Jones: Sportsmanship, Babe Ruth careers disappear

Monday, July 9, 2007

The number of incidents of poor sportsmanship and win-at-all-costs attitudes always seem to rise as tensions mount and the stakes get higher for players, coaches and fans during the Babe Ruth All-Star season.

Manchester coach Jeff Gilmer attempts to explain to Shelbyville pitcher Darrell Hardison why he insisted that Hardison be ejected from the game. (T-G Photo by Jimmy Jones)

Never was that more evident than at Looney Riddle Memorial Field in Manchester on Saturday evening, site of the Babe Ruth District 6 All-Star tournament.

The Shelbyville Babe Ruth 15-year-old All-Stars' season is over. Not because they were outhit or outpitched, but because they were outmaneuvered by adults with a decided agenda.

It ended when pitcher Darrell Hardison noticed that there was some sweat on the baseball and instinctively reached down and rubbed it in the dirt.

That move led to a 2:40 delay prompted by Manchester coach Jeff Gilmer's insistence that Hardison be ejected for his transgression despite the fact that his team had only a nine-man roster.

The incident began innocently enough in the top of the second inning. Having retired the first hitter and picking off a baserunner to record the second out. Hardison's first pitch to a Manchester hitter was fouled prompting a new ball to be put into the game.

Hardison, sweating profusely due to the 94-degree heat, got sweat on the ball, and did the most natural thing that he could do to dry it.

Home plate umpire Larry Miller then yelled across the diamond that he should not rub the ball up, and should he need it to be cleaned or rubbed, return it to home plate for him to perform the task.

He then placed his mask on and readied to call the next pitch as the opposing hitter stepped up to the plate.

The guy that has all of the control of the game had made his ruling. Obviously, he felt that there had been no intentional attempt to deface the ball to create an unfair advantage for the pitcher. At that point the game should proceed, right?

Wrong. Gilmer then charged the field, crossed the foul line into the field of play without a time out being asked for or issued and accosted the umpire, insisting that Hardison be removed from the game.

His antics caused an officials' huddle that ended in a consultation with the tournament director Randal Braker, who also doubles as the Manchester league president. Braker promptly ruled that the pitcher should be ejected and that the home team be declared the victors due to forfeit.

At no time was Gilmer's very public disregard for the rules discussed.

His decision created even more chaos as the Shelbyville coaches rushed to notify the umpires that they were protesting the game.

Officials and coaches retired to the press box and a number of phone calls were made to league executives trying to come to some kind of logical conclusion regarding Braker's ruling.

Bottom line -- Braker decided that he would make the call without benefit of a protest committee, in fact he made the statement that he was the protest committee, in direct violation of Babe Ruth tournament rules. The team that he spent the summer nurturing was indeed declared the victors.

There were, of course, no winners in this fiasco.

The Manchester kids and parents, who almost to a person registered their disgust with Gilmer's actions during the delay, lose because their program is better than this. They have a storied history and have always fielded competitive teams known for tenacious play. Championship banners are proudly displayed throughout the park and rightfully so.

No matter how far this particular team goes this season, it will be known for a decided lack of competitive spirit when all is said and done, all to satisfy one coach's inane desire to be "right".

Yes, a rule is a rule. Just so we are clear, the rule is written in such an ambiguous manner that it can be applied with a warning, the way that the umpire interpreted in this case initially, or it can be punitive in nature if he felt that the pitcher was scuffing the ball to make it have an unnatural movement when thrown.

Rule 3.02 says: No player shall intentionally discolor or damage the ball by rubbing it with soil, rosin, paraffin, licorice, sand-paper or other foreign substance.

Penalty: The umpire shall demand the ball and remove the offender from the game.

Rule 8.02 basically has the same verbiage with penalty for violation as follows:

A: The umpire shall call the pitch a ball, warn the pitcher and have announced over the public address system the reason for the action.

B: In the case of a second violation by the same pitcher in the same game, the pitcher shall be disqualified from the game.

Section E of the rule states: The umpire shall be sole judge on whether any portion of this rule has been violated.

The whole matter could have been concluded very simply. The home plate umpire could have just stuck to his initial ruling, told the coaches to get back into their dugouts and let the kids decide the outcome of the game between the lines.

Shelbyville coach Porter Hardison manned the phones for most of the night trying to make things right for his squad.

The results of his effort? After admitting that it was a poor decision on Braker's part, he was told by league executives that reversing the call would "just create too much of a problem."

Too much of a problem. Imagine that!

It has long been held that participation in sport can build character. This is based on the belief that moral values (I.e., honesty, fairness and respect) are the foundation of competitive sport and as a result, participation provides a unique platform for instilling moral character among its participants. However, paradoxically, there is an abundance of evidence to suggest many athletes and coaches favor "winning at all costs," no matter the consequences.

That is apparently the case in this instance.

Unfortunately, it was at the expense of the memories that the nine Bedford County kids will carry with them for the rest of their lives from their final Babe Ruth game. It ended in the most dubious manner imaginable -- adults with over-inflated egos deciding the outcome in some press box with rules being manipulated to their advantage by the very people entrusted to uphold them. Meanwhile, the skills that they worked so hard to develop and were so eager to display on the playing field were rendered inconsequential.

To make matters worse, it was just too much trouble to reverse the travesty and finish the game.

How do you think the Babe would have ruled on this issue?

Shame on you Mr. Gilmer and Mr. Braker. You got your win.

Shame on all of us for placing people like you in a position to allow you to perpetrate such a travesty.

It is no wonder that Babe Ruth baseball is in such a state of decline.

Jimmy Jones is a Times-Gazette sports writer. He can be contacted at