During the last decade almost any sport you can name—skiing, skin-diving or skeet shooting—has grown like Jack's beanstalk. But one has grown far faster than all the rest.
That explains in part why in this week's issue, and in the next, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED takes up the embattled subject of Little League baseball, a unique phenomenon in the story of organized sport. In 1947 fewer than a thousand bantam-sized pioneers were blazing new baseball trails around Williamsport, Pa. Since then, the ranks of Little League have increased to the point where this year nearly a million youngsters between 8 and 12 have made the visored baseball cap and rubber-cleated shoes almost as much a symbol of contemporary American boyhood as straw hats and bare feet used to be.
According to its proponents, Little League not only exposes the youngest of the younger generation to the rules and strategy of the national game through actual playing, but also adds the sense of pride that comes from wearing a baseball uniform and using good equipment; and, most of all, it gives them something to do. Its opponents, on the other hand, and quite simply, don't agree that these things, if they have happened, have happened for the best. The result is that Little League at times has been hardly recognizable for the hornet's nest of controversy surrounding it.
More than 20 writers and correspondents across the country contributed their research and experience to this story. One of them, Novelist James T. Farrell, recalls in Part I his Chicago childhood and days when baseball for preadolescents was a matter of vacant lots or cow pastures, of taped nickel rockets and bricks for bases. "In brief," he writes, "I dreamed of a Little League in my own boyhood. There was none. But I would have welcomed one just as eagerly as boys do now. And my dream was not peculiar. It is common to boys who love to play baseball."
Far from a dream, Little League has become a booming reality. Writer Kenneth Rudeen, sifting the evidence from the wealth of testimony by Farrell and all the others, now presents SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S evaluation of Little League today. The conclusions, I am sure, will be of interest to everyone, whatever his present convictions on this much-disputed question. For they bear not only upon Little League but upon the even larger question of the proper role of sport in the development of our children.