Archive for the ‘Dangers of Little League Baseball’ Category

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

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.

CONCLUSION

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DANGERS OF LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL: It’s All Become Big Business….

Little League Baseball works very, very hard at selling an image of joyful kids having a ball playing baseball. It’s an image that’s cut from the cloth of a Norman Rockwell painting of a simpler time in America.

But lest you forget…Little League Baseball has become big, big business.

Just how big?

In a recent column written by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, he reveals some of these Little League basics:

ESPN will be paying $76 million to Little League Baseball over the next 8 years for the rights to televise their games. That’s a little less than $10 million a year.

In addition, it’s estimated by Yahoo that Little League takes in another $15 million a year from licensing and merchandising deals. In short, with the TV rights, that comes to about $25 mil a year in revenue.

There’s also another $80 million in assets stashed away in corporate bank accounts.

Little League Baseball is considered a not-for-profit charity, and with that, it’s entitled to a lot of corporate tax breaks. But people often mistake that a not-for-profit charity doesn’t pay its employees anything. And Little League makes it a point to remind fans and viewers that all of the people who help out with the games during the playoffs are volunteers who don’t get paid anything. That really doesn’t seem fair. Maybe some years ago when Little League was still just a grassroots operation, that was okay. But not any more. I wonder if the people handling the concession stands know what kind of salary Steve Keener, the CEO of Little League Baseball, pulls down.

Just a few years ago, Keener was earning $230,00o as a salary. That, according to Passan of Yahoo, was pretty much in keeping with other leaders of non-profits. But in October 2012, Keener’s salary jumped to $430,000. That’s a nice raise.

But here’s the biggest question: the ratings boost that ESPN and Little League received from Mo’Ne Davis and her Philly teammates and also the Chicago team this year was substantial.

As we have seen with the NCAA and the Ed O’Bannon case, the pressing question is now – when do the athletes start to cash in on all of this? When a Little League team advances to Williamsport, they routinely get some new bats and other equipment from Little League Baseball, but no money which, ideally, could be used for college tuition down the road. And how many times this August did we hear that some parents of Little Leaguers had to rely upon the generosity of others to help pay their to watch their kid play in Williamsport?

Keener, to his credit, has said that he’s not opposed to compensating the players – after all, it’s the players who drive the ratings for ESPN. But if Little League Baseball wants to do the right thing, then the time has come for them to put aside some real revenue which can be paid to cover tuition if and when each Williamsport Little Leaguer attends college.

Colleague Steve Kallas notes that here in the US, this is already done for young bowlers. That is, as they compete and win in bowling tournaments, if there are any cash prizes to be handed out, the money does not go to the youngster but rather is put aside and paid directly to the child’s college to cover tuition.

Makes sense to me. And now, it’s up to Little League leadership to do the same thing. And by the way, while you’re at it, for once and for all, please get rid of the aluminum bats and stop allowing the kids to throw curves and sliders.

 

 

DANGERS OF LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL: The Corporate Machine in Williamsport Keeps Rolling It In

Just in case you ever had any doubts about Little League Baseball being big business…there was a major feature in Sports Business Journal this past week in which it detailed how this organization, which prides itself on safety first, has grown to a massive enterprise.

For starters, ESPN is in the process of negotiating a new extension to its current TV contract. That original deal, done in 2007, paid Little League Baseball $30.5 million. It’s safe to assume that this new contract — which will last until 2022 – will be worth millions more.

In addition, the list of corporate sponsors for Little League continues to grow. Dick’s Sporting Goods. Subway. Gatorade. Easton (makers of aluminum baseball bats). New York Life. New Era. And on and on.

In short, everybody seems to be lining up to toss serious money at Little League Baseball.

And that’s fine. That’s the American way. But lest anyone forget, there are some harsh realities about Little League Baseball that, in my opinion,  still haven’t been addressed:

They still allow aluminum bats to be used by kids 13-and-under. Now, everybody in baseball (incuding the NCAA and the HS Baseball Federation) has acknowledged that aluminum bats are dangerous  — with the exception of Little League. They still say there’s no difference. Hard to believe, but still true. Hey Little League, what about safety first?

Little League Baseball refuses to acknowledge that throwing curves and sliders by kids 13 and under is dangerous to their arms. Despite more than 50 years of medical research on this issue, Little League says this is not a concern. Rather, they say it’s more about simple overuse – which comes, they say,  from young pitchers playing and pitching in other leagues besides Little League.  Nor, says LL CEO Steve Keener, do we know how to stop kids from throwing curves.  Please – just tell the ump that if he sees a kid throwing a deuce, just give him a warning. If he does it again, he’s banished to the outfield. Not hard to enforce this.

And regarding pitch counts. It wasn’t until my colleague Steve Kallas pointed out to Little League that they weren’t doing pitch counts properly in the Williamsport tournament until Little League finally got its act together. You would think that with all the fanfare LL made about pitch counts, they would have figured out how to oversee it.

Meanwhile, here’s a good question. For a league that prides itself on having volunteers (e.g. no one gets paid, including coaches and umpires), where do all the millions of corporate dollars go? When will Little League tell us that?

DANGERS OF LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL: When Will LL Baseball Finally Make the Change to Either Wood or BBCOR Bats?

In light of the $14.5 million settlement between the Stephen Domalewski family and Louisville Slugger and Little League Baseball, isn’t it about time — once and for all — for Little League Baseball to finally make the shift (like the NCAA and HS baseball already has) and mandate that aluminum bats are no longer to be used by kids 13-and-under?

Inexplicably, as LL plays its Championship game today on ABC/ESPN, it’s still very much legal for LLers to use these “weapons” as many people have called them. For years (including today), Steve Kallas and myself have pleaded on-the-air for LL to intervene and ban these bats. But amazingly, LL still hasn’t done so. Maybe with this major multi-million dollar settlement just being announced, LL might finally do the right thing.

But let’s not hold our breath. Remember, rather than abide by years of medical research showing that kids under 13 run a serious risk of arm injury by throwing curves and sliders, LL decided to come out with their own study, suggesting that decades of medical research is all wrong – that throwing curves really isn’t dangerous at all. As a result, all you see on the televised LL games are kids throwing what LL refers to as “breaking balls” – -not curves or sliders. The ESPN commentators must think we don’t know the difference.

And yet, all we keep hearing about are the dramatic rise in Tommy John surgery over the last decades for kids in middle school and HS. Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the long-time orthopedic surgeon for the Cincy Reds, has appeared on my show and publicly decried LL’s research. So has Rick Peterson, the highly-respected major league pitching coach. He wouldn’t let his own boys throw curves until they were out of HS.

Then there’s the pitch count nonsense. It wasn’t until Kallas and myself pointed out to LL officials that their entire approach to pitch counts didn’t add up – that, in effect, LL coaches were allowed to overrule the pitch count suggestions from LL’s own medical advisor, Dr. James Andrews, the well-known orthopedic surgeon. And once LL finally figured that situation out, Kallas and I still pointed out the discrepancies about pitch counts in the actual LL World Series in Williamsport, and how competitive coaches were wearing out kids’ arms. In other words, the pitch counts were only being applied to regular season games, not the games in Williamsport. Fortunately, that’s now been corrected.

All in all, we DO think we’ve made some progress with LL. But for an organization that prides itself on “safety first” for kids, it’s amazing to me that it’s taken them SO long to start to address these critically important issues.

DANGERS OF LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL: 13-YEAR-OLD GETS BANNED FROM PLAYOFFS DUE TO CLERICAL ERROR BY LOCAL LITTLE LEAGUE

I’ve taken LL to task in the past regarding Williamsport’s blessing of aluminum bats and allowing kids to throw curve balls at too young an age. And a lot of people all over the country have agreed with me that LL really needs to start living up to its mission statement about “safety first” for its millions of participants.

But now comes this bizarre case of a 13-year-old who has been abruptly banned from playing on his LL team in East New Haven, CT as his team progresses through the playoffs. The reason? Because even though Ian Fagan has been playing with the same team since he was six, apparently two years ago the local board decided that his home address no longer allows him to play for his Annex team.

Problem is…no one ever informed Ian or his parents about this zoning change. Every year before the season begins, Ian presents proof of his home address, utility bill, and so on, and each year, he is allowed to play on the Annex LL team.

Except that two weeks ago, as his team progressed into the playoffs, somebody in the local LL office discovered the clerical mistake. “Sorry Ian,” the word came back, “you’re no longer eligible to play.”

It was stunning news. In talking with Ian’s mom, Pauline, this week, I asked her whether appeals had been made to LL International in Williamsport, PA. “Yes, they know of the situation,” said Ms. Fagan, “but they refuse to change their position.”

For years, LL baseball has had to deal with ambitious parents and coaches who have tried to cirvumnavigate the rules regarding the zoning of addresses, so that their kids can play for a better team. That’s why LL checks the kids’ addresses. But in this case, this was NOT an amibitious act perpetrated by Ian’s parents, but rather a simple mistake made by the local LL. There’s a big, big difference.

In my opinion, LL in Williamsport should step in, explain what happened here, and do the right thing: give the kid a one-time exception and let him play. It wasn’t his fault that the mistake was made…it was the fault of Little League. 

Or, as Doug Abrams has suggested to me, LL could have simply grandfathered the kid in, saying that once the new zoning went into effect, it would affect ONLY those kids who weren’t already playing on a local LL team. That would have worked as well.

But as it stands now, Ian Fagan’s LL career is now officially over. He sits in the dugout, watching his teammates play, and knowing that he did nothing wrong. What a shame.

C’mon, Little League, this is your chance to do the right thing. Your organization is supposed to be about letting kids chase their dreams…why are you telling this kid that his dream is now over?

 

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: Why not Let the Kids Coach the Kids?

An amazing story just came out of San Clemente CA. Apparently there was a team of 11-and 12-year-olds in that town’s Little League that, for some reason, had a difficult team in finding a Dad or Mom to help out as the team’s coach.

As a result, when the kids couldn’t find one, they asked the league officials if a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old could be named as co-coaches to lead the team. The league said yes.

The LL team lost their first two games of the season, but as the season wore on, they found their groove and began to turn things around. Sure enough, they ended up winning their league championship, all under the coaching supervision of a couple of kids who weren’t much older than they were.

It’s a cute story. But to me, this shift toward allowing kids to coach kids might be worth considering as a major innovation in youth sports. Look, we all know and have seen the out-of-control grown-ups who coach LL games and get in shouting contests with umpires, use profanity, show favoritism to their own kids, and basically adopt a win-at-all-costs mentality.

According to media reports, the LLers on this team enjoyed playing for the HS freshmen, because 1) they communicated better 2) they allowed the kids to play the positions they wanted to play, and  3) the kids weren’t intimidated by them. Too often, LLers are fearful of talking with a grown-up coach.

Bottom line? Not only did the LLers seemingly have more fun, but they also ended up as league champions. And their youthful co-coaches are to be commended.

If I’m Little  League or the people who run other youth sports teams, I think this is an idea that is definitely worth considering. In short, just tell the parents to go and sit up in the stands. Let the kids play, and let them be coached… by other kids!

LEGAL CONCERNS: Law Professor Doug Abram’s Analysis of the Lawsuit against an 11-year-old Little Leaguer

 

 

WHEN ADULTS SUE AN 11-YEAR-OLD

LITTLE LEAGUER FOR THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS

By Doug Abrams

 

With perceptive insights from Rick Wolff and attorney Steve Kallas, The Sports Edge did an excellent show on Sunday morning concerning a troubling lawsuit filed recently in Manchester Township, New Jersey.  Elizabeth Lloyd and her husband seek thousands of dollars in damages from defendant Matthew Migliaccio, a catcher on their son’s Little League team. 

The claim is that while Ms. Lloyd was sitting nearby at a game two years ago, she was struck in the face by a ball overthrown by Matthew (who was then 11 years old) while he was warming up a pitcher in the fenced-in bullpen at the coach’s instruction and under the coach’s supervision.  The 45-year-old Ms. Lloyd claims more than $150,000 damages for medical expenses, plus unspecified damages for pain and suffering which reportedly could push the amount a few hundred thousand dollars higher.  Her husband claims damages for loss of her “services, society and consortium.”

Rick and Steve did an excellent job questioning whether, under the circumstances reported, an 11-year-old can be held liable for a toss made to a teammate in the ordinary course of a Little League game.  They also did an excellent job speculating about why the Lloyds may have chosen to sue Matthew rather than the more obvious defendants, Little League Baseball Inc. for conducting the game, or the Manchester Township for hosting the game on its field.  (An 11-year-old, with the family’s homeowners insurance policy, may seem an easier target than a major national corporation backed by a well-heeled law firm, or the township with resources to dig in their heels.)  I will not try to gild the lily by adding to what Rick and Steve contributed on these two threshold questions, except to say that I share their doubts and concerns.

Youth League Lawsuits

In recent years, many observers have grown disgusted with sports parents’ lawsuits that, quite frankly, cause most of us to hold our noses.  The defendants tend to be coaches who serve as volunteers or for modest stipends that help cover some expenses.  Some lawsuits charge that the coach negligently failed to teach the parents’ child a particular skill, such as how to catch a fly ball in baseball.  Other lawsuits charge that the coach caused the child severe emotional upset, for example by cutting the child from the team in competitive tryouts that involve three or more times the number of players than the roster can hold. 

Now we have a parent’s lawsuit brought not against an adult coach, but against an 11-year-old who, by media accounts, did nothing wrong but play baseball with his friends, including the plaintiffs’ son.  I have never heard of a lawsuit by a parent spectator against their pre-teen son’s teammate for ordinary game performance, and we can hope that this lawsuit is simply a blip on the radar screen that does not encourage copycat adults.

Lawyers as Gatekeepers

The rest of this column concerns one comment made by Matthew’s father, Bob Migliaccio, who appeared as a guest on the first segment of Sunday morning’s show.  Speaking about the Lloyds’ lawyer, Mr. Migliaccio asked “Is there any conscience there?”  Because I am a law professor, that commonsense comment by a non-lawyer resonated with me.  

This column is not about the Lloyds or their lawyer because I do not know them or their individual thought processes.  Indeed this column is not even solely about this particular case because its dynamics hold two nationwide implications beyond Manchester Township. 

The first nationwide implication is that youth sports programs need to consider requiring the most comprehensive waivers possible and offering the most comprehensive insurance protection possible.  We live in a litigious society. The odds of an adult or child being charged as a defendant in a lawsuit arising from ordinary youth sports play might resemble the odds of being hit with lightning, but precautions are important.  Lightning does strike, and lawsuits do happen because a would-be a plaintiff can usually find a lawyer who is willing to file.  Rick is right that a lawsuit such as the one the Migliaccios face could happen to anyone’s child in any youth sport.

The second national implication flows from the first.  Precautions against litigation assume added importance because many lawyers no longer seek to restrain would-be clients, if they once did.  I recall a thoughtful book written by Sol M. Linowitz in 1999, near the end of his distinguished career as a lawyer, diplomat, former Xerox Corp. chief executive, and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.  In a chapter entitled “Living the Law,” Linowitz quoted Elihu Root, himself a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who combined private law practice with service as Secretary of State and as longtime President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  “About half the practice of a decent lawyer,” said Root, “consists of telling would-be clients that they are . . . fools and should stop.” 

“Nobody ever lost a client by doing exactly what the fellow wanted,” Linowitz explained, “but much lucrative legal work has been sacrificed by lawyers who regretfully told prospective clients that this was something they were not willing to do.”  When a lawyer fails to say “no” at the right time, Linowitz added, “[t]he public pays, because the rule of law is diminished.” 

Entitlement

In a discussion about a lawyer’s professional obligations to decline a case, it is no answer to say that “everybody is entitled to a lawyer.”  Week in and week out, lawyers reject plenty of prospective clients who walk through the door.  The most common reason for turning down a would-be client is that he or she cannot pay.  In a recent New York Times op-ed article, the chief justices of the New Hampshire and California supreme courts report that throughout the nation, “[a]n increasing number of civil cases go forward without lawyers.  Litigants who cannot afford a lawyer, and either do not qualify for legal aid or are unable to have a lawyer assigned to them because of dwindling budgets, are on their own.”

            Because I teach family law and juvenile law at the state university law school, I routinely get frantic telephone calls from desperate men and women who seek help from law students or Legal Aid because they cannot afford to retain any of the several lawyers they have approached to represent them in divorce or child custody cases.  The outcomes of these heart-wrenching cases will likely affect the callers and their families for the rest of their lives, but most of the callers end up walking into court alone when no lawyer will take the case.  Nobody suggests that any of the callers is “entitled” to a lawyer.

Lawyers also often turn down cases when the initial interview indicates that the would-be client seems difficult to manage or overly emotional; when the client seems to lack a sense of personal chemistry with the lawyer; or when, as Root and Linowitz suggest, the proposed lawsuit does not have merit in the lawyer’s professional opinion.

Serious Consequences

Meritless lawsuits carry serious personal consequences.  For enrolling their 11-year-old in a community baseball program, the Migliaccios now find themselves as national (and indeed, international) public figures who must dig into their own pockets to retain a lawyer to protect the boy against court proceedings.  With Little League’s national office and their homeowners insurer taking hands-off attitudes, the Migliaccios face thousands of dollars in legal fees, not to mention perhaps thousands more in a settlement with the Lloyds to avoid trial and even higher legal bills. 

But money is not all.  Because litigation papers are public information easily available by an Internet word search of a party’s name, Matthew stands to be permanently stained by a record of alleged negligence and recklessness and intentional conduct, even if settlement papers ultimately disclaim liability.  Colleges and the boy’s future employers might roll their eyes at the lawsuit years from now, but they might not. 

Rick and Steve also pointed out that if the case proceeds further, sworn depositions and adversary questioning at trial might await Matthew and his pitcher, other adolescent eyewitness teammates, and his coaches.  Depositions and trials are distasteful, emotionally draining, and potentially intimidating processes for most people, particularly children. 

One Lawyer’s Hopes

Ms. Lloyd allegedly suffered serious injury, and she deserved (and evidently received) every indulgence from her family and other team members.  Some injuries, however, are simply unavoidable non-compensable accidents, even after a sustained search for the deepest pockets seeks to deflect blame and legal liability onto someone else.

The Lloyds and their lawyer are adults who have chosen to seek their day in court, as they are entitled to do.  I cast no aspersions, but I hope that I would make a different choice if I were a practicing lawyer and the Lloyds approached me to file a lawsuit seeking damages in the high six figures against an 11-year-old for playing baseball.

Even the merit of a lawsuit against Little League or the Manchester Township might seem questionable because baseball parents like the Lloyds, attending a game, should know that youth leaguers do not always control their throws because they are learning.  Whether to sue one or both of these corporate entities is a judgment call, but I would draw the line at suing an 11-year-old and slapping him with legal papers served by the sheriff.

With visions of Elihu Root and Sol Linowitz in my head, I hope I would tell the Lloyds politely but firmly:  “You are entitled to hire a lawyer, but you are not entitled to me.  You may approach another lawyer if you wish, but I will not do it.”        

 

[I had planned to continue last week’s column with “Being an Assistant Coach — Part II” this week, but the New Jersey lawsuit calls for timely discussion.  Unless something else develops, I will present “Part II” next week.]

[Sources:  Sol M. Linowitz, The Betrayed Profession:  Lawyering at the End of the Twentieth Century (1999); John T. Broderick, Jr. & Ronald M. George, A Nation of Do-It-Yourself Lawyers, N.Y. Times, Jan. 2, 2010, p. A21 (op-ed); cbslocal.com, N.J. Woman Files Lawsuit After Being Hit By Errant Throw From 11-Year-Old at Little League Game, June 23, 2012; Pedro Oliveira, Jr., NJ Woman Sues After Being Hit in Face With Baseball Overthrown by Little League Kid, N.Y. Post, June 23, 2012; Woman Struck in Face With a Baseball at a Little League Game is SUING 11-Year-Old Catcher Who Threw It for $150,000,

DANGERS OF LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL: 11-Year-old Ballplayer Makes Bad Throw, Gets Sued

The headlines made you do a double-take:

Mom sues 11-year-old Little Leaguer for Errant Throw!”

But it’s true. Two years ago, when then 11-year-old Matt Migliaccio was warming up a pitcher in the bullpen at a LL game in Manchester, NJ, he accidentally overthrew the ball back to his teammate. The ball sailed out of the bullpen and struck a spectator, 45-year-old Elizabeth Lloyd, who was watching the game.

Matt immediately raced over to the woman and offered sincere apologies. She was gracious enough to say she was okay, but a little while later, she did go to get medical help. A day later, Matt’s Dad, Bob Migliaccio sent a most apologetic email to the woman, and her husband wrote back, saying thank you for the note, and don’t worry, she’ll be okay.

But it turns out that she needed reconstructive facial surgery, and by the time everything was done, the medical bills were more than $150,000. Ms. Lloyd wanted somebody to pay for the bills, and eventually it all turned back to the errant throw. Little League Baseball in Williamsport, PA, didn’t return Bob Migliaccio’s calls for help; LL’s stance was that their insurance policy didn’t cover spectator insurance.

And once Bob’s insurance company refused to cover the woman’s bills, her attorney decided to sue the 11-year-old. It’s not quite sure why the boy was sued, but clearly this was an attempt to draw his family’s homeowner insurance policy into the fray.

Bob Migliaccio was a guest on my show this AM, and he presented all of the frustration that this case involves. Then I had attorney Steve Kallas come on to present his legal insights, and Steve felt that this would be an uphill battle for Ms. Lloyd to win in court, but she seemed determined to move ahead.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens next, but in the court of public opinion, most people who called in or who have emailed me have said this was an unfortunate accident…but that 11-year-old kids DO make aberrant throws, and while it’s definitely a shame that Ms Lloyd was hurt, most people felt it’s just not right to sue a kid for making a  bad throw at a LL game. What’s your sense? Was this justified?

Little League Baseball Still Not Stepping Up on Kids Throwing Curve Balls

The New York Times ran a big feature piece this AM about the “so-called” ongoing controversy involving kids under 13 throwing curveballs.

I write “so-called” controversy because for more than 50 years, top surgeons everywhere have insisted that throwing curves at an early age can only damage a kid’s elbow and growth plates in their arm. Yet Little League Baseball (led by its key researcher, Dr. Glenn Fleisig, Phd) claims that, in effect,  it can’t prove that throwing curves will hurt young arms. Therefore, letting kids throw deuces is okay.

WHAT?

What’s particularly interesting in this article is that Dr. James Andrews, the legendary orthopedic specialist, doesn’t agree with Dr. Fleisig’s studies. Even Dr. Andrews points out that he’s never been so busy in doing Tommy John arm operations on middle schoolers.

Then there’s Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the orthopedic surgeon for the Cincinnati Reds, who said on my radio show last year that letting young pitchers throw curves is tantamount to “child abuse.” Pretty strong language, but Kremchek feels that this is out of control. Like Dr. Andrews, Kremchek has never been busier operating on young arms ruined by throwing curve balls.

Some years ago, when I interviewed Steve Keener, the CEO of LL Baseball, on my show, he told me that he didn’t know how to stop kids from throwing deuces. I explained to him that all he had to do was empower the home plate umpire to give a warning to any pitcher who tossed a breaking ball, and then on the second offense, to remove the kid from the mound.

Keener didn’t think umpires could enforce this rule.  I thought that was a huge cop-out. Turns out that Dr. Kremchek also advocates this approach. So, if LL Baseball is all about safety first, why not at least give this a try?

Bottom line? C’mon LL Baseball. Fess up. Why not just admit that you enjoy seeing kids in Williamsport throw curves and sliders on TV (referred to by ESPN commentators as “breaking balls,” as though that term makes these pitches less dangerous). All you have to do, Mr. Keener, is just banish all curves from all LL games. And tell the umps and coaches to enforce the rule. It’s just as simple as that.

Meanwhile, I’m glad to see the august New York Times is beginning to catch up with The Sports Edge. My colleague Steve Kallas and I have been hammering this point home about the dangers of LL Baseball for years.

 

 

Breaking News: LL Pitcher Fortunately Survives Line Drive to His Face

THIS JUST IN……In a Little League World Series game that was played and televised on ESPN yesterday afternoon, spectators and viewers collectively held their breath when, in the 3rd inning, Ryan McCormick of Cumberland, RI, hit a line-drive rocket directly back at the pitcher, Braydon Salzman, of Huntington Beach, CA.

Amazingly, the line shot off the aluminum bat hit the brim of the pitcher’s cap, which fortunately absorbed most of the stunning blow. That being said, Salzman instantly fell over backwards, as though he had been shot. After he was able to recuperate for several minutes, Salzman was actually able — and cleared — to keep pitching.

I urge you to google “Little League baseball pitcher hit by line drive.” There are several shots in slo-mo of Salzman being hit by the ball. You can see for yourself that, if the ball had hit the youngster by just 1/4 inch in either direction, he would have been very seriously injured.

On the slo-mo video, you can even see as he tries in vain to get his glove up to protect his face, but the ball travels too fast for him to do that.

Then, look for the video from ESPN in real-time speed. You’ll see Salzman deliver the pitch and then the ball explode off the barrel and right into his face. He had no time to react.

The bottom line? Braydon Salzman is one very, very lucky kid. So is Little League Baseball.  I’ll be curious to find out what kind of bat Ryan McCormick was using– but it sure didn’t look like it was a wooden one.