MLB should take notes from the Little League World Series—the Monday Morning Realist


Every Monday morning, Section 215’s Akiem Bailum gives an in-depth and unfiltered look at all of the latest sports news in The Monday Morning Realist. You can follow Akiem on Twitter @AkiemBailum.

Aug 20, 2014; South Williamsport, PA, USA; Mid-Atlantic Region pitcher Mo

Say what one wants to say about the Little League World Series. I didn’t watch too many of the games on television and only followed most of it (as I follow most sporting events nowadays—via Twitter).

But, there is a certain nostalgia that comes with the Little League World Series for me. No, I never played in the LLWS, but I did play Dixie Youth Baseball for a team in Summerville, South Carolina which is only 30 minutes away from Charleston. If I were to watch one of these LLWS games, the feels of nostalgia would sweep through me like a gust of wind off Lake Michigan hitting Wrigley Field.

It may be called the Little League World Series, but it is the epitome of the phrase “big things come in small packages”.

This year’s LLWS games have outrated Major League Baseball this year. They outrated the bigs last year and are doing so again this year. The numbers for big league, big money MLB are going the way of the spitball while those for the LLWS are going the way of the 40-home run season.

Yes, Mo’Ne Davis was a huge reason why the ratings were so sky high this year. She was an inspirational story. Davis, a 13 year old girl with a heck of a curveball proved that anything a boy can do a girl can do better.

The classic line “You play ball like a girl” from The Sandlot was meant as a comedic diss. Davis turned that into a phrase of praise. While Davis’ team was unsuccessful in becoming the U.S. representative in the Little League World Series final, let’s not be surprised, Realists, if there is already a petition for her likeness to be put on the front of a Wheaties box.

Davis’ story was supplanted by that of another major story of this year’s LLWS—Jackie Robinson West from Chicago. This was a team that bears the name of the #42 from the Brooklyn Dodgers that was agent of change in both Major League Baseball and society at large. This was the first time that an all-black team had the honor of being the American representative in the final game of the Little League World Series.

It was also significant because of its local implications. Chicago is an extremely segregated city with the majority of its large, but shrinking, African American populace living on the city’s South Side. That’s the part of the city that has been under siege as of late with gun violence, shootings, and gang culture run amok. That team should serve as an inspiration for the black population of Chicago that it can rise above the status quo to do bigger and better things in sports and life.

The only question is when they’ll be receiving a White House invite from the First Chicagoan—President Barack Obama.

He’s likely not the only resident of the Windy City that took notice of Jackie Robinson West. Ratings in Chicago were reported to have more than tripled White Sox ratings on Comcast Sports Net Chicago. Same with the Cubs. A winning baseball team coming from the City of Broad Shoulders? What a concept! Take notes, Ricketts family!
Take notes, Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball.

If this year’s Little League World Series exposed anything, it showed that it seems to be everything MLB is not. MLB historians and purists love to talk about the purity of their hallowed sport, yet thanks to bloated players hooked on PEDs, bloated out-of-control contracts, owners that are simply using their teams as ATMs, and the loss of national significance, MLB is about as pure and authentic nowadays as a $2 bill—one of that many that may eventually pay Commissioner-elect Manfred’s salary.

Firstly—Mo’Ne Davis. Where is the Mo’Ne Davis in MLB? This not only hits at the idea of women eventually breaking through the glass ceiling and entering the ranks of MLB on the field and in the board room. It goes to something more subtle—why doesn’t baseball market its stars?

Andrew McCutchen. Mike Trout. Yasiel Puig. Clayton Kershaw. Jose Abreu. Anthony Rizzo. Giancarlo Stanton. Jose Altuve. Paul Goldschmidt. David Price. Bryce Harper. Yoenis Cespedes. Jonathan Lucroy. How come whenever we turn on MLB Network, Realists, that there aren’t multiple commercials featuring these guys? They’re only the faces of MLB in 2014, you know.

Davis received more attention in about a week than most MLB players receive nowadays in a month, and this was not only because she played ball “like a girl”.

In addition, Davis and the Jackie Robinson West story also exposed (once again) another reason why baseball’s popularity is in decline—it refuses to market itself to the African American population.

Why does the NBA and the NFL have such high viewership among African Americans? It relates to the black experience in America better than any other sport. This also translates into why so many African Americans gravitate to either of these two sports (or track and field—thank you Usain Bolt, who is Jamaican).

MLB has tried its outreach to the African American population with the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program as well as Jackie Robinson Day and the annual Civil Rights Game. But there is a fundamental problem with the way the sport markets itself to the black population when the percentage of black players in MLB is under seven percent.

Sure, there may also be a novelty aspect to the Little League World Series as well. After all, it is similar to the way we treat the FIFA World Cup in the USA. We pay little to no attention to soccer throughout the year (though per NBC’s EPL ratings this is changing at breakneck speed), but are draping ourselves in the Stars & Stripes and American Outlaws gear with chants of “I Believe that We Will Win!” every World Cup or Women’s World Cup.

But, that novelty aspect seems to be trumping the big bad wolf that has its headquarters on Park Avenue. Unpaid kids 10, Overpaid adults 0.

In fact, Realists, if MLB wants to demonstrate that it is not asleep at the wheel, Mo’Ne Davis and the Jackie Robinson West team should all be part of MLB’s next RBI commercial. Let’s make that happen, shall we?