There was no joy in Glendale this week for a group of Little League baseball players benched for the remainder of the season after being told that playing in a series of charity games violated a league rule.
Twenty all-star players from the Verdugo and Vaquero leagues were notified by Little League district administrator Mike Malone that their participation constituted a violation of Regulation IV, which states that "not more than six players of a Little League regular season or tournament team may participate on another team except authorized elementary and junior high school teams and only during the school term."
The rule is designed to keep some players from gaining an unfair edge by engaging in more competition than the others, a Little League official said.
The league maintains that the 20 players violated the rule by playing in a tournament involving 27 Los Angeles-area squads earlier this month to benefit the Tim Herman Foundation, a nonprofit organization named for a 9-year-old La Crescenta ballplayer who died of a heart condition last year.
Carlos Torres, president of the Verdugo League, said the dispute amounts to a selective interpretation of the rule, because the games were simply for fun, not to hone competitive skills.
"There was no winner. Everybody was a winner," he said. "It was just set up to play."
Tim Herman's father, Rob, said that while the fund-raising tournament barely broke even, the games were not meant to compete with Little League.
"The intent was to highlight children as gifts," Herman said of the event, held for the second time this year. "We're not aligned with any program."
For the 11- and 12-year-old players, the news that their Little League season had been terminated came as a painful shock, Torres said.
"They were devastated," said Jackie Garcia of Glendale, whose 12-year-old son Sergio was playing the final season in which he will be eligible for Little League. "They feel that they're being punished."
She said although they were aware of Malone's decision, the teams suited up for their previously scheduled games Wednesday, intending to stage a sit-in at Babe Herman Field in Glendale.
The sit-in was called off because the opposing team failed to show. According to Garcia, the games had been rescheduled by league officials, who did not notify the Verdugo and Vaquero players.
Torres acknowledged that he and Richard (Moe) Montanez, president of the Vaquero League, had clashed with Malone on earlier occasions, suggesting that the decision to bar the 20 boys from competition arose from personality conflicts among the adults.
"He reads the rules the way he wants to read 'em," Torres said of Malone. "He does not get along with me and he does not get along with [Montanez]."
Reached at his office Thursday afternoon, Malone declined to comment on the situation, referring all calls to league headquarters in Williamsport, Pa.
Little League spokesman Dennis Sullivan defended Malone's decision and said Torres and Montanez had been warned of the potential consequences if their players participated in the charity games.
"I hope the effect of this is that the adults act responsibly and teach the kids that you play by the rules," he said.
Sullivan explained that while enforcement is sometimes painful, respect for the rules is at the core of Little League baseball.
"It's never a comfortable position to pass on news that a kid's not gonna be able to play ball, but the idea of Little League is you play by the rules," he said.
Sergio Garcia, Verdugo's catcher, said the decision left him "sad and mad" but had not spoiled his enjoyment of the sport.
"I still love the game, no matter what."