LITTLE LEAGUE CHANGES THE GAME WITH NEW RULES, ESPECIALLY AS TO BATS
By Steve Kallas
Little League baseball has instituted several new rules for the 2017 Little League season. But the biggest change is with respect to a virtual total revamping of Little League bats, which will go into effect on January 1, 2018 and, in virtually all cases, will require the parent of a Little Leaguer to buy a new, often times expensive, Little League bat for the 2018 season. Since the new bat rules are probably the biggest change, we will deal with those first. (To view the new bat rules and the new 2017 Little League play rules, go to littleleague.org.)
HERE COME THE NEW BATS….EXCEPT THAT YOU CAN’T BUY ONE YET
Beginning on January 1, 2018, Little League Baseball is revamping baseball bats to be used in all leagues except Tee Ball and Senior Leagues. That is, Little League is adopting the so-called USA Baseball bat standard, which is supposed to mandate the use of non-wood bats which are supposed to be similar to wood.
To begin with, as Rick Wolff and this writer have argued for years, if you’d like to have kids play with a wood-like bat standard, then simply have the kids use wood bats. Despite Little League’s protestations on their website that wood is “scarce,” it is submitted that having kids play with wood would develop them as better hitters and be safer. While Little League has insisted for years that the aluminum, alloy and composite bats are not more dangerous than wood, virtually anybody who has coached, watched or played Little League baseball can obviously see the difference.
While it’s better than it once was, non-wood bats are still more dangerous than wood bats, in the opinion of this writer and many others.
SO, WHAT’S THE CHANGE?
Beginning in 2018, if you play in the Little League Minors, Majors or Junior division, you will need to have a bat that has the new USA Baseball mark. This mark is a new invention intended to make non-wood bats more like wood bats in terms of ball speed off the bat.
The only exception to this rule is, if you used an accepted one-piece wood bat in 2017, you will be able to use that one-piece wood bat in 2018 (believe it or not, there are multiple two-piece wood bats that must have the USA Baseball mark to be used in 2018, which basically means you have to buy a new bat).
Likewise, EVERY aluminum, alloy and composite bat MUST be replaced for the 2018 season. To this day, you can still buy 2017 bats (at discounted prices in many instances as stores try to get rid of their inventory) that become “garbage” (in terms of one parent’s comment at JustBats.com) as of January 1, 2018. In addition, most, if not all, of these bat sales do not tell you that the bat you bought in 2017 (or the bat you still may be inclined to buy for fall ball in a few months) is worthless and cannot be used in Little League in 2018.
As of this past June, according to JustBats.com, no bat manufacturer had instituted any kind of trade-in of a 2017 bat for a 2018 bat.
Very sad – and a terrible rip-off. To get a true sense of what many parents are thinking, go to JustBats.com and look at the 45 or so questions/comments pages where many parents let their feelings be known.
To recap: other than an accepted one-piece wood bat, every other bat used in Little League in 2017 is unusable in 2018. To make matters worse, there are currently no 2018 bats on the market today. You can’t buy one now.
Most estimates are that the new bats for 2018, which have that mandatory USA Baseball mark, will begin to be sold in September of 2017.
Finally, and this is for another time, Little League has approved two different barrel sizes for Little League bats – 2 and 1/4 inches and 2 and 5/8 inches. This, and an additional part of the new rule that eliminates drop limits on these new bats, raises additional questions.
A BRIEF PRIMER OF 2017 NEW LITTLE LEAGUE RULES
There are other rules, new for 2017 that should be looked at:
- SPEEDING UP THE GAME – KEEPING ONE FOOT IN THE BATTER’S BOX
Little League is attempting to speed up the game by implementing a rule that states that a batter must keep one foot in the batter’s box during his/her at-bat. While an interesting idea, which was tried in three games during the 2016 Little League World Series, the rule raises a potential can of worms.
For starters, there are eight (count them, eight!) exceptions to the rule. Given how much is already put on the plate of an umpire, this, in and of itself, could cause problems.
For example, one exception is when a batter checks his swing. If he does, he’s allowed to step out of the box. Another exception occurs when a play is “attempted.” OK, so a lefty batter is up and a runner on first goes to steal second. If the catcher (almost always a righty) throws down to second, the batter had better get out of the way. But what about if a catcher fakes a throw – is that a “play?” The rules are unclear. And how does the plate umpire watch all of this?
In any event, the umpire warns the batter after one violation and then calls a strike on the batter for any additional violation of the rule. Remember, the umpire has to go through eight exceptions in his mind before he can issue a warning or call a strike.
Interestingly, a good umpire can move the game along without this rule. He can simply encourage kids not to step out of the box, to hustle in and out between innings. Or, he can leave it to the coaches to tell their teams what is expected both in the box and in hustling in and out between innings.
To dump all of this on an already overloaded umpire (including complaints from both teams parents and coaches, etc.) is asking a lot of, often times, volunteer umpires.
This rule is optional for local leagues (they vote on whether to implement it or not) but will be mandatory in the Williamsport tournament.
- SPEEDING UP THE GAME – INTENTIONAL WALK
This rule is for the Minor and Major divisions of Little League. Like Major League Baseball, you can now walk a batter intentionally without throwing any pitches. One interesting sidelight to this rule is that four pitches will be added to the Little League pitcher’s pitch count, even though he/she doesn’t actually throw a pitch.
As with MLB, in this writer’s opinion, the no-pitch intentional walk rule saves merely seconds or a minute in a game – not a very long period of time. But, in Little League, where both hitter and pitcher are trying to learn how to play the game, this could hurt both sides.
For example, you might want to walk the big kid or the great hitter more frequently. You don’t risk a wild pitch or anything like that. You take the bat out of the hands of a kid who is trying to improve as a hitter.
Yes, we know that, for many coaches (unfortunately), winning is everything, something that you can’t totally eliminate from Little League baseball. But to take the bat out of a kid’s hands simply because he’s a good hitter is sad at the 8, 10, 12-year-old level.
As for the four pitches added to the pitch count without pitching, presumably this was done so a manager can’t keep his pitcher in longer and, maybe, will be a deterrent to actually intentionally walking people. But these smart managers might just bring in a pitcher to walk a guy intentionally, thus nullifying the (maybe) intention of the rule.
- STEALING AND RELAYING OF PITCH SELECTION AND LOCATION
In 2017, stealing and relaying of pitch selection and location to alert a batter is deemed unsportsmanlike behavior. If the umpire believes this is happening, both the player and the manager may be ejected from the game.
This is another difficult rule to implement and it places another burden on the umpire. While stealing signs is a part of baseball, you’d like to think that 10-year olds, et al, are not going to be taught by managers to steal signs.
On the one hand, it’s “part of the game.” On the other, it’s probably best to wait until these kids are older before they start to steal signs. Having said that, is it OK to steal the third base coach’s bunt or steal sign (as opposed to pitch location)? Again, interesting issues arise.
This rule is optional for local little leagues but will be mandatory in the 2017 Williamsport tournament.
- ON-FIELD ALTERCATIONS
In 2017, Little League is giving guidance to help umpires with respect to fights and physical altercations. According to this language, a manager, coach or player shall not leave wherever they are on the bench or field during a fight or physical confrontation. If one does, and, in the umpire’s judgment, he/she does it to prevent a fight or restore order, this would not be a violation.
Again, like virtually all of these new rules, although perhaps well-intentioned, it would be hard for any coach or manager to stand still if there’s a fight going on. More pressure on the umpire to determine what the coach/manager is thinking/doing and you can bet that the coach who runs down from third base with every intention of breaking up a fight may have a different reaction if/when he gets pushed or punched.
Frankly, you might need more than an umpire to break up a real physical altercation and, often-times, tempers run high among coaches the older the kids playing are – you won’t see the intensity in a tee ball game that you will see in a Majors game.
It would be shocking if a coach literally did nothing and stood in a coach’s box when a fight breaks out. Again, more pressure on the ump and a call to all coaches to be right-minded, no matter what the perceived “stakes” are in that particular game.
While all of these rules have good intentions, they should be reviewed at the end of the season and tweaked where necessary. While everybody, for example, should hail the mandatory criminal background checks instituted in 2017 which eliminate participation of potential coaches with respect to crimes involving or against a minor or minors, one wonders whether that should be expanded to all crimes, especially felonies, that don’t involve a minor or minors.
And while the new USA Bat mark is being instituted by many leagues other than Little League, it has been poorly implemented, with many parents correctly upset that they just spent hundred(s) of dollars on a 2017 bat that will be worthless in a few months.
While some will argue it was well-publicized, all parents should have been told about this directly long before this season started. In any event, it would be nice if Little League and other leagues put some pressure on bat manufacturers and retail bat sellers to have a trade-in policy for the old bats and/or a discounted price policy for the new ones to help less fortunate people and even others who paid a small fortune for a bat this year.
COPYRIGHT 2017 BY STEVE KALLAS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED