From its inception in 1939 to the present, Little League has evolved into the primary outlet for youngsters to participate in baseball—America's National Pastime. Today, well over three million boys and girls from across the globe between the ages of five and eighteen partake in Little League programs. Those who coach in the League, which is incorporated as a not-for-profit organization, do not simply teach children how to swing a bat, toss a curve ball, or steal a base. The essence of Little League is clearly stated in its official Pledge: "I trust in God. I love my country and will respect its laws. I will play fair and strive to win. But win or lose, I will always do my best."
Little League was founded in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, by Carl Stotz and George and Bert Bebble. The initial league consisted of three teams; a year later, a second league was added, with ten more coming on board during World War II. In 1947, the first non-Pennsylvania league—located in Hammonton, New Jersey—became an official Little League, and the initial Little League World Series, the organization's showcase event, was held. The victor was Williamsport's Maynard Little League. By the following year, 94 youth baseball programs had become official Little Leagues, and in 1950 there were 307 leagues spanning the United States. Little League went international in 1951, with the establishment of a program in British Columbia, Canada. Six years later, the team from Monterrey, Mexico, became the first foreign squad to win a World Series title. When it repeated the following year, Monterrey became the first back-to-back Little League champions.
In 1952, the organization had its initial full time president in Peter J. McGovern, and there were over 1,500 Little Leagues in and outside the United States. In 1953, CBS first televised the Little League World Series with Howard Cosell behind the microphone. By 1955, there was at least one Little League in all 48 of the United States, and by 1959 the organization had grown to over 5,000 leagues. That year, which was the twentieth anniversary of Little League, President Dwight Eisenhower announced that the week following the second Monday in June of every year will be designated National Little League Baseball Week.
Throughout the 1960s, Little League continued to develop. Senior League Baseball was established for 13-to-15-year-olds, as was Big League Baseball for those 16-to-18. A summer camp was inaugurated in Williamsport, and the League was granted a Federal Charter of Incorporation by the United States Congress. The World Series was broadcast on ABC's Wide World of Sports. Teams from Spain and Venezuela made it to the series—and one from West Tokyo, Japan, became the initial Asian squad to win a championship.
The 1970s saw the introduction of the aluminum bat, the evolution of which came in conjunction with the League. Girls began taking part in League softball programs, and Junior League was inaugurated for 13-year-olds. By the end of the decade, there were 6,500 Little Leagues, 2,850 Senior Leagues, and 1,300 Big Leagues. In the 1980s, the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum commenced operation in South Williamsport; Vice President George Bush threw out the first pitch in the League championship contest, and the original 1947 World Series winners, the Maynard Little Leaguers—now all grown, and well into middle age—were honored on the fortieth anniversary of their triumph. In the 1990s, Little League continued evolving as a Challenger Division was established for physically and mentally impaired youngsters.
Many major leaguers began their baseball careers in Little League. Boog Powell and Ken Hubbs played in the 1954 Little League World Series. Rick Wise and Hector Torres did so in 1958. In 1971, Lloyd McClendon belted five dingers in five World Series at bats. Tom Seaver was the inaugural inductee in the Hall-of-Excellence, located in the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum. Other alumni include Carl Yastrzemski—the first Little Leaguer to make the Baseball Hall of Fame—Jim Palmer, Mike Schmidt, Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken, and Dale Murphy.
Yet not all-star Little Leaguers were fated to make the major leagues. In 1956, Fred Shapiro, playing for Delaware Township, New Jersey, tossed the initial perfect game in the Little League World Series. The hero of the 1964 competition was Danny Yacarino of the Staten Island, New York, Mid Island Little League, who hurled a no-hitter and belted a home run in the championship contest against Monterrey. One notable Little League graduate is National Football League quarterback Brian Sipe, who participated in the 1961 series, with his team, hailing from El Cajon, California, winning the championship. Among the Little League Museum Hall-of-Excellence honor-ees are National Basketball Association (NBA) Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a member of New York City's Inwood Little League; NBA star and United States Senator Bill Bradley of the Crystal City, Missouri, Little League; George Will, the nationally syndicated columnist and political commentator who played Little League ball in Champaign, Illinois; actor Tom Selleck, a graduate of the Sherman Oaks, California, Little League; and former Vice President Dan Quayle of the Huntington, Indiana Little League.
The official goal of Little League is to "promote, develop, supervise, and voluntarily assist in all lawful ways, the interest of those who will participate in Little League Baseball." Its true purpose, however, is not simply to train youngsters in baseball fundamentals and then send them out on the field to win at all costs. Beyond athletic competition and the enjoyment inherent in learning and playing baseball, the primary objective of Little League is to build within all participants character and loyalty, a solid work ethic, and a sense of identity as a citizen of their home country. Indeed, the emphasis in Little League is on developing exemplary world citizens, instead of outstanding ballplayers.
Broadus, Catherine, and Loren Broadus. Laughing and Crying with Little League: A Training Manual for Little League Parents. New York, Harper & Row, 1972.
Brown, Paul B. My Season on the Brink: A Father's Seven Weeks as a Little League Manager. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1992.
Burroughs, Jeff, and Tom Hennessy. The Little Team That Could: The Incredible, Often Wacky Story of the Two-Time Little League World Champions. Chicago, Bonus Books, 1994.
Dixon, Ramon "Tru," and David Aromatorio. How Far Do You Wanna Go?: The True Story of The Man Who Turned 16 Inner City Kids Into a Team of Champions. Far Hills, New Jersey, New Horizon Press, 1997.
Fine, Gary Alan. With the Boys: Little League Baseball and Preadolescent Culture. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Frommer, Harvey. Growing Up at Bat: 50 Years of Little League Baseball. New York, Pharos Books, 1989.
Geist, Bill. Little League Confidential: One Coach's Completely Unauthorized Tale of Survival. New York, Macmillan, 1992.
Ralbovsky, Marty. Destiny's Darlings: A World Championship Little League Team Twenty Years Later. New York, Hawthorn Books, 1974.
The idea for Little League Baseball was conceived by Carl E. Stotz, of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in August of 1938. Originally, Stotz's plan was to create a youth league for his two nephews and their friends that was a miniature version of major league baseball, and as such each player was outfitted with a team uniform and each game started with a brand new baseball. To make the game competitive and fun for the children between the ages of nine and twelve, Stotz made changes to the size of the regulation major league baseball field.
Through trial and error, Stotz determined that the distance between bases should be sixty feet and the distance between home plate and the pitchers mound would be thirty-eight feet from home plate. Later, in 1943, a home run fence was added to the field, which was 175 feet down the left and right field line and 188 feet to centerfield. Over the ensuing years, changes were made to the field dimensions, and as of 2003, the pitchers mound was forty-six feet from home plate, while the four-foot-tall home run fence stood 205 feet from home plate to left, center, and right field. Comparatively, a standard Little League baseball field is roughly two-thirds the distance of a Major League baseball field.
In further effort to make the game of Little League baseball an enjoyable experience for all children, Stotz instituted rules that encouraged more participation by the kids playing the game, and less participation from the adult coaches. Some notable rules are that each child on a team must have at least one at-bat or one inning in the field during the game, and that at least one base coach must be a player from the team.
The first Little League consisting of three teams started in the spring of 1939 amidst much local fanfare, but the onset of World War II curtailed any large growth during the organization's formative years. However, soon after the war ended, curiosity about Stotz's youth league started to rise. New Jersey became the second state to charter a Little League team in 1947, and a season-ending eight-team, single-elimination tournament for eleven- and twelve-year-olds was held in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in August. The 1948 tournament was sponsored nationally by U.S. Rubber and largely contributed to the growth of Little League, so much so that by 1951 there were 776 leagues, including one from outside the United States in British Columbia, Canada.
Worldwide expansion of Little League became a continuing effort of the organization, and in 1957 the first international champion at the Little League World Series hailed from Monterrey, Mexico. Starting in 1959, the World Series tournament moved from Max M. Brown Memorial Park located on the west side of Williamsport to Lamade Stadium in South Williamsport, where the tournament has been played ever since. Taiwan entered the international tournament in 1969, and they would go on to win the World Series title seventeen times between 1969 and 1997, at which time they revoked their membership in Little League due to an inability to conform to zoning eligibility rules (twelve leagues from Taiwan reentered Little League competition in 2003).
Between 1971 and 1991, the structure of the Little League World Series remained the same: four teams from international regions and four teams from U.S. regions would play in a single-elimination tournament format resulting in a final pairing of one team from the international division and one from the United States. Two important changes in 1992 brought about the first major expansion in the Little League World Series. The first was that the Series changed from a single-elimination tournament to an eight-team Olympic-style pool-play tournament, where everyone in the International pool and National pool played each other once. The top two teams in each pool then advanced to play each other in the International and National championship games, and the winner from that round would play for the World Series championship, for a total of fifteen games. The second change was the addition of lights to Lamade Field in order to accommodate the additional time necessary to play the games.
Nine years later, in 2001, Volunteer Stadium was erected 100 feet from Lamade Stadium so that the World Series could accommodate a sixteen-team, thirty-two-game tournament (eight International, eight National, split into four, four-team pools) that took ten days to complete.
Since its inception, Little League Baseball has run solely on the sponsorship money donated from local companies and corporations. The first local sponsor of Little League, Lundy's Lumber, continued to sponsor many youth sports in Williamsport, including Little League, as of the early 2000s. As mentioned previously, the first national sponsor for Little League was U.S. Rubber, which owned the Keds shoe company. After a successful run sponsoring the international tournament, U.S. Rubber ended its relationship with Little League in 1956. Since that time many high profile companies like Pizza Hut and Mongoose Bikes have been a part of the event as corporate sponsors. In 2003 Honda, Bubbalicious, Oxi-Clean, Russell Athletic and New Era, Musco Sports Lighting, Active Team Sports, CNA Insurance, Choice Hotels International, RC Cola, Wilson Sporting Goods, MasterfoodsUSA, Snickers and Stouffer's were all corporate sponsors of Little League.
Much like sponsorship, media coverage has been a part of Little League since its first game, with the inaugural game's box score appearing in the Williamsport Sun. Local coverage of the series continued to grow as Williamsport's local radio station, WRAK, covered the first championship game in 1948, and highlights of the game appeared on CBS television. Media coverage of the World Series intensified as Little League continued to grow. ABC's Wide World of Sports started airing the tape-delayed final on television in 1960, and further helped the proliferation of Little League. ABC started airing the final game live in 1985, and their sister channels, ESPN and ESPN2, began airing early round games in 1997. Little League programming was so popular that all three channels expanded their coverage of Little League as the tournament expanded. In 2003 ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2 aired twenty-seven of the thirty-two games during the tournament, and the final game garnered a higher rating than game seven of the NHL Stanley Cup finals.
From 1939 to 1972, only boys were permitted to participate in Little League Baseball. However, with the advent of Title IX, in 1972, Little League was forced to allow girls to play. In 1983, Victoria Roche, a participant on the European team from Belgium, was the first female to reach the World Series. The influx of girls in Little League caused participation numbers to rise to new heights. As of 2003, 2.3 million children ages nine to twelve, in 104 countries and all fifty states, competed in Little League Baseball. Of those children, only those between the ages of eleven and twelve can compete on tournament teams with the hope of reaching the Little League World Series in Williamsport.
Frommer, Harvey. Growing Up at Bat: 50 Years of Little League Baseball. New York: Pharos Books, 1989.
Little League World Series Media Guide. Williamsport, Pa., 2003.
Little League World Series Souvenir Program. Lexington, Ky.: Host Communications, 2003.
Sundeen, J. T. "A Kid's Game?: Little League Baseball and National Identity in Taiwan." Journal of Sport & Social Issues 25 (2001):251–265.
2003 Tee Ball, Minor League, Little League Baseball, Junior League, Senior League, Big League Baseball: Official Regulations and Playing Rules For all Divisions of Little League Baseball With Tournament Rules and Guidelines. N.p., 2003.
Van Auken, Lance and Robin. Play Ball!: The Story of Little League Baseball. University Park, Pa.: The Penn State University Press, 2001.
Ryan E. White
LITTLE LEAGUE originated in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1938, when Carl Stotz, while playing catch with his nephews, conceived of a baseball game for boys between the ages of eight and twelve. In order to create a game with the physical dimensions and rules appropriate to their ages, Stotz used sixty-foot base paths, thirty feet less than the base paths used in adult leagues. At first thirty-eight feet separated the pitcher from the catcher; this was later changed to the present distance of forty-six feet, fourteen feet, six inches shorter than in the adult game. Base runners were not allowed to take a lead and not allowed to steal until the ball crossed the plate, nor could batters advance to first when the catcher dropped a third strike. A game lasted just six innings.
In 1939, with local business support and adult volunteers, a three-team Little League organized by Stotz began play. Rosters came from school districts to prevent recruiting from outside local communities. Recruitment was later limited to populations of a certain size, a policy that often angered adults eager to win.
Following World War II Little League grew. In 1947, the first league outside Pennsylvania began and the first tournament, later called the Little League World Series, was held. The tournament was held in Williamsport, still the site for the annual event. Press stories on Little League helped spread its popularity and in 1951 leagues began in Canada, Cuba, and the Panama Canal Zone. In 1957, Monterrey, Mexico, became the first non-U.S. team to win the World Series. ABC televised the last game of the World Series for the first time in 1960.
The success of Little League created concerns about commercialism and competition for Stotz and he resigned in 1955, after a bitter struggle with his successors. Little League, nonetheless, continued to grow, reaching 4,000 leagues by 1956. In 1959, Dr. Creighton J. Hale, then vice president of Little League, designed a protective helmet with double earflaps, later used by adults. Though in 1950, Kathryn Johnston posing as a boy, played in Little League, it was not until 1973, following a court decision, that girls were officially allowed to participate.
In 1969, Taiwan won its first of seventeen World Series. By 1975, concern over foreign domination and rules violations prompted Little League to ban non-U.S. teams, for one year. It also created two divisions that year to guarantee there would always be a U.S. team in the finals. Taiwan withdrew from Little League in 1997. Little League was played in over one hundred countries by 2000. In August 2001, Little League suffered the news that a player who had pitched a perfect game for a United States team was two years older than his father had claimed.
Frommer, Harvey. Growing Up at Bat: Fifty Years of Little League Baseball. New York: Pharos Books, 1989.
Van Auken, Lance, and Robin Van Auken. Play Ball: The Story of Little League Baseball. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.
Wills, Garry. Certain Trumpets: The Call of Leaders. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.
See alsoBaseball .
From its inception in 1939 to the present, Little League has evolved into the primary outlet for youngsters to participate in baseball (see entry under 1900s—Sports and Games in volume 1), America's national pastime. Today, well over three million boys and girls from across the globe between the ages of five and eighteen participate in Little League programs.
Little League was founded in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, with the initial league consisting of three teams. In 1947, the first non-Pennsylvania league, located in Hammonton, New Jersey, became an official Little League. By 1950, there were 307 leagues spanning the United States. Little League went international the following year with the establishment of a program in British Columbia, Canada. In 1953, the Little League World Series was first televised, on CBS. In 1955, at least one Little League program existed in all forty-eight states.
Throughout the decades, Little League continued to evolve. Separate leagues were created for older boys, for girls' softball, and for children with physical and mental limitations. The 1970s saw the introduction of the aluminum bat.
Many major leaguers began their baseball careers in Little League, including Carl Yastrzemski (1939–), the first Little Leaguer to make the Baseball Hall of Fame, Tom Seaver (1944–), Jim Palmer (1945–), Mike Schmidt (1949–), Nolan Ryan (1947–), Cal Ripken (1960–), and Dale Murphy (1956–). Countless Little Leaguers who pitched no-hitters and perfect games, had multiple home-run games, or starred in Little League World Series were fated never to play professional baseball, let alone make the majors or earn a spot at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Those who coach Little League are supposed to teach children baseball fundamentals and then send them out on the field to play with sportsmanship, not to win at all costs. The essence of Little League is clearly stated in its official Pledge: "I trust in God. I love my country and will respect its laws. I will play fair and strive to win. But win or lose, I will always do my best."
For More Information
Burroughs, Jeff, and Tom Hennessy. The Little Team That Could: The Incredible, Often Wacky Story of the Two-Time Little League World Champions. Chicago: Bonus Books, 1994.
Frommer, Harvey. Growing Up at Bat: 50 Years of Little League Baseball. New York: Pharos Books, 1989.
Little League Online.http://www.littleleague.org/index.htm (accessed February 13, 2002).
Newman, Gerald. Happy Birthday, Little League. New York: F. Watts, 1989.