I played each of the major kid-sports as I was growing up: baseball, basketball, and soccer. I was terrible and terribly uninterested in soccer. I was decent at basketball, though I never made proper use of my size. Baseball was my sport. Until about the third grade or so, my father was the assistant coach of our little league team. Then, when Mr Rockford left, he became the headcoach. Dad was a very egalitarian coach. He determined the lineup based solely on batting average with two exceptions. He toyed around with the first three hitters because the best batting average belonged to a powerish hitter and there were two kids it was better to lead off with due to their relative speed. Second, if you missed practice without a good excuse, you were pulled to the end of the lineup no matter how good you were (in our league, everyone batted and you rotated in the field, unlike at most levels).
When Mr Rockford left, that opened up a pitching slot because his son was one of our pitchers. So Dad had try-outs. Unlike my brother Oliver, I was never a really good pitcher, but I could get it over the plate as often as not, which at that level isn’t terrible. This was helped by the fact that balls vs strikes was the meritocratic way Dad determined whether you would pitch. During tryouts, I tied for third place. Since we had four pitchers, I figured that wasn’t bad. However, when the lineups were posted, I didn’t make the cut. The fifth place person got in instead of me. Granted, I didn’t beat the fifth placer by much, but even so the fifth placer also had an attendance problem. The fourth slot should have gone to me. The only reason it didn’t, and why Dad changed the formula, as best as I can determine, was so that he wouldn’t be accused of playing favorites. And so pitching was one of the two positions I never played during my little league career (SS was the other) unless you count the outfield positions individually.
I thought of Dad this past week or two when three college football coaches got fired: North Texas’s Todd Dodge, Colorado’s Dan Hawkins, and Minnesota’s Tim Brewster. Dodge and Hawkins were both undone in part by the same thing: their sons. Both came to college with their quarterbacking sons. Both started their quarterbacking sons. Neither of their quarterbacking sons did very well at all. Both coaches were unsuccessful in the larger context (Dodge went 6-37 compared to his predecessor’s 42-64 and Hawkins 19-39 compared to his predecessor’s 49-38), but the alleged favoritism towards their sons became a flashpoint of the criticism. Every now and again I would run across a North Texas game and the announcers would explain the number of ways they were limited by Riley Dodge’s inability to throw the ball downfield (making it easy to defend against by keeping defenders up front). Hawkins eventually benched his kid, Cody, but it didn’t prove to do a whole lot of good. Had he benched Cody sooner, the assumption that there was a better QB that was not the coach’s kid at the team’s disposal would have been nipped in the bud. Son or not, it’s a common thought among college football fan that nobody is better than the backup quarterback on a team that’s not winning like it should.
This is an ever-present issue at the college level and below because a whole lot of quarterbacks out there are the kids of coaches. Some of it a matter of talent running in families, but when it comes to something like quarterbacking there’s also a lot of learned skill involved and if you want your kid to be an allstar quarterback you have to get them started really early, which coaches do. Even so, it’s pretty rare that having your kid on the team is going to be a good idea. North Texas is a hard school to coach for and Todd Dodge would probably have failed anyway (never having before coached above the high school level). Hawkins was a good coach at Boise State, but he inherited a good program and his successor took the program to the next level. Would he have succeeded without his son? Probably not, but at least it would have proven to be less of a distraction.
Of course, at the little league level, you don’t have to worry about boosters. You do have to worry somewhat about little league parents, though. So in that sense, Dad probably made the right call even if I couldn’t prove it at the time. I may have done a better job than Jesse Thurman did, but every ball I pitched would have made Mr and Mrs Thurman and the parents who whomever was #6 pretty irate.