Author Archive

BOOK REVIEW: An Insider’s Guide for Aspiring Baseball Players

The title of the book is JUST BASEBALL: A Guide to Navigating the World of Baseball Recruitment for Players and Parents.

And playing off the title is the author’s name, Mike Just, who was a star player at Liberty University before embarking on a career in professional baseball in the independent professional leagues. That  background suggests to me that Mike received a first-rate education at how college and professional baseball operate when it comes to scouting and signing talent.

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CONCUSSION PREVENTION: New Protective Catcher Helmet is Finding Support

First, an important disclaimer. Let me just say that this is not a commercial endorsement. does not receive any compensation from Force3 Pro Gear, nor do we have any relationship with the company.

That being said, if your son or daughter plays baseball or softball, and is a catcher, or for that matter, an umpire, you might want to check out the Force3 Defender mask as a marked improvement in protecting them from concussions. The mask has been adopted by pro and amateur several leagues, including the South Atlantic Baseball League and Babe Ruth baseball and Cal Ripken Baseball.

What makes the Force3 Defender mask different from traditional masks is that any blow to the mask, such as from a fouled pitch, is strongly cushioned by strong and resilient coils. It’s worth taking a look. Check out the website at


TWO TEENAGE DISASTERS: Both Could Have Been Prevented

There were two most unfortunate incidents this past week in youth sports, and the sad part is that both could have easily been prevented if only a little forethought had been present.

The first occurred with the Little League Softball championship playoffs, or Junior League Softball World Series as it’s called.

A Snapchat photo that went viral caused tremendous embarrassment to all concerned, and it resulted in a team being disqualified for the national championship game. The photo featured 6 girls (ages 12-14) from the Atlee, VA, team posing, with all of making an obscene gesture (middle fingers raised),in a kind of threat against their next opponent, Kirkland, WA.

This took place just as Atlee was about to square off with the tournament host team (Kirkland). By all accounts, it was a heated and tense game. And when the game was over, Atlee emerged as the victorious team.  That meant they would advance to the championship game the next day, a game that would be televised nationally by ESPN.

But there was the matter of that awful photo, which, to be sure, was the essence of poor sportsmanship.

The head coach of the Virginia team didn’t even know about this photo, but as soon as he did, he immediately reprimanded the players who were involved – it was not his entire team – only about 5 or 6 girls. And he insisted the players apologize to the host team in person.

But the coach also didn’t think it was fair for his entire team to be bounced out of the championship game due to this momentary lapse in teenage judgment. In short, this was another case of social media announcing teenage stupidity where none of those 6 girls thought ahead about the consequences of their actions.

Little League Baseball intervened, and decided to disqualify the entire Virginia team. They were not allowed to play in the championship game due to their inappropriate behavior. Atlee was dismissed, and LL Baseball decided to promote the losing Kirkland team to the championship game instead.

Joe Heinzmann, who’s an attorney and who’s been long involved in LL coaching and administration, was my guest this AM, and he pointed out how unfair this solution was. He first said that there were at least 6 or 7 girls on the Atlee team who were not in the photo, and that it wasn’t fair to ruin their dreams of playing for a championship because some of their teammates were short-sighted dunces. Joe suggested that LL Baseball might have ruled that Atlee play those other 7 girls, and play the offending girls as minimally as possible in the championship game.

The other concern was that the Kirkland team had sportsmanship issues of their own. In their game against Atlee, the Kirkland coach and a player had been ejected from the contest by an umpire for trying to steal signs from Atlee. But apparently, that lack of sportsmanship and etiquette didn’t matter to LL Baseball; Kirkland was allowed to overlook that —  as well as their loss to Atlee -and advance to the championship affair. They lost, by the way, 7-1.

C’mon, LL Baseball, you’ve got to do better than that. Or, just have the guts to tell ESPN that neither of these two teams had the right to advance to the championship game because neither squad exhibited good sportsmanship.

After all, good sportsmanship — isn’t that what LL Baseball/Softball is all about?


At least with the softball incident, no one was killed.

Josh Mileto, 16, a junior football at Sachem HS East (NY) was not so fortunate.

The details are still coming forth, but apparently he was subjected to a drill in a summer football camp in which a very heavy log – something like a telephone pole – is carried by several players over their heads. The purpose, from what I understand, is to not only to build arm and shoulder strength, but also to build a sense of team trust, that is – for players to learn how to work and trust your teammates in a unified act.

Apparently, this drill is adapted from a similar drill that NAVY Seals do in their training.

But all that being said, clearly something totally disastrous took place.  During the drill, the 400 pound pole fell on Josh and killed him.

Obviously, this was an accident. But the outrage and anger has been palpable. Questions such as: was the drill supervised by adult coaches? And if so, couldn’t they see that the pole was going to be too heavy? Bear in mind that Josh was small by football standards: 5’6 and 135 pounds. And how many other teammates were carrying the pole? Safety experts have said that you need at least 8 strong bodies to do this.

From what I have read in the media, this drill is not all that popular with football coaches, simply because of the risks involved. But those concerns are moot now, as this boy was killed.

Again, wouldn’t a little advance forethought worked here? Couldn’t someone in charge recognize that this was going to be a bad, and dangerous, idea?If someone had, then I wouldn’t be writing about the death of a 16-year-old football player.

This has nothing to do with sports and assumption of the risk of getting hurt. That has to do with plain old common sense.

Legal liability? As Joe Heinzmann made clear on the show, the Sachem School District will have to confront this accidental death. None of the coaches will be held personally liable.

But of course, no amount of money will bring this youngster back to his family and friends.


As a parent or a coach, if you teach the power of thinking ahead and the consequence of one’s actions, that may be the most important lesson of all.


GAME OFFICIALS: The Shortage of Refs and Umps Continues to Climb

An Update On the National Referee Shortage:

Abuse, Frustration, and Alarm

By Doug Abrams

Nearly every week brings another news article about youth league and interscholastic sports programs that struggle to maintain game schedules and promote player safety despite diminishing numbers of referees. In many communities from coast to coast, referee shortages worsen with each season.

The steady stream of news articles identifies various barriers that challenge efforts to replace seasoned officials who retire. Pay remains relatively low, for example. Family commitments may deflect potential recruits who are raising young children. Younger recruits may soon move away to pursue career opportunities elsewhere. Weekday afternoon games may interfere with full-time employment.

These barriers are real, but the news articles identify another barrier that stands out above the rest. Large numbers of new referees soon quit, frustrated by the incessant verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse routinely dished out by parents and coaches. In earlier columns, I explained why local sports programs feel alarm about the potential impact of acute referee shortages.;

The earlier columns featured media commentary from across the nation. To provide an update with the fall sports season approaching, this column surveys some of the most recent news articles, ones that have appeared since early May. By now, these thoughtful articles recite a consistent formula — abuse, frustration, and alarm.

Abuse, Frustration, and Alarm

In the Journal Review (Crawfordsville, Ind.) just three weeks ago, writer Jim Johnson asked pointedly, “Are We Nearing Crisis Mode With a Shortage of Athletic Officials?” An Indiana high school activities association administrator told him that the “biggest issue is the way [referees are] treated . . . from coaches, players and parents.” Johnson sounded the alarm that unless civil, respectful treatment displaces abuse, “[t]he days when games are canceled or postponed because officials aren’t available could come sooner rather than later.”

“They’re Out! Umps, Refs Have Had Enough of Your Yelling.” Under this provocative Idaho Statesman headline, Michael Katz quotes a local volleyball commissioner who pinpoints mounting frustration at fan abuse: “Parents are getting worse. They are more mouthy, and they don’t care if they try to come down and get in [an official’s] face.” Katz says that “[a] few bad experiences . . . make it hard to sell someone on officiating a high school game, much less continuing at the youth level.”

The Washington Times’ Deron Snyder writes that parental and coaching “abuse is a major reason fewer young adults gravitate to officiating.” He says that “[a] nationwide shortage of high school referees is causing alarm for administrators.” “Organized sports,” Snyder warns, “would die without the men and women who don stripes or blue uniforms.”

Writing in the Daily Record (Wooster, Ohio), Mike Plant quotes a veteran local official who sounded the alarm about the potential impact of referee shortages on such sports as track and field, volleyball, and softball. “If we keep going at this pace, there won’t be any games in these sports because there won’t be any officials.”
Two recent Washington Post articles sum up the national portrait. Under the headline, “Verbal Abuse From Parents, Coaches is Causing a Referee Shortage in Youth Sports,” Nick Eilerson blames “a deeply cutthroat sports culture, one that often holds amateur referees to a professional standard.” Matt Bonesteel writes that more and more high school referees quit each year, frustrated by “parents and coaches screaming for your head while you do a job that isn’t exactly going to make anyone rich.”

Scheduling and Safety

What should youth sports advocates make of all this? Even casual observers grow alarmed when games are postponed, rescheduled, or even canceled for lack of available officials. Or when parents or coaches dish out abuse in front of their young athletes.

But another cause for alarm — heightened safety risks — can escape the untrained eye. Especially in contact and collision sports, chronic shortages of experienced officials summon alarm by increasing the risk of injury to players, including ones who compete by the rules. “To be effective for promoting safety,” says a recent medical study, a sport’s rules “must be enforced rigorously and consistently by referees and leagues.” Parents and coaches assume enforcement roles, but referees are the primary enforcers once the game starts. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports consensus among medical professionals that “[o]fficials controlling the physicality of the game . . . can . . . play significant roles in reducing contact injuries.”

This essential control can suffer when so many referees quit each year. Many replacement refs are simply not ready for the responsibilities cast on them. Without the premature departures of so many seasoned veterans, many of the replacements trying to control the game would not yet be on the field.

Most parents and coaches do not stoop to verbal or physical abuse of officials, but news articles uniformly point out the errant minority’s harmful influence. Actions have consequences. Parents and coaches often get the quality of officiating they deserve, and program vitality and player safety may depend on the outcome.


Sources: Jim Johnson, Are We Nearing Crisis Mode With a Shortage of Athletic Officials?, Journal Review (Crawfordsville, Ind.), July 26, 2017; Michael Katz, They’re Out! Umps, Refs Have Had Enough Of Your Yelling, Idaho Statesman, June 12, 2017; Deron Snyder, Youth Sports Have Everything, Except People Who Want To Officiate Them, Washington Times, July 31, 2017; Mike Plant, Officials Wanted, Needed, Daily Record (Wooster, Ohio), June 25, 2017; Nick Eilerson, Verbal Abuse From Parents, Coaches Is Causing a Referee Shortage In Youth Sports, Washington Post, June 16, 2017; Matt Bonesteel, Are We Running Out of High School Referees?, Washington Post, May 19, 2017; Charles H. Tator et al., Spinal Injuries in Canadian Ice Hockey: An Update to 2005, 19 Clin. J. Sport Med. 451 (2009); Chris G. Kouteres & Andrew J.M. Gregory, Injuries in Youth Soccer, 125 Pediatrics 410 (Feb. 2010).


EVERYBODY GETS A TROPHY: Half of All Graduating HS Seniors Have an A Average?

There was an article that ran in USA TODAY recently that caught my eye, and I have to confess, it reminded me of the old “everyone gets a trophy” debate.

And what’s curious about this article is that it has nothing – at least on the surface – to do with sports or sports parenting in this country.

But the more I read it, the more I wondered whether this is somehow linked to our national epidemic of parents intervening on behalf of their kids when their kids are not achieving the results what the parents had hoped for.

Okay let me explain:

In short, the article said that half of all US HS senior now graduate with an A average….47% to be exact.

Now think about that. All of us grew up in a school system where the very best students received an A…then there were B grades….C meant average…D below average and so on.

But traditionally, the grading system was set up so that maybe the top 10 percent of the class received A’s.

And here’s the catch on this: because if it’s true that our students are now so smart that half of them are truly A students upon graduation, well, then, we really have something to crow about!

But the USA TODAY article goes on to explain that despite this rise in academic grading, the truth is that the objective standardized tests that our country uses…the SAT…well, those scores are actually going down.

That means that despite the fact the more HS students are getting A’s, the truth is that – according to their SAT scores — they’re really not doing as well  as a generation ago.

What does this mean? I mean, I know I’m old school, but to me, this study suggests that perhaps as more and more sports parents are intervening with their kids’ HS and middle school sports careers, maybe the same thing is happening with their academics.

That is, if a youngster comes home with a report card that isn’t covered with A’s, then the parents decide that the teacher is at fault, and they go battle the educator or threaten a lawsuit rather than sit down with their son or daughter to see why they’re not studying or reading more at home. And as several teachers said on my show this AM, rather than engage in endless squabbles with the parents or their kids regarding grades, the teachers often cave in – and give them what they want…an A.

In a day and age where seemingly every kid grows up and expects a trophy, are we reaching a point where every kid should also get an A?

I worry that perhaps that along the way, some of the more fundamental lessons of teaching a youngster a sense of work ethic….of how to study properly….of getting a real sense of what it means to put in solid effort and then being rewarded with a top grade….are we losing those valuable  lessons for our kids?


Curiously, in 1998 – about 20 years ago –  only 39 percent of HS seniors had an A average. So clearly, at least on the surface, it would seem our kids must be getting smarter – because more kids are getting A’s.

Except….that the national average on SAT tests have actually gone in the other direction: they have dropped from a national average of 1026 out of 1600 to 1002!

Clearly if our kids were getting smarter, then the SAT scores would be going up, not down.

I am wondering if this trend is emblematic of our nation’s parental obsession with every kid gets a trophy mentality, and if more and more parents are meddling with their kids’ teachers in school to get better grades.

A few years ago, I recall reading where in a HS in Texas, the graduating class had 37 valedictorians…37! Apparently they all had straight A averages, and were all tied for having the best GPA in school. I mean, really? Is that possible?

Yes, I know getting into a top college is more competitive than ever these days…but if we’re at a point where half the graduating seniors have an A average, then perhaps the time has come to just focus on objective tests like the SAT or ACT.

Now, In terms of athletes, I wonder if this cultural mindset for excellence is affecting their approach to assuming that they’re going to make a varsity team…or will be good enough to play in college….or in general, just skew their attitude towards sports and personal accomplishment.


I also want to point out from this USA TODAY article:

O The research strongly suggests that much of the grade inflation occurs in primarily white and affluent school districts

O That in private schools, the rate of inflation is about three times higher than in public schools

O And the percentage of HS students receiving an overall B average is at 44%….that means, if 47% of the kids are getting A’s, and 44% are getting Bs, only about 9 % of all HS students are graduating with a C average.

Again, this particular show was a bit of a stretch from sports parenting….but then, again, when it comes to sports parents and expecting their kid to succeed in both sports and in school, maybe this program was right on target.

DADS AS SPORTS PARENTS: Everything I Learned About Youth Sports I Learned from My Father

My Dad —  Hall of Fame Sportscaster Bob Wolff – passed away two weeks ago at the age of 96.

My father was one of those rare individuals who knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He loved sports, and he loved talking about them on the air. And he not only had the good fortune to call a bunch of famous games in his life (e.g. Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, the Colts-Giants 1958 overtime NFL championship game, the NY Knicks only two NBA championships, etc) but he set a record along the way recognized by Guinness that he was the longest running sportscaster of all time. Dad broadcast sporting events from 1939 when he was a sophomore at Duke on the local CBS radio station in Durham, NC, right up until June of this year. That’s a run of 78 years.

But for the Wolff family, Dad always made it clear that as much fun as he had broadcasting professional and collegiate sporting events, nothing gave him more satisfaction than watching his own three kids play competitive sports. My older brother Bob was a highly successful pitcher in HS and at Princeton in the late 1960s before going on to a distinguished career as a pediatric neurologist. My sister Margy may have been the best natural athlete in the family, and starred in HS basketball. She would have been a three-sport star except that she was in school just before Title IX was passed.

And most of you know of my own background as a record-setting wide receiver and shortstop in HS before going onto play at Harvard and then drafted and signed by the Detroit Tigers after my junior year.

In short, it was my father who taught me everything I know about youth sports. On my radio show this AM, I tried to pay tribute to him by asking listeners what kinds of life-long lessons had their own Dads pass onto them. The response was substantial.


When I was a kid – like any youngster – I wanted to learn how to hit a baseball well…how to shoot a basketball….how to throw a spiral with a football…how to run a pass pattern…how to play pepper with a bat and ball….and so much more.

I also wondered about the intricate rules of the sports I played….like the infield fly rule…or why football teams always punted on fourth down….or how to set up an effective zone defense in basketball…or better yet, how to break a zone defense.

And like kids everywhere, I found out that cheating in sports just wasn’t accepted or allowed….and that being a good sport when you lose is not easy.

But all of these lessons – -and many, many more – didn’t come to me naturally or instinctively.

Rather, they all came from conversations from my father. Perhaps you’re a Dad now yourself…what kinds of lessons are you imparting to your kids?

What are your top priorities? How do you teach them?

How do you react when things aren’t going well for them?

Are you a sideline yeller and screamer?

My suggestion is to give some serious thought as to what kind of impact you’re having on your son and daughter.



My Dad was all about praise…that is, long before I had ever heard of John Wooden, my father would use praise and more praise in order to motivate me.

If I had a bad day at the plate, rather than castigate me or belittle me, my father would take just the opposite approach, and point out how tough the pitcher was….or that I was actually making good adjustments, and if only I had gotten one more at-bat, he was certain I would hit a line-drive double.

Somehow, those words of encouragement kept me going.

I recall playing in a college summer league game one hot, Sunday afternoon. I was a right handed batter, and I was facing a kid who wasn’t all that big and he didn’t throw all that hard. But he had a tremendous curve ball.

As much as I tried to make adjustments at the plate, he struck me out 4 times in a row. Mind you, I was 19 at the time…and I had never looked so bad in a game in my life! I was convinced that any chance of playing pro ball was now gone.

But on the long car ride home, my Dad pointed out that the pitcher did indeed possess a really good deuce…and that while I needed to learn how to slap the pitch the other way, that I shouldn’t be that tough on myself. He was calm…patient…and encouraging.

Well…fast forward a few years…that righthanded pitcher I faced that afternoon? He was from St. John’s University – his name was Steve Ratzer – and Steve not only signed a pro contract, but he actually made it all the way through the minors to the bigs, all because of that great curve ball.

In other words, apparently I wasn’t the only opposing batter who had a hard time facing him. But again, it was my Dad who helped me get over that 4-strike out performance.

So praise and encouragement are high on the list…and they should be on yours as well – especially when your youngster has a tough day.



My Dad was a big believer in preparation and hard work...that is, if you wanted to shine in the classroom OR on the athletic field, you needed to prepare in advance so that you COULD shine. That meant working hard to get into top shape….to be ready at the drop of a hat…to show the coaches that you really COULD play and prove it to them.

Hard work and preparation….those two lessons have remained with me for my entire adult life – and go far beyond just trying to make the team in sports or trying to beat out the competition. These are truly life lessons….and I’m grateful that my father explained to me why this approach works. Because the truth is, they really do work.



My Dad used to explain to me as a kid that fair play is essential to making one’s victory have real substance and meaning.

That is, if the other team was short-handed, or didn’t have their top players on hand that day, or somehow their team wasn’t at their  best – well, it was nice to come away with a win….but in the end, a victory like that somehow didn’t feel as good as a win when you truly defeated that opponent when they were at full strength.

When you did that….that was something to be proud of.

The same philosophy applied to those tournaments where sometimes coaches try to navigate around a tough opponent in order to advance. My father never understood that approach – that is, if you want to be the best, then you have to BEAT the best.

These days, when I hear about coaches – and kids – sometimes looking for short cuts to advance, well, it’s not really cheating…but you do wonder about whether the win is worth boasting about. In other words, when you come away with a big win in sports, it means that much more knowing you beat the best.


Look, being a sport parent – as I have said many times on my show – is a lot more complicated and difficult these days than ever before….and not only is it a challenge for a parent to navigate all of this, it’s even more bewildering for a kid.

That’s why you really need to give some conscious thought as to what you want your son and daughter to take away from their years of playing sports.


The outpouring of love and support for my Dad has been overwhelming to both me and my family,and we are eternally grateful. The truth is, my Dad was a tremendously talented sportscaster who took great pride in his work and his work ethic. But as anybody will tell you who ever met my father, as good as he was a sportscaster, he was an even better human being.


LEARNING FROM ADVERSITY: Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts on Sportsmanship

Chief Justice Roberts on Lessons Learned from Adversity

By Doug Abrams

 This is a brief guest column. The guest is John G. Roberts Jr., Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Much has been written lately about “helicopter parents,” mothers and fathers who strive to shield their children from all adversity in sports and other activities. Tom Izzo, Michigan State University’s successful head basketball coach, expressed concern in a radio interview earlier this year. The recent Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee said that, “We’re creating a system that we’re never teaching a kid how to fight through [tough times].”

Last month, Chief Justice Roberts spoke at his son’s ninth grade commencement at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, New Hampshire. His text has appeared in various media outlets. Here is what the Chief Justice told the graduates about how experiencing, and learning from, adversity builds character:

“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”

The Washington Post is right: “The best thing Chief Justice Roberts wrote this term wasn’t a Supreme Court opinion.”

Sources: Chris Vannini, “Tom Izzo: We’re Creating a System Where Kids Don’t Learn to Handle Adversity,” (Apr. 13, 2017); Katie Reilly, “’I Wish You Bad Luck.’ Read Supreme Court Justice John Roberts’ Unconventional Speech to His Son’s Graduating Class, Time, July 5, 2017; Robert Barnes, “The Best Thing Chief Justice Roberts Wrote This Term Wasn’t a Supreme Court Opinion,” Wash. Post, July 2, 2017.


DANGERS OF LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL: What You Need to Know About the New Rule Changes


                                                                     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


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.


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 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, 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 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.


There are other rules, new for 2017 that should be looked at:



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.



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.



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.



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.









ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Calculating the Hidden Costs to Our Kids’ Sports Programs

 What Parents’ and Coaches’ Abuse of Referees Costs Families

By Doug Abrams

In the past few weeks, the Washington Post featured two thoughtful articles that shine the spotlight on a growing problem that plagues youth sports from coast to coast. Under the headline, “Verbal Abuse From Parents, Coaches is Causing a Referee Shortage in Youth Sports,” writer Nick Eilerson explains that in high schools and community youth leagues alike, the lion’s share of abuse stems from “a deeply cutthroat sports culture, one that often holds amateur referees to a professional standard.”

In the second article, Post writer Matt Bonesteel says that growing numbers of seasoned high school referees hang up their whistles each year, frustrated with “parents and coaches screaming for your head while you do a job that isn’t exactly going to make anyone rich.”

The referees’ frustration is not fanciful. As I coached youth hockey and watched other teams’ games over the years, I heard parents in the stands and coaches behind the bench hurl insults at referees that no self-respecting adult would hurl at the family dog. Physical confrontations with referees, instigated by parents or coaches, were less common but did happen.

In the past few years, the Washington Post and several other media sources have reported the results. Youth sports programs have had a tough time recruiting new referees, many of whom drop out after about a year or two because they too grow unwilling to endure abuse from parents and coaches. Chronic shortages of referees have reportedly caused some youth leagues and high school conferences to postpone or reschedule games, or even to cancel some games.

In a recent column, I discussed how continuing attrition in the refereeing ranks can endanger player safety in high school and community youth league play, particularly in collision and contact sports. When veteran referees tired of running the gauntlet quit in droves each year, some games are left to less seasoned replacements who might not yet be ready to maintain the game control essential for player safety. That column appears at

This column focuses on community youth leagues and not high schools. Adults’ chronic abuse of referees can hurt youth leaguers in two additional ways unrelated to player safety. Both ways concern money.

First, unstemmed abuse of referees from parents and coaches may indirectly limit the access of some children to community sports programs by increasing registration fees beyond what some families feel they can pay. Second, this abuse can require families, once they register, to divert money that they could otherwise spend more fruitfully on their children in other pursuits.

Limiting Access

First, access. . . . In high school sports, coaches and referees are typically paid for their service, which is only fair because most high school coaches are paid for theirs. As part of the curriculum, interscholastic sports receives funding from taxes or private tuitions.

In community youth leagues, however, coaches typically volunteer but referees typically get paid. Unless time is more valuable to referees than to coaches, why the difference?

The answer may affect the access of many children to community sports in the first place. In my community youth hockey leagues over the years, referees’ fees accounted for a quarter or more of a family’s annual registration fee; only ice-time rental typically accounted for more. The percentages allocated to referees’ fees can probably be even higher in sports such as baseball or soccer because field time is typically not so expensive.

We are talking here about a few hundred dollars per family for each player, which is not pocket change for many families. Particularly in sports with high start-up costs for equipment and uniforms, I wonder whether more children would be able to enroll in community programs with volunteer referees.

Parents juggling the family budget typically seek savings where they can, so why don’t more community youth leagues reduce registrations fees by encouraging volunteer referees? Perhaps much of the answer is that most prospective referees will not volunteer to bear the brunt of verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse from parents and coaches. Parents and coaches pay for their misconduct. Even referees who are motivated primarily be a desire to remain active with sports and kids, and not by a desire for extra income, would think twice about donating their time for bitter returns from hostile adults.

Many parents nowadays struggle to assure their children’s participation in sports by sacrificing elsewhere in the family budget. Volunteerism might be a real option if more parents and coaches would treat referees as who they are — public-spirited citizens who help bring sports into children’s lives — and not as error-prone antagonists.


Second, avoidable expense. . . . More and more youth leagues now require parents and coaches to attend pre-season meetings aimed at educating the adults about civility, respect, and sportsmanship. Here is another potential agenda item: By helping attendees understand how expensive their lack of self-control can be, community youth leagues might be able to help contain registration fees by enlisting volunteer referees if they enlist volunteer coaches. If a community’s sports culture were ever to displace crudity with civility, parents could spend the annual savings on their children in more constructive ways.

Sources: Nick Eilerson, Verbal  Abuse From Parents, Coaches Is Causing a Referee Shortage in Youth Sports, Wash. Post, June 16, 2017; Matt Bonesteel, Are We Running Out of High School Referees?, Wash. Post, May 19, 2017.


DISCIPLINE ISSUES: An Ongoing Issue for Parents, Coaches, and Kids

This is a topic that doesn’t seem to be discussed all that much these days. And yet, it’s an issue that continues to be a real concern for coaches, athletic directors, parents, and of course the athletes.

I’m talking about the art of disciplining athletes, especially HS and travel team athletes.

What do you do if you’re a parent…or if you’re the coach…of an athlete who does something that he or she shouldn’t have done? How do you dole out a punishment? How do you even figure out the right punishment?

More importantly, how do you teach the youngster a sense of right from wrong – so that he or she doesn’t make the same mistake again. And ideally, their teammates will learn from the mistakes of their peer.

Now, I know we live in a high-tech, app-driven world these days, and our kids are all about embracing the latest technology and adopting new trends in sports. And imposing discipline is most definitely Old School.

But unfortunately, as the Parent or the Coach, you have to lay down the law AND enforce the punishment.  It’s not easy and it’s not fun. But it’s important to teach life-long lessons that go far beyond the playing fields.

The problem is – -discipline and subsequent punishments are often complicated. That is:

If you punish your star player before a big game, and decide to bench him… that fair to the rest of the kids on the team who desperately need him to help win? Should that even be a consideration?

What about using alternative punishments? That is…okay, I’m not going to bench you or suspend you…but you will have to perform community service…or run extra laps….or something else as your punishment. But you can still play in the big game.

Does that kind of alternative punishment have the right and desired impact….or is it missing the mark?

There were a number of excellent calls this AM. Several of them made it clear that the coach has to be consistent and strong in meting out tough punishments. If a kid violates the team’s or school’s rules, and the right punishment is to be benched, then the coach needs to do that even if it means missing the biggest game of the year.

One coach related the story that he found an alternative punishment for one of his star players just so the kid wouldn’t miss the big game…and the move totally backfired. The kid had missed practice before a big game due to a senior prom a few days earlier. The coach said he learned the hard way from not sticking to his guns. The following year, not one but 8 of his players blew off practice before a big game, claiming they were still exhausted from prom night a few nights earlier.

As I discussed this coaching nightmare with this caller, I also heard from Coach Tom. Tom is from North Arlington, NJ, who is a loyal listener and always has great insights, and he made it clear that coaches have to be consistent with their decisions, they need to run big punishments in advance with the AD so that the AD is not caught off-guard, and that the coach needs to have the courage to follow through. I couldn’t agree more.


Now, there are lots and lots of examples to choose from, but I was recently made aware of a situation that occurred this past March. According to a variety of police reports, the New Canaan HS baseball team decided to have a beer party a few days before their season opened.

Of course, buying alcohol in CT is illegal unless you’re 21, and even though the beer was served in one of the player’s homes….well, that doesn’t make this any better. In addition, there were other disturbing events that occurred at that party. But I just want to focus on what happened to the baseball players.

Once the police arrived on the scene, the party of course was broken up. And the young man, an 18-year-old, who had purchased the beers for his buddies and had the party in his home, well, he and his Dad were charged.

But here’s the part I don’t get: Although it was pretty clear what had happened at this get-together, and that a number of varsity ballplayers were drinking, nothing happened to them in terms of immediate punishment. I’m guessing that the New Canaan parents said that since the party had become a police investigation, there was no need to discipline the kids. And of course, nothing happened until very late in the baseball season, so the kids just practiced and played.

That is, they simply played the season with no suspensions or benching.

Yes, in late May, as the team was in the playoffs, it was then decided that the kid who had bought the book and hosted the party would be suspended for the rest of the season. But from what I can tell – and I could be wrong – but no punishment such as a suspension or benching was handed down to the players.

All that happened at the end of the season was the kids and their parents agreed to participate in some sort of training sessions of the perils of alcohol.

At the other end of the spectrum, one caller. Jason Beim, chimed in and said that former NFL player Keyshawn Johnson had instituted his own kind of discipline on his own son, Keyshawn Jr, who is a freshman on the University of Nebraska football team. When the older Johnson heard that his kid had stashed marijuana in his dorm room, Keyshawn didn’t wait for the college or the football coach to hand out discipline: Keyshawn jumped in himself and yanked his kid out of school for the fall semester. The irate father imposed his own parental punishment.

Sounds harsh? Perhaps. After all, kids make mistakes. We all know that. But kudos to Keyshawn Johnson for laying the law down on his son.

These days, I wonder how many other sports parents would have done the same thing?