CHICAGO (AP) — A day after Little League International stripped Chicago's Jackie Robinson West of its national championship, team officials announced they've hired a high-profile attorney to conduct an investigation they hope will end with the return of their title.
The sport's governing body announced Wednesday that team officials had violated regulations by including players who didn't qualify because they lived outside the team's boundaries, then scrambled to get adjacent leagues to go along with the scheme. But attorney Victor Henderson said Thursday he will try to determine not only whether the team broke any rules but whether — as supporters in Chicago have suggested — Little League International unfairly singled them out.
"I want to make sure that whatever rules and regulations are being applied to Jackie Robinson West are being applied to any other team," Henderson said during a news conference, flanked by members of the family that runs the league on the city's South Side and the team's manager, who has been suspended.
Henderson said it is too early to say if Jackie Robinson West will file a lawsuit against Little League International.
"Clearly, we have one more battle," said Bill Haley, the director of the team, whose father was the founder. "You were not wrong for sticking with our boys then (during the Little League World Series), and you are not wrong for sticking with our boys now."
The announcement that the title the team won at last summer's Little League World Series triggered an emotional response from parents and supporters in Chicago and around the country, some of whom suggested that the race of the all-black team may have been a factor in the stunning decision to remove the title. On Thursday, Henderson tried to tamp down those criticisms.
"We aren't raising the race card," he said. He also addressed threats made against the life of the suburban baseball league official whose allegations triggered the investigation.
"The Haley family, they want no part of that," he said.
The family members who attended the press conference and Darold Butler, the team's suspended manager, did not take questions. Henderson said he could not answer any questions until he receives paperwork from Little League International, which he said he will request.
In the meantime, he said he is telling the boys that, as far as he is concerned, they remain the national champions.
"I'm saying to them, 'You do not give up your championship yet,'" he said.
Whether the investigation could prompt Little League International to reverse its decision remains to be seen. On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the organization to ask that the title be given back to the team because the boys did nothing wrong.
But the president and CEO of Little League International, who on Wednesday said there was no indication the boys were complicit in the scheme of the adults, told the mayor that the decision was final.