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LITTLE LEAGUE NOTEBOOK : Cheating Scandal, Take 2: This Time, Long Beach Played Around It

September 02, 1993|PAUL McLEOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The return of the Long Beach All-Stars to the World Series in Williamsport, Pa., was a nightmare for Little League administrators, serving as a reminder of the cheating scandal that brought the team the title a year ago.

In 1992, Long Beach was defeated by the Philippines, 15-4, in the title game, but the championship was awarded later by forfeit when the Filipinos were disqualified for using overage players.

Long Beach won the title again Saturday, defeating Panama, 3-2. The game capped a week in which the team's fans, in their red T-shirts and blue baseball caps, made it clear they were there to see the All-Stars make up for last season.

More questions were raised by the disqualification this season of four teams that violated age and boundary rules. Little League officials felt they were under siege from reporters and others who attended the World Series, but spokesman Dennis Sullivan downplayed the cheating and said he could not understand why anyone wanted to bring it up.

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They went wild in a Las Vegas casino Saturday when Long Beach won the title, but reaction elsewhere around the country was mixed.

Barry Sommerfeld, a fan of the team who works for McDonnell Douglas, was in the casino of the Excalibur Hotel when Jeremy Hess hit the game-winning single.

"The TV was on and everyone stopped to watch the pitch," he said. "It was the strangest thing. When they saw it was a hit, everyone cheered."

It was not because they had bets on the game. None are taken in Las Vegas on Little League baseball.

On a plane from Harrisburg, Pa., to Chicago, there were cheers when it was announced that parents of the Long Beach players were on board.

But in Chicago, Wendy Hayes--mother of Charlie Hayes, who scored the winning run--was shocked when an airline receptionist said she had not heard of the team.

There was a rumor that President Clinton watched the game and was going to meet the team in Philadelphia on its way back to Southern California. No meeting took place.

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Ryan Beaver, a member of the 1992 Long Beach All-Stars, found his return to Williamsport as a spectator everything he wanted.

Beaver was the losing pitcher when the Philippines won the title game last year.

The events of that day have haunted Beaver, but he was in good spirits last week. He wore his 1992 All-Stars baseball cap everywhere, and helped out in practice.

Beaver, 13, too old to play on this year's team, has moved on to Pony League.

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Saturday's title game was the closest since 1979 when Taiwan defeated Campbell, Calif., 2-1. There have been 10 one-run title games in the 47-year history of the Little League World Series.

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The crowd for the title game was announced at 40,000, but it appeared to be much smaller. Last year, the grass hills behind the outfield fences were completely filled. Saturday, they were not.

Since admission is free and there are no turnstiles at Lamade Stadium, there is no accurate way to count spectators. Little League officials estimate the crowd each day.

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Long Beach players, led by Larry Lewis, their superstitious manager, had their "rally caps" on in the bottom of the sixth inning of the title game. For good luck, most had their caps turned around while seated in the dugout.

When Lewis stepped onto the field to tell the umpire that he was sending up pinch-hitter Jeremy Hess, he forgot to turn his cap around. Lewis remembered about halfway to the plate, but by that time he had been captured on camera by ABC.

After Hess singled in the winning run, players bolted onto the field with their hats on backward. The Associated Press distributed a photo of the scene nationwide.

Lewis said he did not have his lucky baton from his high school track days with him, but he did bring a good-luck necktie a friend had given him.

He broke from tradition too. For several weeks, Long Beach had played every game as the visitor, even if it won the pregame coin flip.

"It had been a good thing for us, so we stayed with it," he said. But in Saturday's title game, he won the flip and chose to be the home team. That allowed Long Beach to take the dugout on the first-base side for the first time in the series.

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Dave Traub, father of reserve outfielder Cassidy Traub, promised his son a set of golf clubs if the 11-year-old made the All-Star team.

During the series last week, Cassidy reminded his dad of the promise.

"He really loves golf," Traub said. "He can't wait to get back and play."

Cassidy's interest in the sport began after he sank a hole-in-one at a nine-hole course near his home.

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Lewis and Burroughs won't say if they will return to direct another youth baseball team.

"Right now we want to savor this championship," Lewis said.

Burroughs, though, is likely to coach a Pony League team next spring, or remain with the Long Beach Little League to help his wife, Debbie, coach a team that includes their 8-year-old daughter, Shaelen.

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