A lawsuit against two volunteer coaches was dismissed. But in settling a separate lawsuit, Jackie Robinson West acknowledged some players from the 2014 squad were ineligible. The team’s title won’t be reinstated.
A lawsuit involving Jackie Robinson West, the Little League team that captivated the country in its historic championship run in 2014, has been settled and a separate lawsuit against the team’s two coaches has been dismissed, according to those involved with the case.
Volunteer coaches Darold Butler and Jerry Houston were caught up in the legal battle over whether Jackie Robinson West used ineligible players. Eventually, Little League stripped the team’s national title.
John Bowley, an attorney for Butler and Houston, said the dismissal has exonerated his clients.
The team’s title, however, will not be restored, a Little League spokesman said Tuesday.
“Little League International is pleased that this matter is now concluded, and that the players can move forward with our best wishes for success in their future endeavors,” said Kevin Fountain, spokesman for Little League International. “The settlement agreement speaks for itself, and Little League International will have no further comment on this matter.”
Fountain said Little League stands by its decision to disqualify the 2014 team, and that the Jackie Robinson West organization acknowledges certain players were ineligible.
The players themselves, however, did not know they were ineligible, he said.
Jackie Robinson West was the talk of the spring and summer of 2014 as they earned a chance to compete in the Little League World Series. The team was made up of 13 boys, ages 10 to 12, from Chicago’s South Side.
The all-Black team spent two weeks on the road, eventually defeating a team from Las Vegas to win the U.S. Championship, though they lost to a team from South Korea in the World Championship game.
In Chicago, the team was celebrated with a pep rally at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. They also went to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama and were invited by Major League Baseball to attend that year’s World Series in San Francisco.
But not long after the historic run, coaches from a rival team came forward and accused Jackie Robinson West of using ineligible players from outside league-approved boundaries.
Little League teams are assigned specific areas in which players must live or go to school to be eligible to play for that team. Little League initially denied the allegations but later said the president and treasurer of Jackie Robinson West created a false league boundary map.
Little League then demanded the pair be removed and, ultimately, revoked the championship title.
Each of the 13 players later sued Little League Baseball, Jackie Robinson West Little League, Inc. and its administrators — though the players did not sue the two coaches.
Little League responded with a counterclaim against Jackie Robinson West’s administrators and also Butler and Houston.
Those cases involving the players and administrators of Jackie Robinson West were settled this week. The case against Butler and Houston were dismissed last week.
“Some adults involved in the 2014 Jackie Robinson West program cheated. They created fake eligibility documents to make it look like some kids on the team lived where they didn’t,” Bowley said during a news conference Tuesday. “My clients, however … were not among them.”
Bowley said three years of litigation and over six years of investigation by Little League International failed to produce “a single document showing or even suggesting that either Darold or Jerry had anything to do with any fake map scheme.”
Bowley went on to say it was a shame Little League didn’t reinstate the championship, considering the players and coaches had no idea anyone was ineligible. He said the punishment was too harsh and noted the Houston Astros kept their 2017 World Series championship even after a sign-stealing scandal.
“There’s no question that grown adults, including players on the Astros, cheated in that scandal. Yet they didn’t lose their title,” Bowley said. “But a group of children who everyone agrees did nothing wrong, and their volunteer coaches, should face the ultimate penalty?”
Butler and Houston said they remain committed to Little League and will continue to coach, but are saddened by the last six years.
“The way these kids have fought from 2014 until now, it was only right for us as coaches to do the same thing and show the same example,” Butler said.
Houston agreed that. as both a father and coach, it was important to not settle with Little League, just as, during the championship run, they had told the players to never give up.
“We knew we had … no involvement with all of the things that they were saying,” Houston said. “So it was important for us to fight, like we had asked the kids.”