My latest Chicago Tribune column is on Karl Ravech’s view of the Little League World Series in the wake of Jackie Robinson West being stripped of the U.S. title.
You also can access the column via my Twitter feed @Sherman_Report.
From the column:
Karl Ravech covers the Major League Baseball and College World Series for ESPN. His favorite, though, is the Little League version in Williamsport, Pa.
“We all played Little League and we can relate to these kids,” Ravech said. “There’s such a purity to it and everyone hops on.”
So that’s why Ravech felt like he had been “slapped in the face” after learning that Jackie Robinson West was stripped of its U.S. Little League World Series title. He did play-by-play of their games last August, and like everyone else, he got caught up in their compelling story.
As one of the main voices for the LLWS because of his ESPN role, Ravech found himself struggling to explain Wednesday what happened to that “purity” and how it will affect the event going forward.
“There’s frustration and disappointment,” Ravech said. “There’s a tremendous letdown to what you just witnessed not being real. It’s difficult to reconcile that the accomplishments of that team were inauthentic due to the behavior of adults.”
The LLWS has become a valuable franchise for ESPN. In 2013, the network signed an eight-year extension to cover the games, paying an estimated $7.5 million per year.
That rights fee seemed to be a bargain in 2014 when Mo’ne Davis, the young girl pitcher from Philadelphia, and JRW, the first all African-American team to win the U.S. title, enabled ESPN to generate huge national ratings. The numbers for JRW’s games were off the charts in Chicago; the world title game against South Korea delivering a 15 local rating on WLS-Ch. 7, which means an estimated 532,000 households were tuned in. That rating was comparable to what the Blackhawks did during the playoffs and the Little Leaguers dwarfed the big league Cubs and White Sox, who did ratings mostly in the 1s last year.
However, ESPN’s coverage of the LLWS isn’t without its critics. Not surprisingly, in the wake of the JRW news, ESPN again faced questions about whether the extensive national TV exposure is too much for young kids and now if it prompts people to skirt the rules?
“One of the carrots of being successful is getting a chance to play on ESPN,” said ESPN Radio’s Mike Greenberg after his “Mike & Mike” show discussed the various angles Wednesday. “You can’t pretend it’s not a factor. With the good comes the bad. ESPN is responsible for some of the good and maybe indirectly for some of the bad.”