Little League baseball has stripped Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West all-stars of the United States championship for using players who lived outside the area that team represents, the organization said in a statement.
Team manager Donald Butler has been suspended from Little League and Michael Kelly, the administrator for Illinois District 4, has been removed from his position. The Jackie Robinson West program has been put on probation and had its tournament privileges revoked until a new president and treasurer are appointed and the league is in compliance with Little League regulations. The national organization said it will appoint a special advisor to Illinois District 4 to help the league comply with boundary issues and bylaws.
Along with the U.S. championship, Little League stripped Jackie Robinson West of all tournament victories. The U.S. title has been awarded to Mountain Ridge Little League from Las Vegas. The Great Lakes regional title will be awarded to New Albany, Ind.; the Illinois state championship will go to to Tri-Cities Little League in West Dundee, Ill.; and the Illinois District 4 title to Rosemoor (Chicago).
After an investigation, Little League determined that the Jackie Robinson west league used a map to determine league boundaries that did not reflect the actual boundaries and got together with officials from other nearby leagues to build a better team.
Little League International CEO Stephen D. Keener said in a statement: “For more than 75 years, Little League has been an organization where fair play is valued over the importance of wins and losses. 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.”
According to Little League, this is the third time that such punitive action has been taken. Little League disqualified Zamboanga (Philippines) City Little League in 1992 and the Rolando Paulino Little League from Bronx, N.Y. in 2001. The 2001 incident was related to age discrepancies involving star pitcher Danny Almonte.
In its statement, Little League said no allegations of misconduct were levied against Jackie Robinson West by a league in Illinois District 4 in the regular season, tournament season or since the reports of wrongdoing have come out, but local league officials confirmed they had “direct knowledge of this rules violation” when asked during Little League’s investigation.
In meetings last month, league officials confirmed that there was a map redrafting process that started before the 2013 season and includes maps agreed upon by the leagues but never submitted for approval. The organization said Jackie Robinson West “knowingly expanded its boundaries to include territory that belonged to other leagues in the district.”
“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.”
“Little League relies heavily on the commitment of principled volunteers to serve as a system of checks and balances in preparation of and throughout Little League International Tournament Play. 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. 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.”
Those alleged efforts created a firestorm in Chicago when they came to light in December, and the U.S. runners-up have since asked for the U.S. title to be stripped should Jackie Robinson West be found guilty of subverting eligibility regulations.
“It’s not a matter of changing the name on the title or the championship,” Kristi Black, the president of Mountain Ridge, told ESPN. “The outcome of the game is what it is, and the kids have moved on. For us, it’s more of an ethics thing, a matter of doing what’s right. Our intention is to not have the next 27 kids put in this position.”