Ever since Carl Stotz tripped over a backyard lilac bush while playing catch with his nephews in 1938, the Little League program he envisioned was meant to give local youngsters the opportunity to play baseball.
As Stotz sat on his porch steps to ease the pain of his wound he asked his nephews, “How would you like to play on a regular team with uniforms, your own cap, a new ball for every game and bats your size?”
With an affirmative response from his nephews the inspiration for Little League was born and the rest, as they say, is history.
In the 85 years that have followed Little League has become an international phenomenon, albeit with its own share of bumps and bruises along the way. But the essence of the program, playing time and how it is achieved has been long discussed and sadly at times argued over from the local league level to tournament competition.
As Little League grew and its tournaments became more popular and competitive, playing time, or the lack thereof, became a hot topic. In response, Little League established a mandatory playing rule for its tournaments requiring all team members bat and play the field in each game. Many local tournament teams responded by reducing the size of the rosters to make substitutions easier. In retort, Little League tied the number of adult coaches allowed to the number of players on a team. It became a ‘tit for tat’ exercise with both sides looking towards the advantage it sought.
As the 2023 Little League tournament season approaches, a new administrative salvo has been cast upon the bow of the local league tournament planning, aimed at the very intent of playing time – but from a very different perspective.
Effective with the beginning of the 2023 tournament season the previous Tournament Mandatory Play regulation has been replaced by Continuous Batting Order (CBO) at all levels of play (excluding the Senior League Baseball and Senior League Softball Divisions). The use of CBO is intended to allow managers to have free substitutions, whereby players can go in and out of the game more freely and have more opportunities to play defense and bat.
In explaining the new rule to its member leagues and the general public Little League International produced a video during which Dan Velte, International Senior Operating Executive, provided the following rationale for the CBO ruling.
“The most important thing for us is to improve the experience, for not only the players, but for all the volunteers and administrators as well. Some of the challenges we had with our previous rule was that it was really hard to administer at the local level. At the higher level tournaments, we did well with it because we had a lot of volunteers and more experienced volunteers.
“At the district level and entry levels of tournament play it was hard to administer. Ultimately what happened, you had a lot of managers and coaches that were removed from the tournament and the number of violations we had really created a negative experience locally.
“We set out in the fall to look at ways to enhance that experience, working with our International Advisory Committee, talking to a lot of Little League coaches and a lot of youth baseball coaches in and outside of our program. What we ultimately decided would be best for us and for the program was to utilize the continuous batting order at all levels of play below the Junior Divisions of both baseball and softball.”
The new rules require all tournament teams to have at least 12 players on its’ roster and all will bat in a 1-12 batting order. The players can come in and out of the game at defensive positions and the courtesy/pinch runner opportunities are being altered to allow for pitchers and catchers to have a pinch runner in certain circumstances. Like many of the rule changes Little League has made over the years, time will tell if the new CBO helps or hinders the underlaying concept of youngsters playing the game.
It remains to be seen as to how managers will adjust to the rule, how fans will accept it and what effect it may have on determining the outcomes of games. As in past seasons, it could be possible for World Series teams to vary in roster size.
Brian McClintock, Little League International Senior Communications Executive, addressed that possibility.
“Little League International is committed to ensuring that all players selected to a tournament team have a great experience and CBO will provide additional play opportunities for all players. Tournament team selection is the responsibility of each local league. Each team is required to have a minimum of 12 players on a tournament team and a community can carry additional players if they decide that is what is best for their league to compete throughout the tournament season.
“It would be hard to speculate on the roster sizes of the teams participating in our World Series, but all teams are aware of the CBO requirement.”
While the CBO steals the spotlight LLB has enacted other changes to this year’s tournament. They include:
Regardless of team roster size, each team will be permitted to have up to three eligible managers and coaches in the dugout.
A courtesy runner may be used anytime there are two outs and the pitcher and/or catcher are on base. The Courtesy runner must be the player in the batting order who made the last out.
To assist the players in the Senior League Baseball and Softball divisions, there is no longer a regular-season games-played requirement to be eligible for tournament play. In such cases, the team must charter with Little League International by June 1.
To have eligibility to manage/coach in this year’s tournament volunteers are required to participate in the Little League Diamond Leader Training Program.
Study up and be ready for a whole new ballgame when this year’s tournament rolls around.