When the Barrington, Rhode Island, Little League state champions beat out their opponents from Goffstown, New Hampshire, Saturday to clear their way to the World Series, Pat Dutton knew his team’s loss came in part from a sub-par performance.
The New Hampshire all-star team gave up an early lead after Barrington worked each pitch, forcing the Goffstown Junior Baseball pitcher to burn through 82 of them in the first three-and-one-third innings.
But there was another factor in play during Barrington’s 6-4 win, Dutton alleges.
He claims the opposing team stole signs during both games of the series in Bristol, Connecticut, where Barrington was crowned the New England Region champions.
The team is slated to take the field Thursday in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, at the Little League World Series.
“You can see (runners on second base) leaning in, looking in and they’re doing hand gestures to their kid (at the plate) indicating what kind of pitch it is and where it’s located,” Dutton told The New Hampshire Union Leader. “You can do that in big league ball, but in Little League it’s unsportsmanlike, it’s dishonorable, and it’s disgusting. They did it the whole tournament and got away with it, and now that’s what’s representing New England in the Little League World Series. It’s just a bad look.”
In a statement to Boston.com Tuesday, Barrington Little League denied the allegations, saying, “The article in the Union Leader is unfortunate, and its premise false.”
“We hold our coaches, players and teams to the highest standards, and do not coach or condone unsportsmanlike behavior of any kind,” the statement says.
Stealing signs is a longstanding, but largely condemned, practice in baseball.
Still, peering at gestures from catchers and coaches to tip off a batter at the plate is very much a tradition in Major League Baseball, dating back through decades of professional play and evolving in each generation with new technology.
It’s so common, the big leagues do not have a rule against it.
In Little League, however, the rules are clear: Stealing and relaying signs is strictly prohibited.
Should one find the practice occurring, umpires are to eject the involved players and coaches from the game, according to the league’s official regulations.
Dutton alleges he first saw Barrington stealing signs during a game against Goffstown — who ultimately won — on Aug. 8, according to the Union Leader. He brought it to the attention of the home plate umpire during that game and when he saw it again on Saturday, he said.
After that, Barrington did it again on the next pitch, according to Dutton. The umpire then issued warnings to the player and team manager, although they were not ejected, he told the newspaper.
In a video of the game, a runner on second base can be seen making a gesture with his hands toward the batter during the top of the third inning. The umpire then calls a time out and speaks with both managers before the game resumes.
Dutton said he decided not to push the issue the rest of the game. It was unlikely that doing so would have changed Goffstown’s loss, he said.
“It’s just frustrating to see teams and kids having to go about it that way when clearly they were playing better than we were,” he told the Union Leader. “They didn’t have to do that. That’s something these kids don’t learn on their own. That’s something that they’re taught. They’re coached to do that.
“Obviously the team condones it, they coach it, and, personally, that’s something that I’m completely against,” he added. “Little League is supposedly against it, but you wouldn’t know it this week.”
In its statement, Barrington Little League said the organization “prides itself on adherence to Little League rules and values.”
“In all aspects of our organization, we strive to foster the ideals of good sportsmanship, honesty, loyalty and respect for coaches, officials and teammates. The article in the Union Leader is unfortunate, and its premise false. We hold our coaches, players and teams to the highest standards, and do not coach or condone unsportsmanlike behavior of any kind.
“Likewise, we do not condone anyone making disparaging comments about opposing teams, particularly teams like Barrington’s All-Star team, a team made up of dedicated volunteer coaches and 13 exceptional young players. That goes against our core values, and is, in fact, a violation of the rules and spirit of Little League itself. If an opposing team or manager has any concerns, they should take them up with Little League. We are extremely proud of our team and wish them well in Williamsport.”
In an email Tuesday, Paul Matatall, president of Goffstown Junior Baseball, said the group’s board members and coaching staff would not comment further regarding the incident.
New Hampshire District One, the local Little League management authority, and Little League’s East Region did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Barrington’s advancement to the World Series is a first in program history, according to the organization’s website. Last month, the team beat out Cranston West to secure the Rhode Island state championship title.
On Thursday, Barrington will take on the Southeast Region champion from Virginia at 3 p.m. ESPN will broadcast the game.
Update: In a statement Wednesday, Little League International said it “has full confidence that the umpires and tournament officials handled this situation appropriately” and “considers this issue closed.”
“In response to the accusations that have been made against Barrington Little League at the New England Region Tournament, Little League International has full confidence that the umpires and tournament officials handled this situation appropriately. It is under the judgement of the umpire to decide if unsportsmanlike behavior, including stealing or relaying signs, has taken place. If so, the penalty is ejection and a one-game suspension for those involved. The Little League International Tournament Committee considers this issue closed and has stressed to the teams in Williamsport the importance of adherence to all rules and regulations governing the Little League Baseball World Series.”