Going The Rounds: Little League rule book changes can be good —

The National Football League has prohibited, beginning next fall, players from lowering the crown of their helmet to use as a weapon outside the tackle box.

College basketball has signed off on more extensive utilization of instant replay under certain circumstances. And golf’s anchored putting ban is scheduled to go into effect in 2016.

No organization, however, alters its rules more frequently than Little League Baseball.

Several years ago, Little League adopted minimum participation standards for players participating in postseason all-star tournaments. Each player was required to bat at least once and play the equivalent of one inning (three consecutive outs) in the field.

This rule was applauded by most observers as a relatively uncomplicated way of ensuring that reserves received at least token playing time at district or state.

The regulation did, however, contain one significant loophole. Teams that carried 13 or 14 players could be at a disadvantage in facing a club with 11 or 12, since the latter team could make more extensive use of starters. Even large leagues often fielded all-star teams with only a couple of reserves — essentially defeating the purpose of the regulation.

The rule was subsequently was changed to create a double-pronged standard.

All-star teams with 12 or fewer players were required to not only give their subs at least one plate appearance but also two innings (six consecutive outs) of defensive play.

Clubs with the standard 13-player roster needed only to bat their reserves once, with no defensive requirement necessary.

District III Little League administrator Steve Grandorff of Elma likes the change.

“This allows more kids to play on all-star teams,” he said.

Little League organizers, he explained, were embarrassed by the increasing frequency of American qualifiers for the Little League World Series fielding 11-player teams against international squads with 14 on the roster.

The change, he added, also allows teams to select more specialists who might have had limited value under the previous policy.

“I think what they’re going to find is if you carry more than 12, you have weapons you didn’t have before,” Grandorff said. “Maybe it’s a kid who can just pitch. Maybe it’s a kid who can only run. I think it’s a good rule change because it encourages teams to take more kids.”

That’s a laudable goal, but I’m not sold on the rule change.

Any regulation that reduces playing time for a certain segment of the roster can’t be entirely beneficial.

In the first of three classic games against Montesano in the district Major League tournament, eventual champion Chehalis pinch-hit all four of their reserves in the same inning (interestingly, three of the four reached base), then immediately re-entered the starters.

In the wild 17-16 win over Monte in the championship contest last Saturday, the Chehalins essentially platooned at certain positions over the final few innings — using one group to pinch-hit and the others to play defense (unlimited substitutions are allowed as long as the players involved are “married” at the same spot in the batting order).

The Chehalis coaching staff, it should be emphasized, did nothing wrong in those situations. The coaches followed the rules that were in place. It was smart — and ultimately winning — baseball.

One wonders, however, if the ideal of giving every player a complete postseason experience has been somehow misplaced along the way.

Well-intentioned rules regarding substitutions and pitch counts have significantly lengthened Little League tournament games. Degrees in accounting have not yet been required for umpires and scorekeepers, but bookkeeping experience wouldn’t hurt in either capacity.

Nevertheless, Grandorff believes the substitution rule will be around for a while.

“I don’t think it will (be changed),” he said.

Seattle’s best

In its daily sports poll question not long ago, The Seattle Times asked readers to vote for Seattle’s greatest play-by-play sportscaster.

The nominees included the late Mariner announcer Dave Niehaus, the Seahawks’ Steve Raible and the late Pete Gross, the Sonics’ Kevin Calabro and the late Bob Blackburn, the Sounders’ Arlo White, the Huskies’ Bob Rondeau, network icon Keith Jackson (who started his career with Seattle’s KOMO-TV) and the late Seattle Rainiers voice Leo Lassen.

Despite Seattle’s reputation as a football city, Niehaus surprisingly emerged as the overwhelming choice. His vote percentage more than doubled the total of runner-up Calabro.

Seattle may not be known as a mecca for sportscasters, but all of those guys are (or were) pretty good. Even Raible, a first-class analyst who initially didn’t appear to believe that reporting the gain or yard-line was part of his job description on play-by-play, has improved greatly over the past few years.

For someone like myself who is old enough to have heard all of the nominees (even Lassen during his final two years with the Rainiers), singling out one of the nominees would be a difficult task.

Jackson made the biggest splash on the national level, but did relatively little play-by-play while in Seattle.

Lassen was a great announcer in his day (and certainly the best of this group in teaching listeners the basics of the sport). But with his raspy voice and old-school style, he probably couldn’t even wangle an audition with a major league team today.

A fish out of water in attempting to call other sports, Calabro is talented enough on pro basketball to have worked national broadcasts for ESPN Radio during the past few years. In my view, he’s better on those games than he was on Sonic contests, where he tended to be overly partisan and sometimes unflattering to the opposition.

Listeners familiar with Niehaus only in his declining years, when he perpetually misjudged the depth of fly balls, don’t realize what an outstanding announcer he was during his prime.

In baseball parlance, he had all the tools — the knack of enhancing the drama of close games while relying more heavily on stories and anecdotes during blowouts. He had great descriptive talent and even greater enthusiasm.

Unlike his colleague and successor Rick Rizzs, however, he seldom crossed the line between enthusiasm and unbridled boosterism.

Perhaps most importantly, Niehaus was able to maintain a modicum of baseball interest in Seattle during seasons in which Mariner All-Star selections were players like Craig Reynolds and Matt Young.

If you change “best” to “most influential announcer,” it’s evident that the Times readers made the right call.

Rick Anderson is The Daily World’s sports editor. He can be reached at (360) 537-3924 or via email at randerson@thedailyworld.com.