The 2016 Medfield U12 little league team should go down as one of the best youth baseball teams Medfield has assembled in recent memory. But they will not be declared “State Champions”, representing Massachusetts in the New England tournament with a chance at performing on ESPN as part of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. The reason is what was described by many onlookers as one of the worst displays of poor sportsmanship ever seen at a youth sporting event.
The Medfield team, the defending U11 State Champions, had once again won their District Championship, advancing to the sectionals as one of the final 16 in the state. There they entered pool play with teams from Wellesley, Medford and Savin Hill. Sectionals are structured as a “round robin” in which each team plays each other with the top two teams advancing to a Sectional Championship game played on Saturday. After soundly defeating Wellesley 9-3, Medfield lost to Medford 14-2. Despite the loss, Medfield looked in good shape to advance to a finals rematch against Medford with a victory over winless Savin Hill.
Due to the strict pitch count limits and mandatory rest day requirements placed on little league pitchers, much of a team’s success in a particular game العاب اكشن results from whether they have their best pitchers available. In this, Medfield was set up great for the rematch. Due to having several strong pitchers on their roster, Medfield was able to have their ace available to start in the Saturday final.
Their chance to advance to the final was squashed, however, when players and coaches from Medford appeared to lose on purpose to Wellesley Friday night, guaranteeing that Medford would face Wellesley again in the final instead of what many considered a much stronger Medfield opponent.
“It was clear that Medford was orchestrating a scenario where they could avoid playing us,” said Medfield Head Coach Mark Nickerson. “We witnessed coaches instructing their kids to lose a game. They took a very talented team that had been playing extremely well and taught them how to lose.”
Despite Medfield defeating Wellesley, the tiebreaker format called for run differential to be the determining factor of who advanced to the final. By Medford losing to Wellesley, orchestrating an 11-4 loss to calculate the proper run differential, Medford ensured they would avoid the tougher Medfield opponent in the final.
The efforts to throw the game appeared obvious to Super Mario World those in attendance. With 2 outs and runners on second and third, Medford had a slugger coming to the plate who had homered earlier in the game. But Medford coaches ordered that batter to bunt, easily giving up the final out and ending the inning. Later, base coaches held runners at third base when they could have easily scored on long hits to the outfield fence. Some parents also reported Medford fielders deliberately holding the ball in the outfield while Wellesley runners were allowed to circle the bases.
Medfield promptly appealed the game to the Little League International Tournament Committee. Representatives from District 12, who are not residents of Medfield, lent their support to the petition with one citing the actions of the Medford coaches as “one of the most disgusting displays of non-sportsmanship I have ever seen”. District representatives referenced speaking with both game umpires, who had indicated that they felt something was suspicious.
Medfield Youth Baseball President, Peter Hunt, cited specific International Little League bylaws in the appeal, which strictly prohibit a coach from instructing a player to intentionally play poorly. The appeal also referenced a 2015 Boston Globe story about a Snohomish, Washington team who faced sanctions after being found to have purposely lost in last year’s Little League Softball World Series.
Medford Little League President, Bill O’Keefe, denied the accusation that Medford purposely lost, blaming the alleged poor play on base running blunders and signal mix-ups between players and coaches. “Medfield controlled their own destiny,” said O’Keefe. “All they had to do is beat Medford.“
Despite the apparent strength of the accusations, the Little League International Tournament Committee denied Medfield’s appeal. The Committee refused to disclose details of the appeal and would provide no explanation of their decision. In a statement, the committee only said they “thoroughly reviewed the situation pertaining to the game between Medford Little League and Wellesley South Little League, and found that based on the information presented, there was no violation of Little League International’s Tournament Rules and Guidelines.”
In what can possibly be seen as karma, Medford lost the Saturday final anyway, sending Wellesley on to the State Finals where they would ultimately be crowned Massachusetts State Champions. However, the justice against Medford was a small consolation as the Medfield team dealt with the reality that a Wellesley team that they had soundly defeated just days earlier was on their way to a televised game on ESPN.
“My only hope now is that the Medford coach, players and parents realize that what they did was wrong,” said Nickerson. “That they not only cheated our kids out of an opportunity, but they cheated their kids as well.”
Wellesley began pool play in the New England Championships in Bristol, CT this week. “I am very proud of the way our kids have handled themselves. Our boys know that it could have been us,” Nickerson concluded. “We could have had a shot to accomplish the goal that we have been working toward for the last six years.”
Despite the controversy, Medfield continues their summer schedule with sights on closing the season out with a league title. Coach Nickerson is impressed with how his team has persevered. “They compete with integrity. That is what has made this group such an amazing team. They love to play the game and they give it everything they have each time the take the field.”
The Little League Pledge, written by Little League President Peter McGovern in 1955 seems to prophetically address this situation. “I will play fair, and strive to win. But win or lose, I will always do my best.”