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Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

Since the 1970s, Ferguson, Mo. has gone from being 85 percent white to about 70 percent black and is a suburb which is considered inner-city today. Following the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, we witnessed an uprising of racial tension leading to violence between the whites and blacks. During the time of the racial separation in Ferguson, enter the togetherness of the Little League World Series (LLWS).

The last three teams left on the American side of the LLWS were a team from Las Vegas, a team from Philadelphia, and a team from Chicago. Having two urban teams reaching this level is rare in the LLWS. Little League officials are hoping this is a sign the sport is extending its reach to inner-city and African American communities which have been underrepresented since the 1970s. The team from Philadelphia was the Taney Dragons and the team from Chicago was Jackie Robinson West.

After reaching a peak of close to 25% in the early 1980s, the number of African-American players in Major League Baseball (MLB) has shrunk gradually to 8% in 2014. This compares to 26% Latino, 5% Asian, and 63% white. To counter this gradual decline Major League Baseball initiated a program called RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner-Cities) to teach the value of teamwork, to promote greater inclusion of minorities into the main stream of the game and to encourage academic achievement. RBI programs have been started in more than 200 cities worldwide, and annually provide more than 260,000 boys and girls the opportunity to play baseball and softball. The success of these two inner-city teams provides Major League Baseball (MLB) with the hope that the decline of African-American players in MLB will soon be reversed.

The Taney team grew out of a team called the Anderson Monarchs which was founded by Scott Bandura, a white man who wanted to give inner-city children the same opportunity to play ball as their counterparts from the suburbs. The Taney team is made up almost entirely of African-American players. The best player on Taney was a 5’4” girl named Mo’ne Davis. Davis was just the 18th girl to play in the Little League World Series.

The Jackie Robinson team began in 1971. The team was formed to use the game of baseball to teach children self-discipline, teamwork, and leadership. The Jackie Robinson team consisted entirely of African-American players.

The two teams met and the Jackie Robinson team defeated the Taney team by a score of 6-5. Davis started the game but was limited to only 2.1 innings to make her eligible for the championship game if Taney had won. In her first outing, Davis pitched a two-hit shutout to become the first girl to win a game in the Little League World Series. In her two starts, Davis pitched 8 1/3 innings, allowed eight hits and three earned runs, and struck out 14 with only one walk. She also threw a three-hit shutout to lead Taney to an 8-0 victory over Delaware in the Mid-Atlantic Regional championship game.

The Jackie Robinson team went on to beat the Las Vegas team to become the US Champions. The International Champion was South Korea. In the final game South Korea defeated the valiant US Jacki Robinson team 8 to 4 to win the LLWS.

The LLWS provided viewers a competitive and excellent brand of baseball. It was great to see people cheer and encourage the suburb teams, the inner-city teams, and the international teams. I wish to thank all of the young people for their sportsmanship andfor  providing a good role model for all future young players. I am sure Major League Baseball wants to thank the little leaguers  for showing inner-city children that baseball can be just as exciting as basketball and football. Finally, thank you Mo’ne Davis for showing that girls can play and enjoy baseball. Maybe, we will see Mo’ne in the majors someday.

Can’t wait for the next year’s LLWS!!!


 
Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

Of all my blogs the last one on Mo’ne Davis has been the most popular. This got me to ask the following question: Where did the legend of Mo’ne begin? According to Steve Bandura, the coach of the Anderson Monarchs youth baseball traveling team, he was working on the baseball field when he spotted a 7-year-old Mo’ne Davis throwing a football. Each throw resulted in a perfect spiral. She was playing tackle football fearlessly with some neighborhood boys. Bandura was so impressed he asked her to come to a boys’ basketball practice. She actually came to the practice! The boys were running complicated drills that he thought she would be unable to do. Remember, she was only 7 and never played basketball before. To his surprise she asked to be part of the drills and did the drills as well as any of the boys. He said, “That was when I knew. You could tell she had athleticism, but that analytic skill, you just can’t teach that.”  

That same year she started pitching for Bandura’s baseball team, the Anderson Monarchs. When I coached 7 and 8 year-olds, every child was given the opportunity to play every position. Pitching was the most important position. You looked for the child who could throw strikes. If you could consistently throw strikes you were a pitcher, regardless of how fast you threw the ball. Mo’ne had the knack of throwing strikes. Mo’ne the pitcher was born at the age of 7.

In 2012, at the age of 11 Mo’ne and her  11-year-old African American baseball team, as a tribute to Jackie Robinson, boarded an authentic 1947 touring bus to embark on a 22-day, 4000-mile journey barnstorming their way across the country. The bus had no air conditioning and there were no electronic games. The guys passed the time with card games and conversation. The tour played several games against local youth teams, met surviving players from the Negro Leagues, visited such special places such as Jackie Robinson’s gravesite, Williamsport, PA (home of the LLWS), the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, and the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

In Washington, D.C. Mo’ne met up with Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, one of only three females to play in the Negro Leagues but the only one that was a pitcher. Johnson pitched for the Indianapolis Clowns from 1953 to 1955 compiling a 33-8 record. In fact, Mamie was a teammate of a young Hank Aaron. After watching Mo’ne pitch, Johnson said, “That’s me when I was her age – the size, the way she throws, everything.” After playing a game there, the team visited the Lincoln Memorial and stood where Marian Anderson, the namesake of their team, performed her historical concert on Easter Sunday in 1939.

As she got older Mo’ne’s pitching skills improved dramatically. By the time she reached 13, she developed a curve ball and a changeup to go along with a 70 mph fastball. “From the beginning, she had good control,” Bandura said. “She has incredible spatial awareness, or kinesthetic awareness — whatever you want to call it. If she’s doing something wrong, she knows how to fix it. Because of that, she always throws strikes.” In describing how good of a pitcher she is Bandura said, “At this age, she’s the best pitcher I’ve ever had. I’ve had pitchers that are now in the minor leagues, but at this age, no one’s had the control to go with the velocity that she has and the command.”

Bandura doesn’t coach the Taney Dragons (his son Scott is the catcher for Taney). Mo’ne is very well-rounded. She is an honor student at one of the best private schools. She also excels in basketball and soccer. In fact she acknowledges that basketball is her favorite sport.

All eyes including mine will be on Mo’ne Wed. night when she pitches against Las Vegas.


 
Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

Little League baseball was a big part of my early years. Before dying of Cancer, my father Paul Rothman got great enjoyment in seeing me play. When he was well enough, he came to my games held in Hackensack, New Jersey. I made the Hackensack All-Star team as a shortstop. But, unlike the Little League World Series (LLWS) teams which play about 15 games, my team was eliminated in 1956 in game one by a Palisades Park team.

In August, 2014, the talk of Little League Baseball and the talk of all of baseball is a 13-year old girl playing for the Philadelphia Taney Dragons in the LLWS. Her name is Mo’Ne Davis. Taney is the first team from Philadelphia to make it to the LLWS. This is not surprising since Philadelphia first became Little League sanctioned in 2012. Like so many other baseball fans, I rushed home anxious to watch the 3 pm game between the Taney Dragons and the team from Nashville, TN. The Nashville team was making a return visit to the LLWS and had two players from last year’s team. Yes, this game would be a real challenge for Taney.

Pitching for Taney would be Mo’Ne. After leading her Taney Dragons to a victory in the Mid Atlantic Regionals on August 10, 2014 tossing a 3-hitter and striking out six in an 8-0 victory over a Delaware team, she was ready to make her appearance in the LLWS. She along with Emma Marsh of the Canadian team would be the 17th & 18th females to play in the LLWS.

Was I impressed by her pitching? The answer is an emphatic YES. What I saw was a composed pitcher using three different pitches to keep the hitters off-balance. She mixed a 4-seam 70 mph fastball (which equates to about a 95 mph fastball in the MLB) with a split-change and occasional curve, changing eye-level and speeds to keep a very good hitting Nashville team off-balance. Her control was almost perfect issuing no walks. Blessed with a quick lead on a 3-run home run by Jared Sprague-Lott before she even took the mound, Davis ran a clinic on pitching to contact and pounding the strike zone at differing rates. Those three runs were all she needed in leading Taney to a 4-0 complete game victory over a very good hitting Nashville team. Davis has now pitched back-to-back shutouts, striking out 15 and walking three while allowing only five hits in 12 innings. She is the first woman to win a game in the LLWS.

The final suspense of the game was whether Mo’Ne would have the opportunity to pitch a complete game. Even though she entered the sixth and final inning with a 4-0 lead, completely dominated her opposing hitters, the pitch count in Little League would come into play. She entered the bottom of the sixth inning having thrown 57 pitches. The pitch count rule uses 65 pitches as a cutoff point for whether you need three or four days rest before pitching again. In an interview after the game, she said, "So, I knew I had to squeeze those eight pitches in and I was able to do it." When asked if it's been hard on her to cope with the media. Davis, a quick-witted honor student replied, "It hasn't been too bad. And anyway, I can always say, 'No.' That's my secret weapon with the media."

It is now 7 pm on Sunday, August 17. I am ready for the contest between the Taney Dragons from Philadelphia and the team from Pearland, Texas. Mo’Ne Davis will start at third base and bat sixth. In her first at bat Mo’Ne singled to right driving in their second run becoming the 6th female with a hit in the LLWS. At the half-way point Philadelphia led Texas 3 to 1. Rallying from behind, as we enter the bottom of the sixth, Texas had the lead by one run. The leadoff hitter for Tangy reached first with a drag bunt. With two outs a triple ties the score. The next batter reaches on an error and the legend of the now 2 and 0 Taney Dragons continues.

Mo’Ne will pitch on Wed. at 7:30 pm against Las Vegas, NV. I can hardly wait!


 
Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

Mo"ne Davis and her friend, Mamie "Peanut" Johnson,
who played in the Negro Leagues

Mo;Ne Davis and Mamie
Charles Fox/Staff Photographer for The Assiciated Press

 

Jackie Mitchell

Jackie Mitchell
Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics / Getty Images

 

Jackie Mitchell Shakes Hands with Babe Ruth

Jackie Mitchell with Babe Ruth and Gerig
Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics / Getty Images

 

Jackie Mitchell Pitcher
Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics / Getty Images


 
Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

You probably have never heard of a young woman named Mo’Ne Davis. If you tune into the Little League World Series beginning Thursday, August 14, she will be a central figure. Mo’Ne is a 13-year-old from Philadelphia who pitches for the Taney Dragons of Philadelphia. Mo’Ne pitched a three-hitter on Sunday, August 10, to lead Taney Youth Baseball Association Little League to an 8-0 victory over a team from Delaware in the Mid-Atlantic Regional championship game. She will become only the 17th girl to play in the Little League World Series in its 68 year history. In pitching her shutout, her fastball was clocked at 70 mph and she showed a great curveball. She will be joined by Emma March of the Canadian  Champions making this the third time that two girls will play in the same Little League World Series.

Reading about Mo’Ne recalls to me the first woman who made baseball headlines. Her name was Jackie Mitchell, a left-handed 5’8”pitcher. Jackie got her training from a neighbor, Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance, who taught her how to throw a curveball at the tender age of 6. At the age of 16 while performing for an all-girls team in Chattanooga, TN, her curveball was noticed by the owner of the AA  Chattanooga Lookouts, who signed her to a contract on March 28, 1931. In an exhibition game on April 2, the Yankees faced the Lookouts and Jackie Mitchell replaced the starting pitcher. The first two batters she was to face were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. In front of a crowd of about four thousand, she calmly struck out Ruth and Gehrig in succession. The fans were shocked to see both sluggers strike out, failing to connect on a single pitch. Pictures follow.

After the game Ruth said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball. Of course, they will never make good. Why? They are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.” A few days later in an attempt to soothe Ruth’s ego, baseball’s first commissioner Keneshaw Landis claimed the game of baseball was too strenuous for a woman and voided her contract with the Lookouts. Jackie then continued pitching for a traveling men’s team called The House of David. Jackie retired from baseball in 1937 at the age of 23. She declined playing in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, formed in 1943. In 1952, Major League Baseball formally banned the signing of a woman to a baseball contract. This ban was lifted in 1992. However, post 1992 no woman has signed with a major league team or a minor league affiliate.

Ila Borders, a female pitcher for South California College made a bid to be the first woman to sign with a major league team. At the age of 19, she was the first woman to hurl a complete game in men’s college baseball. Despite having an impressive screwball and other off-speed pitches, all 28 teams passed on her in the 1997 draft. She pitched in various independent men’s leagues. In 1999 with the independent Madison Black Wolf she finished with an ERA of 1.67. Despite her success in 1999 no major league team ever contacted her. After four years of pitching, she retired. People who saw her pitch believed she was not good enough for the majors but was good enough to pitch in A or AA ball.

Many players are signed just to fill a minor league team roster with no expectation of them ever making the majors. Would it have hurt a team to sign her for $5,000?  I am sure the attendance would have spiked every time she pitched. Clearly, a team would have profited by signing her. If baseball is serious about inclusive to all, a major league team must step up and sign a deserving woman.

Maybe someday Mo’Ne Davis will follow in the footsteps of such MLB players as Dwight Gooden, Jason Marquis, Gary Sheffield, and Jason Varitek who all appeared in both a Little League World Series and a MLB World Series.


 


 
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