Point – Counterpoint Part 2

As expected, our reader had more to say on the subject of titling vs re-draft. Here is his response, with my rebuttal in italics below each paragraph:

Thanks for the note. I appreciate your enthusiasm as well, and certainly do not judge anyone negatively who volunteers time to develop kids in any way.
My fundamental issue is not abolishing good teams or “blowouts”. Everything you mention in defending titling is coach focused…better coaches, better drafting, etc. When one coach can scout 8 year olds for one reason…to gain a competitive advantage…it’s about that one coach winning, nothing more.

My last, and most important point, was not “coach-focused,” it was player-focused. I believe the leadership aspect of having returning players on a team act as mentors to new players is a great benefit. That would be missing in a re-draft situation when all kids are new. Also, in a re-draft situation if a coach picks a young player who turns out to be less than expected on the ability side, he knows he only has to deal with him for one year, and then he’ll throw him back in the draft and he’ll be someone else’s problem. However, if he knows he is going to have that player for the duration of his LL career, there is much more incentive to work with and develop him – another huge advantage titling brings to kids, not coaches.

And, I don’t understand your illustration of the coach scouting a kid when he’s eight. What does that have to do with titling or re-drafting? Sure, that is an aggressive manager who wants to win, but he can scout and pick that kid no matter what the draft system, correct? And doesn’t everyone else in the draft room have the same right to select him?

Redrafting ensures the best chance for competitive balance in leagues where coaching is inherently inconsistent. Competitive balance ensures kids are learning to deal with both winning and losing, not one or the other.

Again, I disagree. Simply making that statement without supporting evidence does not make it true. Take a look at your Minors division for the past several years where there has been a re-draft. Some teams won a lot of games and some lost a lot of games. As I illustrated, my league went to a re-draft and there was a dramatic difference between first and last place.

The mission statement explicitly fails to mention winning or losing because they are not part of the goal…they are byproducts of the other stated missions.

Right. So how does this mission statement support an argument that one draft system is more fair than another due to wins and losses? I don’t see the relation. I could lose every game as a coach but still teach valuable lessons and develop superior citizens. I don’t have to have a winning or even competitive team to do that.

Professional leagues prosper with systems that promote parity.  My only point is that when a child in our league is drafted to 2/3 of the teams, they know they will not win in any year they are in that league. That is fundamentally flawed.

My guess is that means that 1/3 of the teams have more experienced coaches and no matter what the draft system, those coaches are going to have better teams. And again, if they are winning every year, aren’t they are drafting last every year? So how can titling be an advantage to them? Eventually, those last place draft picks catch up and they have a weak team.

How do you justify 2 teams being so lopsided in terms of talent that they are 51-1 against the rest of the league?

That was this year. They were very good teams and probably two very good coaches who likely would have won most of their games if all the names had been drawn out of a hat. They’re going to lose many of those players next year, have to draft last next spring, and they probably won’t be as dominant. I’ll bet those coaches, if all they were concerned about was winning, would look at the players they were losing, who they had coming back, and would support a full redraft because they’d know that next season they’d have a better chance to pick a great team and dominate again. But, if they’re like me, they’d rather have a mediocre team next year and keep the kids they’d grown fond of so they could see them through their Little League experience.

You’ve obviously considered this issue and I don’t suppose my arguments are going to change your opinion…but thankfully LLBB continues to move more in this direction.

I believe it is unfortunate that LL continues to move in this direction and is based on ignorance. As I wrote in my article, one year when our board was discussing whether or not to maintain titling, a board member whose son had been on a team with a losing record all three years he played in Majors told us that on the way to the meeting she mentioned to her son she was going to make a case for a overturning titling. He shocked her by telling her titling is the only way to go. All she saw was other teams getting championship trophies and thought that was what the experience was about. Her son had a deeper understanding. It is always a shame when parents spoil things for their children based on their own wants and needs, not the kids’.

Point – counterpoint: More on titled players vs. re-draft

I received a semi-angry email this morning from someone who read my article on why Little Leagues should not re-draft players each season. In it was included a letter this reader had written to the President of Little League International, Steven Keener. First is the email to me, followed by the letter to Little League Headquarters:

Dear Brian,
After sending the note attached below to LLBB, I found your article.  It does not surprise me in the least that a former “professional youth baseball coach” has the point of view that titling players is the way leagues should go.
Simply put, most teams are coached by volunteers…and asking volunteers who just started learning the league to draft 3 years into the future (when they should have already passed their team to another parent volunteer) is simply hard to fathom.
Wouldn’t it be great if more kids in your league had the opportunity to learn from you?
Read the note below and use your position to impact a positive change…support redratfing.
Dear Mr. Keener,I am writing to attempt to persuade you and the Board of Directors of Little League Baseball to reconsider your position on league draft rules and make re-drafts mandatory for all major leagues.

I feel it is important to note I am writing this immediately following the final of game of my son’s final season, so I have no “vested” interest going forward.

My son plays in (League, city, state). This league is well run, with many caring men and women devoting hundreds of hours to the cause…some for decades. I have served on the Board of the league, have been a coach, and have always been an involved parent.

In my son’s final game, the score was 23-2 in favor of the other team. No team is immune from a blowout on occasion, but this individual game was unfortunately not an anomaly, it was a microcosm of the entire season. Consider these other facts from our season:

-(League) is a six team major league
-The top 2 teams collectively lost 1 game outside games where they beat each other (which would mean that these two team were a combined 51-1 against the remaining 4 teams)
-The third place team was the team on the wrong side of the 23-2 score

48 kids knew, before the season started, that they had no chance to compete, let alone win. What is more alarming is that with this type of inequality visible, parents and kids became frustrated and de-motivated. Coaches had to stop playing the game the right way (both the winning teams and losing teams) and start managing to keep the score down, which has no value in teaching the game.

Given the fact the Little League Baseball seem to try very hard to give significant authority to individual League Boards, I imagine your first reaction would be to offer advice on joining the league board, being an advocate for a re-draft. I did that, to no avail. Our league has several coaches who are in essence “career” volunteers. These men “scout” kids at the tee-ball level, and will try to move the most promising players to their team as early as possible (some at 9 years old). Unfortunately, while these career coaches are drafting kids, the other teams are managed by parent volunteers who will depart when their child departs the league…thus with no knowledge or motivation to scout younger players and “work the system” to ensure the best team.

When I brought up the issue at a board meeting, I was given the logic for not re-drafting…kids would get consistent coaching, teams would perform better playing together longer. I have to tell you candidly that this is utter nonsense. If the long term volunteers are truly excellent coaches, they should be impacting the widest swath of kids possible, not the virtual “select” team they ended up drafting.

I also want to point out that this is in no way an indictment of the time and effort that every volunteer puts in to our league, either long term or short term. However, it is apparent that the motivation of some these volunteers goes beyond teaching and loving baseball…they want to win, and the current rules favor their ability to do just that.

I fail to see any logic that validates leagues continuing this practice. I have been told that this issue continues to come up for a vote at the National level, and continues to be shot down. I find this disturbing, as it runs counter to the mission of your organization;

By espousing the virtues of character, courage and loyalty, the Little League Baseball and Softball program is designed to develop superior citizens rather than superior athletes.

Lopsided games, angry parents, and de-motivated and disinterested players make developing “superior citizens” an unachievable task. You need to ensure that All-Star and Select teams be the place for scouting and plotting, and Little League be designed to give every player a fair chance to compete and learn every season…not the chosen few who fall to the right manager.
The two most obvious ways to solve this are fairly simple…a full re-draft every year by the managers or having the league commissioner choose teams without knowing which manager gets each team, who then randomly select which team they will get.

A re-draft ensures the league is about the players, while “keeper leagues” are all about the managers.

I appreciate your time and hope you consider this issue seriously.

Here was my response:
Dear ___,Thank you for your note. I understand that Little League gets people very emotional. However, before you pass judgment on someone’s background and their philosophy, it might be a good idea to learn more about them. Here is a link to an article I wrote that explains my experience as a “professional youth baseball coach,” which may show me in a different light than your assumption.

As for your thoughts on the merits or detriments to the titling system…please re-read my entire article on titling so you can see why I believe that system is more fair to players and gives more of them an opportunity to be on a good team. But here is a synopsis:

Every time a titled league has a team that wins a lion’s share of games, the parents on teams that did not win instantly blame the system as being unfairly biased toward experienced coaches. I “retired” from the board of my own local league two years ago and the new board members, much like you, were convinced that a re-draft system was much more equitable. The result? This season, in the first year of a complete re-draft, there were teams that won nearly every game and a team that went 2-15. There were lopsided scores, probably more so than in previous years. Every year in the Minors divisions that are re-drafted, the same disparity occurs. It is not the system, it is that some coaches do a better job drafting and coaching than others.

Consider this: You are an experienced coach like one you mention below. I am a “rookie” coming up from Minors to manage in Majors for the first time. You know all of the returning Majors players…I know none of them, only the new Minors players coming in. If we all start from scratch, then those first 4-5 draft picks are critical, (i.e. the pitchers, best hitters, etc.) It is more likely that I might make a mistake on some of those first few picks than you, since I’ve not been in the league. By the time it gets to the new kids who I do know better in the later rounds of the draft, you’ve already stacked a powerhouse team based on your experience.

However, if we are a titled league, then when I come up as a coach from Minors at least I inherit a foundation of returning players that should give me a chance to compete, even if I whiff on all of my draft picks. Plus, if you, as an experienced coach, won the league last year, then this year you’ll be drafting last every round, which gives me even more of a chance to build a competitive team. The idea with titling is that a kid who is on a losing team this year should have a chance to be on a winning team next year because his coach will be drafting the better players. I agree, it doesn’t always work that way, but that is not because of the system.

Again, if you read my article, you’ll see I list many more reasons I believe titling to be the better way to go, and none of them are that it gives experienced coaches a greater opportunity to win. Yet I always find it interesting when people who are against titling because of a competitive imbalance point to things like, (By espousing the virtues of character, courage and loyalty, the Little League Baseball and Softball program is designed to develop superior citizens rather than superior athletes). Where does it say anything in that quote about wins and losses? Can’t a league, a coach, develop superior citizens even on a losing team? If that is what Little League is about, then does it really matter the score, or the record?  Again, I understand your frustration and don’t mean to preach. It is never fun to go through a season where a team has no chance to win. But to reiterate, that will happen in both systems.

My favorite aspect of titling is the leadership it fosters. Nothing was better than when, in the first practice of the new season, returning players would show up wearing their caps from last year’s team and we’d introduce all of the “rookies.” Then I’d ask our returning “veterans” to take everyone out into the outfield and show the new kids how we stretch and warm up. I wasn’t coaching the team at that point – the kids were. You’d see a 12-year old who may have been a marginal player last year puff out his chest and get a gleam in his eye because he was the big-shot now. And this cycle repeated year after year. That, to me, is what Little League is most about, not wins and losses.

Thanks again for your note and your passion for youth baseball.

Best regards,