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Little League Torn as Manager Cleared of Throwing Game

Times Staff Writer

“I will play fair and strive to win”

-- Little League pledge

On the night they allegedly strived not to win, the youngsters in the orange and white uniforms of the Giants exuberantly awaited their postgame soft drinks.

As shocked onlookers listened, the Giants, fresh from defeat, reportedly said, “Our manager told us to lose,” words that have outraged parents and caused dissension among officials of the Little Lake Norwalk Little League.

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The manager of the Giants, Jim Rawlings, was found not to have told his players to throw the game after an inquiry by the league board. But a group of parents, who have sons playing in the league, is upset because Giants players were not allowed to tell the board their version of what happened.

One of the Giants players has told The Times that Rawlings told him to deliberately make errors to ensure that the Giants would lose a game to the Dodgers and avoid a team Rawlings feared in the playoffs.

Refused to Discuss Incident

Rawlings reportedly told the board his team members misunderstood his directions. He refused to discuss the incident with the Times.

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But it has been discussed in hushed tones at the city’s pizza parlors as some people worry about the stain of scandal and whether the league’s charter will be taken away, and others worry about moral damage to their sons.

“They’re saying cheating works,” said Jerry Triplett, a manager in the league and one of a group who, while standing at the league’s ballpark snack stand, overheard the Giants talk of throwing a game on a recent Monday evening (June 17).

The Giants lost the game to the Dodgers, 12-9, after leading, 9-4.

Michael Cross, a former Giants coach and father of Giants catcher Raymond Cross, said he knew “something was going on” as he watched the Dodgers score eight runs in the final inning.

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“Three times in a row he (his son, Raymond) threw the ball over the pitcher’s head into center field, letting runs score,” Cross said. “Way over his head.”

In a telephone interview, 9-year-old Raymond Cross said:

“Jim called timeout, came out and told me to throw over the pitcher’s head so they could get runs.

“And he told the pitcher to walk everyone.” (The pitcher was Rawlings’ son, Ryan.)

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The motive for losing the game was so the Giants would avoid a possible playoff game against the Cubs, and so improve the Giants’ chances of moving on to the Tournament of Champions.

(Two teams go to the Tournament of Champions--the winner of a game between the teams with the best record from the first half of the season and second half of the season, and the team with the next-best overall record. Had the Giants, who won the first half, not lost to the Dodgers, the Dodgers and Cubs would have had equal records in the second half and needed a playoff game to determine who was best. If Cubs beat the Dodgers in that game, then the Giants would have had to play the Cubs for

the league championship.)

“Jim said we had to lose the game so we wouldn’t have to play the Cubs,” Raymond said. “Every time we played them except once we lost. Jim thought we would lose against them in the playoffs.”

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When Jerry Triplett overheard the Giants that night, his first reaction was, “I can’t believe this.”

“If it was just two or three who said it, you’d think they misunderstood what the manager said, but all of them said it,” Triplett said. “We (the adults at the snack stand) asked them over and over and they kept saying, ‘We didn’t want to play the Cubs so we threw the game.’ ”

One manager, who asked that his name not be used, told the same story about the Giants talk of losing. He said the fateful inning “looked borderline. I’ve coached kids 9 years old. They’re world beaters one day and against the same team the next day they can’t do anything right. Are they trying to give the game away or are they just being 9-year-old kids?”

Gene Hayes, president of the Little Lake Little League who was at the game that night, called an emergency meeting of the board for the following night.

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The board has 12 members, including Linda Rawlings, Jim Rawlings’ wife.

The meeting, attended by Darrell Stinson, administrator of the Little League district that oversees Little Leagues in Norwalk, La Mirada, Cerritos, Buena Park, Downey and Cypress, quickly turned into a shouting match, according to those there.

“We (the people who wanted the investigation) were called

head hunters,” Triplett said, speaking of about 10 parents and coaches who attended the inquiry.

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Stinson asked everyone who did not hear the kids make the statements to leave. Only a couple of people left, Triplett said.

Rawlings and his coaches, Joe Richards and Gary Heater, successfully challenged efforts to have the players testify.

Called a Misunderstanding

Rawlings’ defense, according to Stinson, was that his players misunderstood him. Stinson said that Rawlings told the board, “I didn’t tell those kids to lose. I said, ‘We don’t have to win, guys, we’ve already won the championship.’ ”

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A secret ballot found Rawlings not guilty, 8 to 4.

“There was no proof as far as I could see,” says Stinson, who has a district staff of 10, including Jim Rawlings. District officials are volunteers and are not paid by Little League.

“In my opinion, the league has made the best decision based on facts presented. If we could have had solid proof, they would have replayed the game and he (Rawlings) wouldn’t be here today.

“The evidence presented was not enough to say to him, ‘You are a cheater.’ The only proof of the pudding would be the kids.”

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But, Stinson says, “He (Rawlings) is not going to be on my staff next year.”

Rawlings has not been dismissed as a manager. (The board selects the managers.)

Stinson, who said he was a “strict administrator,” said he didn’t feel the incident warranted a news story. “I see it being blown out of proportion,” he said.

But Peggy Claborn, who quit the board after the meeting, said, “I’m convinced it happened. I don’t feel I can go back over there.”

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If the league rested a little easier after the meeting, dissension returned the following day when a Times reporter and photographer showed up for the league title game between the Dodgers and Giants. (No matter who would win, both teams were assured of going to the tournament because their overall records were better than the Cubs.)

When asked about the alleged throwing of a game, Hayes, a stocky, bearded man, said, “I don’t want to discuss it anymore,” and told the reporter and photographer to leave. Rawlings, wearing jeans with his baseball shirt and a black cap, was with his team in the chain-link cage dugout.

“No comment,” Rawlings said when asked if he had thrown a game. He turned his attention back to the field to holler, “Got to throw it a little harder, son.”

In the green bleachers were parents of Giants players.

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Little League officials approached the parents and one of the officials said, “We’d appreciate it if nobody says anything. If that story is printed it’s going to take Norwalk Little League and make it go pffffttt.”

Robbie Cross, mother of Raymond, talked anyway.

“They made their bed, now they can lie in it,” she said, aware of constant stares from Rawlings and his coaches.

But she and her husband, Michael, said they were surprised that Rawlings was being accused of cheating.

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‘He’s Fair, Easygoing’

“He’s fair with the kids,” Robbie said. “Some managers scream, he’s easygoing.”

“Jim’s a nice guy,” Michael said.

On the field, the Dodgers were having another big inning. The Giants threw the ball away, missed fly balls, botched grounders--in a game they were striving to win. There was little life left in the Giants and when their coaches tried to coax some back, their responses were halfhearted “heyyyyyyyyyys” in high voices at the opposing batters.

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When the inning was over, the Dodgers had scored nine runs to take an 11-3 lead.

Joe Richards, one of Rawlings’ coaches who had “Coach Joe” stitched on his shirt, slapped down his clipboard and said, “These guys don’t want to win.”

A Giant bench-warmer, the smallest kid in sight, looked at Richards and said, “I think it was the sun” that caused the errors.

“Don’t worry about that,” Coach Joe said, slamming down his clipboard again.

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The Giants are in the Little League’s minor league, which is for players not yet ready for the “majors.”

“The minor league is basically a training league,” said Elmer Lehotsky, a member of the rules committee at the Little League’s national headquarters in Williamsport, Pa. “It was never meant to be a competitive program. It is supposed to be a fun thing. If it isn’t fun it isn’t Little League. You’re not going to tell me this (the alleged incident in Norwalk) is fun.”

But Lehotsky said Williamsport would not interfere with the Norwalk board’s decision.

“It’s a local league affair,” he said. “A local league is autonomous, and this is not within our jurisdiction.”

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Robbie Cross says there is “no way” Raymond will play in the league again.

And Triplett is worried about the whole thing’s effect on his son.

“You try to explain to your son to do his best and then he can see doing his best doesn’t always work when someone is manipulating things out there,” Triplett said.

“We want to play baseball, but I won’t take my boy back there until things change.”

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