U.S. Little League champs lose title for using ineligible players

By Greg Botelho, CNN

Updated 11:41 AM ET, Wed February 11, 2015
President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, greet the Jackie Robinson West team at the White House.
President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, greet the Jackie Robinson West team at the White House.
Story highlights

A Las Vegas team becomes the official U.S. champion after Little League’s ruling
Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West was celebrated by many, including President Obama
Little League suspends team’s manager, an official over falsifying of player boundary maps

(CNN)They made America feel good, those kids from Chicago’s South Side who beat the odds and beat all contenders en route to the U.S. Little League championship.

But now those feelings, like the championship, are no more.

Little League International announced Wednesday that it is vacating all of the Jackie Robinson West squad’s wins from last year’s tournament, including from the Great Lakes regionals and U.S. championship, because some of its players lived outside its assigned boundaries. Mountain Ridge Little League, out of Las Vegas, officially becomes the 2014 U.S. champ in its place.

The international youth baseball organization also suspended Jackie Robinson West’s manager, ousted the local district administrator and barred the program from tournament play.

Reflecting on what he called “a heartbreaking decision,” Little League International President Stephen Keener said the Chicago team’s players can still be proud of what they accomplished last year.

“But it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome,” Keener added. “… As painful as this is, we feel it a necessary decision to maintain the integrity of the Little League program. No team can be allowed to attempt to strengthen its team by putting players on their roster that live outside their boundaries.”

Named for the icon who broke baseball’s color barrier and consisting entirely of African-Americans, the Jackie Robinson West squad proved that, despite talk to the contrary, baseball was not dead among inner-city youth.

The Illinois team earned raves after knocking out Sports Illustrated cover girl Mo’ne Davis’ Philadelphia team and rolling to the U.S. championship contest. It entered that game as an underdog to Las Vegas, which had beaten every team it faced — including crushing Chicago by a 13-2 score.

Yet the title game was a much more even affair. The two squads swapped leads before Chicago jumped ahead for good with a three-run fifth inning en route to a 7-5 win.

In the World Series final the following day, Jackie Robinson West rallied late but couldn’t overcome the eventual champions from South Korea.

Still, that loss didn’t halt the positive feelings about the team. Everyone from former Chicago White Sox great and baseball Hall of Famer Frank Thomas and longtime Obama adviser David Axelrod cheered their success. And Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel credited “their positive attitude and success on the field (for rallying) people from every neighborhood.”