Saturday, July 30, 2005

No habla beisbol

A little league umpire in Lakeville MA (District 7) banned a team from Methuen for speaking Spanish on the field. It's now a national story...

From the San Diego Union Tribune:
Chris Mosher, the 20-year-old manager of the Little League team in Methuen, Mass., walked out of the dugout and approached the umpire Tuesday night in the semifinals of the state tournament. Mosher wanted to know why the ump had called time and summoned the local tournament director from behind the backstop.

It was the top of the third inning. Methuen West was winning 3-1. Mosher's assistant coach had just instructed their pitcher from the Dominican Republic, in Spanish, to execute a pickoff play at second base.

Mosher began to ask what the holdup was.

"He told me, 'English only,' " Mosher said. "He said it very loudly. I said, 'If you can show me a rule, I'd be happy to follow it. But you're not going to find one.' . . . He told me if anyone speaks one more word in Spanish, they'll be ejected.

"It was sickening."

Little League officials were scrambling yesterday to implement damage control, issuing a statement admitting the unidentified umpire "made an incorrect decision" and barring him from future games this season but also saying it was too late to reconsider the game's outcome.

More from the Boston Globe:

Little League officials would not name the umpire or the district administrator who upheld the English-only call after Mosher protested from the dugout, demanding to see the prohibition in the rulebook.

The umpire and district administrator could not find anything, Mosher said, but the administrator told him he had to uphold the call in order to back the umpire. The umpire said that anyone caught speaking Spanish would be thrown out of the game. At that point Mosher relented, not wanting to hurt his team's chances.

While the umpire should be sanctioned for an incorrect call, the District Administrator should also have been sanctioned, since it's his job to make sure that the rules are followed, or to escalate to the regional office if he doesn't know. I umpire at the local, regional and sectional level and I count on the District Administrators to help me get it right if there is a protest, not "back the umpire." And I'll bet the umpire wishes the DA had called headquarters to get a correct ruling, considering all that has happened since.

Back to the Tribune, which has the only mention of what really should have happened, based on the rules...

The Little League statement did not identify the district administrator but said, "The incident could have been avoided" had "proper procedures been followed," which was for him to call a regional director for a ruling.

The proper procedure, according to rules posted on the organization's Web site: The tournament director should have contacted the regional director in Connecticut and asked for a ruling.

One point that the Tribune gets wrong, however, is the implication that race might have been a factor because the game was in Lakeville. Methuen has a significant Hispanic population, on the other hand:

Tuesday's game was run by Little League's district administrator in Lakeville, a rural town about 70 miles south. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Lakeville is 97.3 percent white and had 104 Hispanics among its 9,821 residents.

While that statement is factual, just because the game was in Lakeville doesn't mean the umpires were from there. When District 4 champion Rutland hosted a sectional game last week, none of the umpires were Rutland umpires during the regular season. Two of the umpires work in Worcester, and I do my games in Lancaster, Berlin, and Bolton. It's likely that the umpires came from across District 7, a district that includes Brockton and other cities with significant Hispanic populations.

The story hit the AP wire and has made it across the country. Other bloggers' reactions can be noted here.

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