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Column: The Divergent Legacies of Little League Founder Carl Stotz

  • Statues at the Original Little League field in Williamsport, Pa. (Jimmy Enright)

  • Statues at the Original Little League field in Williamsport, Pa. (Jimmy Enright)



For Tribune News Service
Thursday, August 09, 2018

Millions and millions of kids and adults have been influenced by Little League Baseball, but only a fraction of these folks know much about its founder, Carl E. Stotz, and his complex legacies.

Stotz was an exemplary leader whose abilities were highlighted in Pulitzer Prize-winner Gary Wills’ study of leadership types, Certain Trumpets: The Call of Leaders.

By Wills’ key definition, leaders mobilize others toward shared goals, and Stotz’s performance was a grand slam.

It was in Williamsport, Pa., in 1938, that Stotz, unemployed and poor, developed his vision of a scaled-down baseball game while seeking recreational diversion for his two nephews, ages 6 and 8. He laid down the rules of play, the dimensions of the field, the type of equipment and the importance of volunteers. Box scores appeared in local papers. For baby boomers, Little League would become “the greatest thing.”

Stotz promoted his leagues for their character building, educational value and the unadulterated joy of playing baseball. Volunteerism was another cardinal consideration; when neighboring communities asked Stotz to organize leagues for them, he passed, urging the locals to do it themselves.

After World War II, Little League grew in influence: In 1946, there were 12 leagues, all in Pennsylvania. Then came the explosion of leagues: by 1949, there were 307; by 1951, 776; in 1954, 3,300 and in 1956, Stotz’s last year with Little League, there were 4,000.

In 1956, Stotz and the League acrimoniously parted ways and for decades, Little League hardly acknowledged him. He had serious disagreements with the growing commercialism of Little League, the increasingly fierce competition of what used to be healthy play, and the pressures of big business sponsorships and endorsements. In hindsight, his foresight was a fastball over the heart of the plate.

Inevitably, serious concerns and even scandals erupted. Example: As a result of adults behaving badly, two World Championships were forfeited. I was particularly appalled as kids were treated like miniature adults — a medieval practice. When a child was at bat in a pressure situation, announcers would say things like: “Now we’ll see what Joey is really made of.” Such characterizations created an outcry in the 21st century and it seems that the medieval practices stopped.

After he left Little League, Stotz created another, almost entirely unknown legacy.

Until his death in 1992, he continued his affiliation with the Original Little League in Williamsport, which played on the same field of early days, now named Carl E. Stotz Field.

Today, according to Original League President Casey Parker, six teams continue play in that league. They have their own tournament, but are not chartered by Little League, so their players aren’t eligible to compete for a World Series berth. One of the teams is sponsored by Lundy Lumber, which sponsored a team in 1939! Their field is now a National Historic Landmark complete with its own museum and brick pavers given by small donors.

Parker, like many observers, feels that Little League has neglected the second Stotz legacy for decades, but he recognizes that in more recent times, the relationship between the Originals and Little League has improved. For the past two years, teams playing in the Little League World Series have staged an exhibition game at the historic field as part of the festivities of the event.

On the other side, Little League Baseball has taken strides toward reconciliation of the divergent legacies.

A statue of Stotz and a Little Leaguer stands near the official Little League World Series ball fields. Stotz’s family has generously donated many artifacts to the new Little League Museum. And Little League has created the Carl E. Stotz Community Award for Leadership, given to one of its leagues annually since 2014.

However, in comparison, local agencies without donations from Little League have done more for Stotz’s legacy. The most recent memorial is the Bases Loaded Statues program, begun to commemorate Little League’s 75th anniversary. Beautiful bronze statues now adorn Market Square’s baseball diamond memorial in Williamsport. According to program director Jason Fink, more statues will be placed in strategic locations throughout town.

Original Field already has The Pitcher outside its museum.

But not every one in the Williamsport area is happy.

Many residents I interviewed believe that Little League could do more to honor its founder. One vocal critic, Alex Crist, a former player and now a coach of an Original League team, has a specific gripe. Original Little League is still not chartered by Little League.

Brian McClintock, senior director of communications for Little League, states that Original League is certainly welcome to apply. However, any application is subject to rules regarding districting and player eligibility. Original League has never applied for a charter, perhaps because it may not be able to keep its teams intact if it does.

So, bravely, the kids, coaches and volunteers of Original League carry on.

With hope, we will find a mutually satisfactory means to merge the divergent legacies of Little League founder Carl E. Stotz. For those working on the problem, if you come to a fork in the road, go straight!

Silvio Laccetti is a columnist and retired professor of history at Stevens Tech in Hoboken, N.J.