Overreaction Is a Bad Sign

Originally published May 10, 1998, by Mike Barnicle for The Boston Globe


Somewhere this afternoon — a gray, drizzly Mother’s Day — a pack of children will be playing baseball, many of them during the ritual of Little League, an idea that has flourished for nearly 50 years.

And that’s great because baseball is our best game. It teaches kids patience as well as perseverance. It teaches them how to win and how to lose.

Because nobody goes 4-for-4 all the time. And there isn’t a soul alive capable of throwing strikes forever.

Plus, life sort of mimics baseball. Good days, bad days, errors, and home runs all mix together in games as well as across a career.

You can play smart on Monday then come up dumb as a stone 24 hours later, get caught off base or miss the obvious meaning of a simple sign. Kind of like a bunch of people in Newton did when they overreacted to a harmless billboard ad that’s been hanging on the wall of Gordon Field for the last five years.

The sign is one of 20 that adorn the fence. Each sign means $250 to the league treasury. The money goes to maintain the field at a cost of $5,000 per summer because that task falls to a handful of grown-ups who make sure the place is always in decent condition for games.

Here’s what offended a few touchy-feely, politically correct busybodies to the point where they called the news media before they called anybody who volunteers to help other people’s children: The sign was donated by a beer company and carried a logo along with the message that “Our beer is carefully aged before drinking. You should be too.”

Wow! It’s a wonder the Newton East Little League isn’t assembling intervention teams rather than ball clubs or meeting in halfway houses instead of on the bench. Little League lushes.

Yet a teeny-tiny segment managed to scream loud enough so that the sign quickly came down as TV stations clamored for a picture of a billboard a few adults actually figure could turn their kids into drunks. They sure must have a lot of confidence in their ability and prowess as parents, huh? Days of wine, roses, and a few foul tips.

“It’s really kind of silly,” Terry Sack said yesterday. “If they had a complaint they should have called me or the league. The sign has been there for the past five years. It is not telling kids to drink. Just the opposite.”

Sack is 31. He’s a coach in Newton Little League. His father Jerry is 55; he’s a coach, too. They are two of the reasons a lot of kids who can’t play baseball — either don’t know how or lack ability — continue to play.

Even though it took five years to notice the sign and get suitably aggravated, some people got honked off because, to them, it symbolized a breakdown in morality. Good grief. If kids have problems due to a sign then it’s a pretty safe bet their difficulties are rooted at home, not home plate.

Newton is no different than other cities with Little League. Each league has its share of nutcake parents and kids who need a kick in the pants. And every team usually has at least one playing because dad or mom, sometimes both, figure coaches like Terry Sack are there to serve as baby sitters while they build careers and then walk around in a daze later when their kid — ignored or simply dropped off — has pink hair, six nose rings, and no clue.

The thing that does set Newton apart, however, is that certain wards and precincts are so precious that saving whales is a higher priority than cheering their kids. That’s because Newton is home to a lot of people who go to bed hoping they’ll be lucky enough to wake up in Brookline, where you’d have to assemble a clinic of shrinks and constitutional lawyers to decide whether baseball ought to be called a game or an activity.

One thing is for sure. It’s a bad sign when adults figure their own kids are such weak little simpletons that they might commit an error based on a billboard when any sane liberal knows: Ads don’t drink. People do.