We were in the fifth grade, about 11 years old, and we wanted to start a baseball team. We called ourselves the Shamrocks because most of the guys were from Irish stock. Cooney, Ryan, Lunney, Duffy, McGill, Mahoney, Breslin, etc. One of our pitchers had a distinctly German name. We called him “Nazi.” The team existed for about five years, with some turnover in personnel, as some players moved away or gave up sports for girls. Eventually we had one black player. Freddy also happened to be our best.
To finance this enterprise, we went around our nearest shopping district and asked for contributions. We called on a few dozen merchants. Hardly anybody said no. Dr. Wasserman, a Jewish dentist who had many patients among our families, was helpful. Our biggest sponsor, oddly enough, was Buzz Coleman, a bar, so we put his name on our gray uniforms with green caps and trim. We had enough money left over to buy bats and catcher’s stuff. This team was organized, coached (if you call it that) and managed by kids. There were no adults involved.
The team captain, also the manager, was Miles Mahoney. He was our toughest guy, which is why he was captain. Catcher, of course. Most of his front teeth were gone, and his knees were a mess before he started high school. He once caught a game without a face mask. Another time he got upset at our pitcher for not obeying his signals. He walked out to the mound and punched him. Our league was not without petty violence, but it always boy vs. boy.
“Our parents never even came to the games,” recalled Tommy Boyo (his email name). “We didn’t want them there.”
It wasn’t as if we were unsupervised. The recreation center had a highly likable director and a few high school or college fellows helping out as umpires. But they pretty much let us run our own show.
We recall this ancient history to show how far the world has deteriorated since those days when a Lionel train was every lad’s Christmas dream. Today parents not only feel a moral obligation to attend games, but even grandparents are expected to bring folding chairs to every event, beginning about the time the kids learn to walk. The kids think you don’t like them otherwise.
And so it comes to pass, or kick, or skate, that the Sun-Sentinel over the weekend had a major feature on the violence caused by adults at youth games. It gave some pretty bad examples of grown-ups going crazy – attacking officials, other parents, sometimes even the kids. An organizer of youth soccer leagues said the article was restrained.
“It happens all the time,” he said. “It’s much worse than they described.”
Now when we aren’t obsessed with solving presidential murders, the absurd over-emphasis on youth sports had been something of a career-long crusade. Our first full-time job was with a suburban Philadelphia paper. Having come out of the city, where Little League did not exist, we could not believe that suburban teams were not run as the Shamrocks, without parental involvement. To our amazement, the paper devoted almost as much space to Little League as it did to high school, and even college teams in the area.
We started at 6 a.m. (afternoon paper) and the first job was to collect all the reports from Little League press agents, which had been dropped off the night before. Our paper served much of a large county, with more than 40 municipalities, and some towns had two or three Little Leagues. As in any PR endeavor, the competence of the reports varied widely. Some were quite well done, with full names and correct spellings, and maybe even the scores correct. Others were a joke, barely recognizable as the English language. Naturally the best reports tended to get the most coverage, which led to letters to the editor claiming our paper was biased toward certain leagues and teams.
It got so bad that we soon began satirizing the whole mad system, suggesting that pregnant women with athletic spouses should have their potential offspring drafted by Little Leagues with territorial rights. But even then we don’t remember many, if any, incidents of parents clobbering each other with bats or threatening to emasculate umpires. But that probably happens today.
Fortunately, we soon were promoted up from the toy department, and a few years later went on to magazine work, where we specialize only in violence against presidents, and ponder constitutional law. We therefore propose an amendment prohibiting anyone older than 13 from showing up, or aiding or abetting in any way, youth sports. And that includes mothers, some of whom barely make the cut these days.