SI Vault
Kenneth Rudeen
August 26, 1957
Concluding a nationwide survey of Little League problems, Sports Illustrated presents the arguments, pro and con, and THE VERDICT
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August 26, 1957

The Verdict

Concluding a nationwide survey of Little League problems, Sports Illustrated presents the arguments, pro and con, and THE VERDICT

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Scientific studies to determine the effects of competitive pressure have given the league a more concrete basis for answering critics. At the University of California, Dr. Elvera Skubic conducted a study of 206 boys. Of these, 75 were Little Leaguers, 51 were members of Middle League teams (aged 12 to 15) and 80 were nonplayers. A skin galvanometer was used to determine the extent of emotional excitement in certain situations. All the boys were tested in softball physical education classes; and the league players in their baseball games as well. Questionnaires were sent out to boys, to their parents and their teachers for additional information.

Dr. Skubic concluded that league players tended to show "less emotionality at rest" than nonplayers, no greater emotion in anticipation of league games than before physical education classes, more emotion after winning a game than after losing a game and no greater emotion over championship games than regular season games. "At most ages," Dr. Skubic reported, "boys showed more skin response after physical education competition than they did after league competition." In addition, the study revealed that parents whose sons played on Little League or Middle League teams gave almost unanimous approval to the program and that boys chosen for team play were physically and emotionally more mature than nonplayers. "It appears," Dr. Skubic said, "that the boys who display the best baseball techniques, play the most intelligent game, have emotional stability and get along best in a group are the ones who are chosen to play competitive baseball."

While markedly favorable to Little League in general, the Skubic report pointed out that a substantial minority of the players failed to eat normal-sized meals after games and that the sleep of a few players was disturbed. Dr. Skubic was concerned that a number of players were distressed over their inability to break into the lineup as often as they desired and that a sizable number of finger and arm injuries occurred among Little Leaguers. Most of these injuries, however, were minor cuts, bruises and sprains.

So far, we have explored the matter of competition primarily on the local, nontournament level. As competitive pressures increase through each stage of the playoffs leading to the Little League World Series, so does the intensity of anti-Little League feeling. With the 1957 World Series now under way at Williamsport, Pa., the outcry is at its annual zenith. This climactic tournament is the most important single problem of Little League, especially so since a large share of the criticism of it comes from within the league. As explained last week, national officials of the league consider the World Series necessary, and there is no reason to believe they will drop it in the foreseeable future. But the problem remains, in spite of the fact that local leagues may choose not to take part in the Series playoffs.

In 1953, Robert A. Young, a member of the national board and a regional director, resigned, largely because of the tournament issue. Now a Lutheran minister in New Castle, Ind., Pastor Young continues to oppose the World Series idea. A current board member, Dr. Arthur A. Esslinger, who is dean of the School of Health and Physical Education at the University of Oregon, is an enthusiastic supporter of Little League play at the local level but likewise a serious opponent of the playoffs.

"The tournament was invaluable in the early days," Dr. Esslinger says. "It promoted the program on a nationwide basis and caused it to spread. But in my judgment this value is no longer needed. The tournament has outlived its usefulness.

"First of all, it harms local play. To get ready for the tournament structure, a manager must start four or five weeks before the end of local play. When boys are picked for the all-star team [the local league entry], it hurts the rest of the boys. It results in unplayed and postponed games, and the genius of Little League baseball is in its concept of widespread play at the local level.

"The goal of becoming national champion is so great and so valuable that it causes some adults to overemphasize the program. Managers can make hard work of it with long, grim hours of practice that take the joy out of it for the kids."

Disruption of local play and the disproportionate amount of attention paid to the all-stars—these are the enduring complaints. Whether the Series harms the boys is another matter. Neither Pastor Young nor Dr. Esslinger feels that the boys who go on to Williamsport tournaments are adversely affected.

"I have seen and been thrilled by the qualities of sportsmanship and idealism displayed by the boys at Williamsport," says Dr. Esslinger.

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