If the team that beat you cheated, do you get a rematch?
Unfortunately for fans of the Taney Dragons, you don’t.
The Little League International announced Wednesday that it was stripping the U.S. championship title from the Chicago-based Jackie Robinson West team over improprieties in player selection.
“You never want to think cheating occurs at that age,” observed former WIP sports talk host Anthony Gargano. “We’re talking about children, and it’s so sad.”
Six months ago, the eyes of Philadelphia were riveted on the Taney Dragons and 13-year-old 70-mph rocket-hurler Mo’Ne Davis as they went to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
The team ultimately finished in third place for the U.S. title behind Little Leaguers from Chicago and Las Vegas.
Jackie Robinson West, which used an illegal map and pulled players from outside their boundaries, according to Little League International, knocked out the Dragons before going on to beat Vegas for the U.S. title. They lost the world title to South Korea.
The U.S. title was awarded to the Las Vegas team Wednesday, but no mention was made of the Dragons and no rematch was announced.
“The decision by Little League International will in no way affect the level of respect that we have for the JRW players,” the Dragons said in a statement. “They should be proud of their accomplishments.”
A Dragons’ spokesman said Coach Alex Rice and individual players would not be commenting.
“In light of this news about the Jackie Robinson team, we’re all forgetting that these were kids who all worked really hard… It’s heartbreaking,” said Lisa Weinberger, a Taney fan whose kids have played on teams, but not on the ‘14 Dragons. “I know there’s technicalities, rules and regulations, but in the end, it’s a team of 12-year-olds.”
Despite not winning the U.S. title, the Dragons’ became local heroes last summer.
They drummed up interest in baseball so much that the Taney Youth Athletic Association’s major, minor and AAA baseball leagues for 13-and-under sluggers are all already booked months before the season even begins, which is unusual, according to commissioner Louis Cammisa.
“Since the summer of ‘14 our enrollment has jumped. We have maxed out in all our divisions in a couple weeks, compared to usually having spots leading into the start of our season,” Camissa said in an email.
Some of the Dragons’ passionate fans demanded a rematch on social media as news spread.
“Can the Taney Dragons get a do-over for that double-elimination loss?” one tweeted. “The Taney Dragons should have got the title,” wrote another.
“That would be great — they could play on a snowy, icy field in the middle of winter,” Gargano said. “The problem is, once it’s done, it’s done.”
“You can’t recapture the moment. Once the sin is committed, it’s indelible.”
Stripped of honors
Jackie Robinson West is far from the first team or prominent athlete to be stripped of a title.
Philippines Little League: The Little League World Series champs from the Philippines in 1992 were stripped of their title for using eight players not located in their district and six more who were over the age limit.
USC football: The Trojans had their 2004 NCAA Championship victory vacated and were also given a two-year bowl ban and scholarship penalty after it was proven that Reggie Bush took impermissible gifts while at the school.
Lance Armstrong: The seven-time Tour de France champion surrendered his cycling crowns in 2012 for doping. He was also banned from the sport for life.
Ben Johnson: The Canadian sprinter won the gold medal (and set a world record) in the 100-meter spring in the 1988 Olympics, but he was stripped of the medal after evidence surfaced of drug use.
Muhammad Ali: In 1967 the heavyweight champion of the world, Ali, was stripped of his title-belt for his political activist. The outspoken boxer refused to be drafted into the army during the Vietnam War due to religious objections.