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Author Archive: "Charles Euchner"

Lloyd McClendon

On Friday, Little League will induct Lloyd McClendon into the Hall of Excellence at its museum. The organization has chosen wisely.

Before the 2005, the greatest Little League World Series took place in 1971. That's when McClendon, a strapping kid from Gary, Indiana, took on the the perrennial powerhouse team from Taiwan in the championship game.

The Gary all-stars were the only black team to advance to the championship game in Little League history. And they faced as tough a team as anyone ever has. Asian teams so dominated the LLWS that foreign teams were actally banned from the tournament one year.Taiwan and Japan won eleven titles over a fifteen-year period from 1967 to 1981.

Gary and Taiwan fought to a draw for eight innings, two past regulation.

McClendon was 12 when he took the mound to face Taiwan on August 28, 1971. A pitcher/catcher for the Anderson Little League all-stars, McClendon stood 5-11 and dominated the tournament like no player before or since — until the last inning of the final game.

McClendon hit two home runs in Gary's first two games. After that, the opposing pitcher walked him intentionally. Taiwan's pitcher, Hsu Chin-Mu pitched to McClendon in the first ...

Manchild Games

It's all about pitching — as it was in the beginning, and now and forever shall be.

Everything flows from pitching. Good pitching shuts down good hitting. Therefore, good pitching keeps games close. Therefore, good pitching increases the importance of the smallest events on the field — a bad call by the umpire, a missed relay, a missed signal, a late jump on the base paths. Therefore, good pitching increases intensity of the games and the pain of the losses. Therefore, good pitching frays the nerves of parents and coaches and players and reveals the true characters of all involved.

After 33 games of pool play, the Little League World Series eliminated eight of its original 16 teams — and moved right into the single-elimination phase of the tournament on Wednesday. Wednesday's games eliminated two more teams. Today's games will eliminate two more.

Japan is the consensus best team in Williamsport. Japan last won a World Series back in 2003 when a team from Tokyo overwhelmed Boynton Beach, Florida, 10-1, in the championship game. This year, Japan's Kawaguchi Little League is the only team with the chance to go undefeated. Kawaguchi went 3-0 in pool play with convincing victories over Russia (11-1), Mexico (6-1), and Curacao (7-2).

Venezuela was the only other undefeated team in pool play, but lost to Mexico, 11-0, in Wednesday's single-elimination opener.

Japan should have an easy time dispatching the ex-pat team from Dhahrin, Saudi Arabia, and then face Mexico for the international championship.

The pitchers from Japan have been almost perfect. Ryoya Sato pitched a no-hitter and recorded 10 strikeouts in Japan's 11-0 five-inning win against Russia in the opener. Then Yada gave up one run and allowed four hits, fanning 12, in the 6-1 win over Mexico. Go Matsumoto allowed two runs and struck out 12 batters in the 7-2 victory over defending International champion Curacao.

Japan has the tournament's only top-to-bottom power lineup. Japan hit eight home runs in its first three games. Seigo Yada hit three, producing a constant stream of Seinfeld-like yada, yada, yada jokes around the complex.

Because of its overwhelming pitching, Lemont, Illinois, appears to be the class of the American bracket. After dropping a 1-0 heartbreaker to Arizona in the opening game, Illinois beat New York, 1-0, and Georgia, 2-0. Illinois yielded a grand total of one run in its first three games.

Josh Ferry is the undisputed star of the Illinois pitching staff. He lost the opener to Arizona, 1-0, yielding just two hits and one run and fanning 11 batters. Then he won the third game of pool play, 2-0, against Georgia, allowing only one hit and striking out 13. In between, David Hearne pitched a one-hit 1-0 shutrout against new York, striking out eight batters.

A heavily favored Illinois will play Oregon for the right to play in the U.S. championship game. Meanwhile, a heavily favored team from Columbus, Georgia, will fight Portsmouth, N.H., the other U.S. title slot.

Pitching is stronger than ever because the kids are stronger than ever. Little League changed its age cutoff date this year, allowing kids who are now three-plus months past their 13th birthday to play in the international tournament.

The number of 13-year-olds has increased dramatically. This year there are 64 of them — an average of four on every team for a league officially limited to 11- and 12-year-olds. Twelve-year-olds still make up the bulk of the players — 133 in all. But the 11-year-olds have all but disappeared from the tournament (a total of six this year).

The kids are bigger and throw harder than ever before, and they're playing in a ballpark with outfield fences set back 20 feet. The fence move alone eliminates a dozen or more home runs in most games and gives the advantage to teams that can but athletic gazelles in the outfield.

Pitching and Defense

This year's Little League World Series is off to a great start — but still carries all of the problems that plague youth sports.

The games have tended to be crisp matches between well-matched teams. Before it's over, we'll have more shutouts than ever. The kids playing the games and the fans watching on TV are getting a lesson in what makes baseball great — pitching and defense.

Loud home runs can be plenty exciting. Especially at this level — when kids swing at balls humming at a major-league equivalent of over 100 miles an hour, on occasion — even getting a bat on the ball is a wonder. But the kids do it. They see the ball tumbling out of the pitcher's hand and make a guess about what kind of pitch it is and where it's going.

But the 2-0 or 1-0 game is much more exciting. And Little League owes much of the excitement to its decision to extend the outfield fences 20 feet, from 205 to 225 feet from home plate.

As I write this, eight games have been shutouts, 15 games have held one of the teams to one run, and five games have held one ...

The Sandlot Versus Science

Not long ago, I went to a vintage base ball game in Westfield, Connecticut. The Westfield Wheelmen played the Hartford Senators on Adonis Terry Day.

As many as 200 vintage teams have arisen in the last quarter century. Usually playing according to the rules of the 1860s and 1880s, the teams take you back to baseball's formative years. In the game I saw, players used leather the size of gardeners' gloves. They swung big bats — usually around 40 ounces — and hit balls that didn't have the hard rubber core that makes today's hits go so far.

It was a refreshing game. Even though most players don't have extraordinary physical abilities, they have more physical toughness. When you catch a sizzling liner down the third base line, your hand stings for days. That's a lot harder to do than extending a basket-sized glove to swallow the ball.

The day's highlight was meeting Jim Bouton, the rebel who had as much effect on the culture of baseball than anyone else in our lifetime. Bouton's Ball Four was a seminal book that ripped the mask of heroism off the face of baseball.

Before ...

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