In Little League, everyone gets to play. And violators of the mandatory play rule face severe punishments -- as South Burlington manager Sean McGrath found out last week, according to USA Today.
McGrath was suspended for the rest of the Little League International Tournament when one player on his 12-man roster didn't get an at-bat; a punishment McGrath feels is excessive.
"I didn't do anything on purpose," McGrath told USA Today. "We made a mistake, I'm the one responsible and I'm getting punished big time. The mistake doesn't fit the punishment."
Little League rules dictate that every player not only plays in every game, but that each player gets an at-bat. That's a key distinction in this case.
McGrath put his three substitute players in the game in the top of the fourth inning of Wednesday's six-inning game against Williston in the Vermont state tournament.
Due to the batting order and the circumstances of the game, the 12th player was on the field for nine outs, but was left in the on-deck circle when the game ended because South Burlington, the home team, was ahead 2-1 at the end of the top of the sixth inning.
"When do you think a kid's going to get nine outs in the field and not an at-bat?" McGrath said of the situation. "We handled everything pretty easily up to that point and then we got in a tight game and made our subs like we always do, we just didn't put him in the right spot in the lineup."
Despite McGrath's protests, the rule does not leave any wiggle room for error. Tournament Rule 9 dictates that "a manager's failure to insert players into the line-up as outlined in the rule shall result in immediate ejection of the manager and removal for the remainder of the International Tournament, without replacement."
"I feel like it's very unfair to suspend me for the rest of the international tournament," McGrath said to USA Today. "I think it was pretty easy to see there wasn't any malicious intent. I can admit I made a mistake. I can accept the consequences. But I think they need to fix this flawed rule."
Why is the rule so strict?
The mandatory play rule was made more strict after a manager intentionally violated the rule in a nationally-televised game last summer, drawing very well-publicized criticism, according to the Concord Monitor.
Manager Jeff O'Connell of Goffstown, New Hampshire, was told during the fourth inning of a regional semifinal that one of his players had not gotten an at-bat yet. O'Connell chose to keep the player in the dugout, accepting a two-game suspension rather than taking out another one of his players.
"If it was in our league, he would not be coaching," said Brendon McGahan, president of the Concord Little League, about O'Connell's decision. "It's doing the right thing. There's something morally wrong with what he did."
The Little League International Board of Directors increased the severity of the suspension to the entire tournament in January in response.