Nine-year-old Jericho Scott is a good baseball player — too good, it turns out. The right-hander has a fastball that tops out at about 40 mph. He throws so hard that the Youth Baseball League of New Haven told his coach that the boy could not pitch any more....
"I think it's discouraging when you're telling a 9-year-old you're too good at something," said his mother, Nicole Scott. "The whole objective in life is to find something you're good at and stick with it. I'd rather he spend all his time on the baseball field than idolizing someone standing on the street corner."
League attorney Peter Noble says the only factor in banning Jericho from the mound is his pitches are just too fast.
"He is a very skilled player, a very hard thrower," Noble said. "There are a lot of beginners. This is not a high-powered league. This is a developmental league whose main purpose is to promote the sport."
Noble acknowledged that Jericho had not beaned any batters in the co-ed league of 8- to 10-year-olds, but say parents expressed safety concerns.
"Facing that kind of speed" is [frightening] for beginning players, Noble said....
"You don't have to be learned in the law to know in your heart that it's wrong," [local attorney John Williams] said. "Now you have to be punished because you excel at something?"
Now it's hard to tell for sure how justified the league's action is, especially given the allegations that "Jericho's coach and parents say the boy is being unfairly targeted because he turned down an invitation to join the defending league champion, which is sponsored by an employer of one of the league's administrators" (something that the league denies). There are also follow-up problems stemming from the team's refusal to abide by the league's ruling, and alleged excessive reactions by the child's parents. I also can't speak for sure about just how much better Scott is than other players in the league. And I should also stress that I have no personal experience with competitive athletics (as opposed to some competitive nonathletic games), so that's one more reason for me to be tentative in my thinking here.
But setting this aside, it seems to me that this doesn't quite deserve to be tarred with the Harrison Bergeron brush that some seem to be using (unlike, for instance, this incident from two years ago). Competitive sports, especially but not exclusively among children, generally works best when the players have roughly the same ability. Including players who are much better than others tends to make things less fun for other players, for spectators, and sometimes for the much better players themselves. And it also makes things less educational for other players and for the much better players.
True, there might be some educational benefits, such as learning to deal with adversity or fear, learning how to lose gracefully, and so on. But on balance it seems to me that at some point the ability differential sucks too much fun and educational value out of the experience, at least for many of the other players and maybe for the much better player himself. And the whole point of youth sports is precisely fun and educational value, not simply determining who the most excellent player is.
We see this reflected in many situations — basketball leagues that are only open to players six foot and under, sports teams that have upper limits on player age, boxing events open only to participants under a certain weight, and the like. Here the league's action seems to be more focused on a direct measure of the player's ability rather than on a proxy such as height or age; that could be better, because it focuses on ability, or worse, because it's more subjective, but in principle it seems to be the same idea.
Players who excel far beyond their age group should of course still be playing. They just should be playing against others who are roughly their equals in ability. It sounds like the other players in New Haven Youth Baseball are out of Scott's league (in a more literal way than usual for that phrase) — and they should indeed be in different leagues. (If the next higher league doesn't allow Scott because he's too young, even if he's good enough, then that should be the target of criticism, it seems to me, and not the actions of the Youth Baseball league.)