The following letter was written by Rob Doss, NEP President, in response to DYB's Official Ruling 98-01 and Notification of Rule Violation to Wes Skelton, Commissioner of Dixie Youth Baseball.
The Youth Association of Northeast Pensacola is a community-operated and funded baseball and softball program with rather inauspicious beginnings. Until only a few years ago, it operated from a park where it could hardly make the mortgage payments -- six lighted ballfields booked solid with games five days a week. The Association now leases property upon which it has twelve lighted game fields and more than a dozen practice fields. For more than a dozen of those years, NEP has been affiliated with Dixie Youth Baseball.
From the very beginning, NEP struggled with the challenges of getting parents interested in managing teams -- once it found interested parents, it toiled over the task of finding "qualified" managers. NEP needed to select managers who would represent the values of the community, dedicate time to ball business, and develop player skills -- then we expected those managers to locate the same kinds of parents to help them coach. These managers and coaches have children and their children have friends who'd like to play together. In other circumstances, there are kids who'll never play baseball because parents don't trust their children to strangers; we see cases every year where the manager or coach takes on a hardship case where he pays for the kid's uniform, or is a father figure for a child in a single-parent household. A lot of these kids never make the all star team, but are able to play ball with adults and kids who will make a positive impact on their lives. You see, we've always believed that we at NEP start off with the same kids that everyone else does, but we place such a heavy emphasis on the kind of Association officials, managers, coaches, and even umpires we get that the kids feed off of the atmosphere and training and become some of the best ballplayers in the country.
So, we've allowed "manager's options" or "recruits" from nearly the very beginning of our Dixie Youth involvement. We've been very careful not to allow that process to detract from the recreational character of league play by giving teams an unfair advantage over others. We have always abided by the recreational spirit of the game, not because Dixie Youth Baseball wanted it, but because our customers wanted it. We recognize, more than any national baseball organization ever will, that of the more than 600 players in our program, more than 2/3 will not play post-season ball, and that we owe them a meaningful recreational experience. We at NEP have delivered on that obligation year after year. The reason we've been able to deliver on that, as I discussed with you at the State meeting, is because we at NEP believe that THE BEST way to field a quality all star team at the end of the season is to facilitate competitive league play. On any given day last year, for instance, any one of our Major League teams could have beaten any other. By the time all star time came around, each of our ball players had already faced some of the best talent they would ever see because we had it scattered all through the park -- these great ballplayers weren't sitting on one or two teams where they'd never sharpen their skills against similar talent. Every game was a dogfight.
We have always staunchly enforced DYB rules and regulations because we take our Park values -- Integrity, Teamwork, Commitment, and Sportsmanship -- very seriously. On that basis, we don't manipulate the rules, dig for technical exceptions, or anything of the kind. We have also taken literally DYB's founding priniple that its "most fundamental intent...was to develop a program which would emphasize local autonomy." When I see NEP as being "autonomous," I'm afraid that I don't see that as something that Dixie Youth Baseball, as you put it in your Official Ruling 98-01, "grants" in its benevolence. I see it as something NEP has because, as the customer, we would never hire an affiliate who would attempt to deprive us of it. When the DYB founders exclaimed that its program would "emphasize local autonomy," it was making a selling point to potential customers. We accepted that emphasis on "autonomy" on that basis, recognizing the conditions further outlined in the founders' vision to maintain "good organization and...keep one league from gaining an unfair advantage over another such as boundary and population limits, the number of teams in a league and the age brackets." We note that the founders also specifically left "such things as night baseball, team selections and league operation up to the local leagues" -- as it should be.
As I thumb through the rule book, I find a number of areas where the rules are very specific with regard to the way games need to be played and leagues are organized -- it lays out in detail structural provisions and league boundaries, for instance. It tells us that we can't draw players from more than a 15,000 population limit, it tells us to update our boundary maps each tenth year beginning in 2001 or at any time the boundaries are changed, and it tells us how many players in each age group to put on teams. However, when it comes to the selection of players, it says that "each league shall determine its own method for the selection of players for team rosters" under the supervision of a player agent who ensures all teams have an equal opportunity to select players. That all sounds consistent with what the founders described when they said they wanted to direct provisions regarding boundaries, population limits, and age brackets, and what they didn't want to direct with regard to team selections. Rule makers could have easily written "THERE SHALL BE NO MANAGER OPTIONS OR RECRUITS OR OTHER SUCH MEASURES TAKEN FOR THE PLACEMENT OF PLAYERS ON TEAMS PRIOR TO LEAGUE DRAFT WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE MANAGER'S OWN CHILD" -- but they didn't. They also didn't write that player selection methods "MUST ENSURE THAT PLAYER QUALITY IS EVENLY DISTRIBUTED THROUGHOUT THE LEAGUE." They could have, but they didn't. They steered well clear of mandating outcome-centered solutions with regard to player selection. At any time, Dixie Youth Baseball could have imposed specific rules that it "deemed necessary for good organization and to keep one league from gaining an unfair advantage over another" IF it deemed them necessary and IF they thought one league could gain an unfair advantage over another, but it didn't. Having an "equal opportunity in the selection of players" doesn't mean talent will be balanced on teams any more than having an "equal opportunity to acquire wealth" means we'll all become millionaires.
I am very perplexed at the way you do business, Mr. Skelton. You know that NEP is now about a week away from beginning its season and you have chosen this moment to challenge a practice that this park has openly held for a dozen years. You could have challenged it by making a rule change in 1998, but you didn't. You could have put us on notice that you intended to author a rule change to clarify DYB's new position regarding "options" for 1999, but you didn't. You could have noted that we and an overwhelming number of other parks permit "options" and put us all on notice that the new "sheriff" interprets the rule differently than the old "sheriff" did and won't allow it any more after the current season is complete, but again, you didn't. Instead of assuming a judicial temperament and pursuing a just outcome, you targeted NEP, a highly successful DYB program, and ignored all of the others. Judicially-speaking, I consider you, as Commissioner of Dixie Youth Baseball, to have been effectively put on notice by three DYB National Directors, a State Director, and two District Directors that probably every DYB park allows some type of options, but you have decided to ignore this fact and present NEP an absurd option, considering the circumstances.
I read your ruling and notification of a rule violation last night for the first time, ten days before our first game is scheduled. Our Board of Directors met immediately thereafter and decided to terminate our long relationship with Dixie Youth Baseball on the basis of its uneven treatment of our program and its total disregard for the welfare of our players, parents, coaches, and Association leaders. DYB has essentially labeled us as cheaters for taking unfair advantage of other parks and has undermined the well-deserved successes of hundreds of our players without displaying any determination whatsoever to enforce your newly-developed standard to every league in Dixie Youth Baseball.
As the Commissioner of Dixie Youth Baseball, now aware that probably EVERY DYB park allows some type of options, you should be circulating "Official Ruling 98-01" to every DYB park and rooting out and sanctioning ALL violators immediately. Your obligation to enforce "the rules" evenly compels you to act immediately. Tell these parks that they must redraft their leagues because "options" stack their teams and give them an unfair opportunity to work out with a core of all star players in advance of the all star practice date. See how many of them sit still while you deduce that they're cheating simply because they permit "options." You have a complaint before you, Mr. Skelton, act on it. ...But regardless of what you do, DYB is still fired.
Rob Doss, President, Youth Association of Northeast Pensacola