Nazi at a trendy film festival. Don’t we have bigger fish to fry?
No. No we don’t. The Little League lead off is just about the biggest fish I have ever seen. Fry this fish and you will fry all fishes. I mean, you agree with me, right mom?