BRISTOL - Little League Baseball has implemented a notable change regarding the mandatory play rule in 2018, which will be in effect for the New England and Mid-Atlantic Regional tournaments in Bristol.
The motive behind it started in last year’s New England Regional, when Goffstown (N.H.) Little League manager Jeff O’Connell made the controversial decision to break league rules by not playing one of his players.
It wasn’t taken lightly by the organization, as the mandatory play rule is something Little League emphasizes.
“Mandatory play is the backbone of the program,” Little League Eastern Regional Director Corey Wright said. “It’s what sets us apart. Mandatory play has been a staple since the start of the program. Every kid must play.”
The mandatory play rule states that a team with 13 or more eligible players in uniform must have every player receive one at-bat. For a team with 12 or fewer eligible players, every player must play at least six consecutive defensive outs and bat at least once.
The punishment for violating the mandatory play rule has changed, decreasing the likelihood that a manager will violate it.
A violation of the rule now results in the immediate ejection of the team’s manager and he or she is removed from the team for the entire tournament, with no replacement.
The operations staff makes sure the managers are aware of their bench players who have yet to play.
“Now we tell them in the fourth, fifth or sixth that here are your options,” Wright said. “We tell them that they must get the players in who haven’t played or we’re going to go to the tournament committee and they’ll be ejected from the game immediately.”
While the punishments are harsher, it still happens at times, and one team heading to Bristol will be without its manger because of the rule.
South Burlington (Vt.) Little League manager Sean McGrath was ejected in a 2-1 loss to Williston in the district tournament after one player didn’t see an at bat in the final inning, when South Burlington was looking to go ahead.
While a violation of the rule is a mistake 99 out of 100 times, according to Wright, the actions of O’Connell last year prompted the rule change because it was blatantly an intentional move from O’Connell to leave his player on the bench for players he believed gave them a better chance to win.
With the game broadcast by ESPN, the manager’s actions were spotlighted even more, as the player had his helmet on ready to see an at-bat for the final innings, but it never happened, even though O’Connell was notified.
“We let him know that he still had a sub that he needed to put in the game,” Little League East Region Assistant Regional Director Amry Shelby said.
“He said to us that ‘there’s no rule stating that we as a coaching staff have to put this player in the game at this point in time,’ so he rolled the dice to see if those players could get hits to score them runs to give them more at bats, but they did not do that, so he ended up violating mandatory play on national television.”
With the change, the mandatory play rule is more likely to be followed to a T and Wright hopes a repeat of last year is not in store.
“What happened last year was blatantly intentional,” Wright said. “Knowing that the rule is stricter this year has had a definite impact on it, because the [manager pays] more attention to it, obviously, with the penalty that’s at hand.”