Just 60 miles east of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, one Little League director is sending a clear message to his 4,000 players about the Houston Astros and their sign stealing.
“Right now, in our leagues, the Astros are suspended,” said Bob Bertoni, head of District 16/31 Little League.
Bertoni is recommending that no teams in the 23 leagues he oversees use the Astros team name this season after it was discovered Houston took a live camera feed to steal signs en route to a 2017 World Series title. He said a few teams used the name last year.
“I think about our Little League pledge; that’s the first thing that comes to my mind. Part of the pledge is, ‘I will play fair and strive to win,'” Bertoni said.
“Our kids emulate and idolize major league players,” he added. “I don’t think we as an organization should be idolizing teams that have decided not to play by the rules.”
The Orange County Register reported last week that two Little League communities in Southern California banned the Astros name for the upcoming season — a matter of ethics, but also a reflection of frustration after Houston beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series. The Central Amherst Little League in Buffalo, New York, has also dropped the team name this year.
Commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the decision by the California leagues in an interview with ESPN’s Karl Ravech on Sunday.
“For me, personally, one of the most troubling pieces of all this was the message that we sent to young people about the game,” Manfred said. “I do believe that our game is special in that it teaches values to young people, whether they become baseball players or not, and when you hold that belief and you see what happened here, you have to accept the fact that this was a step backward for us, one that we’re going to have to work really, really hard to correct.”
Little League International, the Williamsport-based governing body for baseball and softball leagues around the world, said in a statement it won’t restrict districts or leagues from barring the Astros name.
“Local Little League programs have long used Major League Baseball club names for their local teams,” it said. “The volunteers operating those programs have the authority to name their teams, which often reflect the interests of their community and its baseball fans. This unfortunate situation has taught Little Leaguers an important lesson about playing by the rules.
“We value our relationship with Major League Baseball and its efforts to expand opportunities for youth baseball and softball, and the best thing that Little League International can do for MLB and the entire baseball community is to teach children how to play the sport by the rules and with a high level of sportsmanship.”
Bertoni said his district, which covers all of Luzerne County in northwest Pennsylvania, was already considering outlawing the Astros name when he saw those headlines.
He doesn’t think he will be the last district administrator to take such action, either. Little League heads from around the country are set to meet in Hartford, Connecticut, in two weeks, and Bertoni anticipates the Astros will be a top talking point.
“I think you’ll see it on a larger scale,” he said.
Bertoni said he is concerned that impressionable players might try to mimic parts of Houston’s scheme, in which players watching the catcher’s signals via a video feed near the dugout would bang on a trash can to relay to hitters whether the pitcher was throwing a fastball, breaking ball or changeup.
“That is the reason for the first initial step,” Bertoni said. “If we did nothing, that opens the door to allow these kids to do that.
“We’re going to educate our managers and coaches to say, ‘Stealing signs, pounding on a trash can, that nonsense is not what you do when you play baseball or softball. Cheating should never come into play.'”
Bertoni said feedback from parents has been positive and that some communities couldn’t buy Astros uniforms this year if they wanted. At least one supplier — Athletic Image in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania — told Bertoni his company won’t be selling replica Astros hats or jerseys this season in protest.
“Is it crazy? Yes,” Bertoni said. “But I think in today’s world there has to be consequences for everybody’s actions.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.