Little League managers rarely find themselves as the subject of national news stories, but Jeff O’Connell, coach of Goffstown, New Hampshire’s Little League squad, has found himself in hot water after making a controversial in-game decision. During a nationally televised game, O’Connell decided to not play one of his players, a clear violation of Little League rules. Had Goffstown won the game, O’Connell would likely have faced a two game suspension, but the New Hampshire team was defeated by South Portland and eliminated from the New England Regional tournament. However, that does not mean that O’Connell is off the hook for his decision.
The official New Hampshire Little League Facebook page posted a statement where they condemned O’Connell’s actions, saying his choice undermined the purpose of Little League, which is meant to “ensure that all children have the opportunity to have a fun, meaningful experience.” The statement also urged the Goffstown Little League officials to take O’Connell’s actions into consideration when assigning coaches and officials for next season. It’s the Little League equivalent of calling someone out for a dick move.
The move was quickly derided by pretty much everyone, including the announcers who realized what was happening during the game. Most felt it was inappropriate for O’Connell to put winning ahead of the experience of the players, as this teaches the wrong lesson to these young, impressionable kids.
According to O’Connell, he did give the player a chance to step into the game in the fourth inning, but the player decided not to hit. The player then would have had to enter the game in a “do-or-die” situation in the sixth inning, which O’Connell did not feel was fair to the player or his teammates.
Regardless of what really happened, it can be easy to say that O’Connell deserves to be reprimanded. But, Little League coaches are volunteers and this guy has given his time and effort to help his team be the best it can be. Everyone misses an easy play every once in a while.