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Legion baseball rule change needs revision

Posted: July 25, 2013 - 3:18pm  |  Updated: July 26, 2013 - 8:53am

We wish the American Legion Twins baseball team the best of luck at the state tournament under way in Anchorage. And we hope that their performance on the field will help them rise above what has been unfair treatment off the field.

Prior to the start of the current season, the Alaska State Baseball Committee passed a new rule requiring players to live within a 50-mile radius of a team’s base school. For the Twins, that school is Kenai Central High School, and the Twins happen to have players on the roster from outside of that boundary.

Last Sunday, the Clarion reported that a letter to the Twins from the state Legion Baseball Co-Chair stated that the rule is intended to promote the growth of baseball in Alaska.

In our opinion, the state committee is swinging a corked bat.

Twins Baseball Manager Lance Coz told the Clarion that the tenets of Legion baseball are to increase player participation and to foster competition at the highest possible level. We agree with his assessment that the new rule does neither.

In seasons past, the Twins have made room on their roster for players from other communities, such as Homer and Kodiak, who find themselves without a team for the summer. The general rule has been that a player without a home Legion team can play for the next closest team. Though high school baseball is growing in Alaska, for various reasons, not every community can put together a Legion squad. It’s an effort that requires time, money, and a pool of players that aren’t committed to other endeavors — fishing, for example — during the season.

To us, the willingness to include players from elsewhere sounds a lot like increasing player participation and fostering competition.

The new rule prohibits those players from playing for the Twins. Indeed, if their home community can’t scrape together the resources necessary to field a team, it prohibits them from playing anywhere. Deliberately excluding players from participation is hardly the way to grow a sport.

What’s more, the rule impacts the Twins to a far greater degree than any other Legion team in the state. The rest of the state’s Legion teams are based in much larger population centers than we have here on the Kenai Peninsula. For example, the Municipality of Anchorage has a population of 298,610, living within some 1,700 square miles, according to U.S. Census data. The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s population estimate is 56,900, spread out across some 16,000 square miles. The driving distance from Chugiak to Anchorage is about 25 miles; the driving distance from Homer to Seward is 173 miles.

Just looking at a map, the 50-mile rule appears to be a clear case of gerrymandering. Couple it with the fact that Coz was removed from the state committee over the winter and the rule change followed a season during which the Twins won the state tournament, and things look even fishier.

We applaud the Twins’ efforts to take a stand on the issue. The team, with support of parents and boosters, chose to include players who are ineligible under the new rule while an appeal was sent to the national governing body. The result of the appeals process was mixed; players who had been on the Twins roster prior to the rule change were grandfathered in, but players new to the team this season were ruled ineligible.

However, the appeals board also indicated that the Alaska Baseball Committee should revisit the rule to address situations if local teams fail to form — which cuts straight to the heart of why players from Homer and Kodiak join the Twins in the first place. Coz has promised to pursue the issue before next season.

We encourage the state committee to follow the national appeals board’s suggestion. Players should be learning the game’s fundamental skills on the field. Learning to play politics shouldn’t be one of them.

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