RAHMWATCH: While grabbing headlines with Little League champions, Chicago's mayor gets flacks at the Sun-Times to ignore Rahm's record of hostility to real 'youth baseball' across Chicago

It was one of the feel good stories of the summer. Chicago's Jackie Robinson Wast Little League baseball team returned home to a water salute at Midway Airport and a lengthy parade and party through the South Side and in to Millennium Park. And the cheers were well earned and deserved. The only blemish on the day was the fact that the mayor whose cuts in the city's real public schools have decimated public schools sports was first milking the headlines (and all-important TV news minutes) and then grandstanding about how much he would -- in the future -- be doing to further baseball for Chicago's young.

The baseball field at Maplewood Park (1640 N. Maplewood in Chicago) was typical of the Chicago Park District's baseball fields the morning Rahm Emanuel was grabbing headlines with the national Little League champions, the Jackie Robinson West baseball team. The photograph above was taken on August 27, 2014, while Mayor Emanuel was grabbing headlines downtown praising the Jackie Robinson West Little League team. The policies of the Emanuel administration have made it nearly impossible for young people to find decent playing fields in city parks for pickup games, and scheduled league games -- from Little League tee ball to "Pony" games -- are forced to cancel on a regular basis whenever it rains. The Park District's fields do not drain properly, leaving the baselines as the gutters for rain and the area at home plate as the biggest mud puddle. And the hostility of the mayor to Park District workers has resulted in there being no one to try and prepare the fields for play after either weather problems (like the one above) or routine play (when the fields have to be tended or they become dangerously rutted for players. Substance photo by Jean Schwab.Meanwhile, across the city, the public schools are about to begin the 2014 - 2015 school year with the smallest number of baseball programs in a century, and the Chicago Park District continues to suffer from neglect that has left most of the city's public baseball fields under water and rutted after even the briefest shower.

Of course, that means nothing to the pundits at the Chicago Sun-Times, for whom "news" is whatever the mayor dictates. As so the destruction of the actual public baseball programs for children and teenagers is ignored, while the newspaper's pundits take cheap shots at one of Rahm's challenger, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.

The worst media offender during the orgy of self-promotions the mayor continued with the August 27 welcome home party for Jackie Robinson West came from Michael Sneed, the Sun-Times gossip columnist. Sneed took the opportunity to cheap shot both CTU President Karen Lewis and CTU Staff Coordinator Jackson Potter on August 28 both in print and at SUN-TIMES.COM. SUN-TIMES.COM IS the online version of the once serious newspaper that has been slipping around looking for "traction" so that the paper's owner, Emanuel buddy Michael Ferro, can "flip the property." Ferro has been reducing reporting in order to make a profit, and seems to be preparing the property for a quickie Internet sale, much as he did with previous investments. Meanwhile, having reduced the number of reporters to a bare minimum, Ferro pushed the Rahm Emanuel agenda, hyping the mayor's activities.

Although the Sneed column claimed to note some "history" (reminding readers that former mayor Jane Byrne, a Sneed favorite, moved into the Cabtini Green housing project decades ago and that a baseball diamond was one result. Sneed somehow missed most of the rest of the history of the past four decades -- the destruction of Cabrini-Green after decades of disinvestment, the strangling of Chicago public prep sports behind the smokescreen of corporate "school reform" and the current round of cuts which will further destroy Chicago's baseball programs -- no matter how many Rahm Emanuel propaganda paragraphs Sneed and the Sun-Times produce.

There are only two significant public places across Chicago where people -- young, old, or other -- can play baseball: Chicago Park District parks and Chicago Board of Education public school playing fields. The same is generally true in every city, and across Chicago's suburbs. The public schools and the public parks are where the public can go out to play ball. But the contrasts between Chicago's facilities and those in most of the suburbs is stark.

In both the parks and the schools, the Emanuel administration has expanded the neglect faced by anyone wishing to use the facilities. Also, the Chicago Public Schools administration has simply refused to pay for most baseball coaches. This forces teachers and others who wish to develop baseball programs to either work for free or to do so utilizing complex fundraising.

Currently, Chicago's public schools do not have frosh, and frosh-soph baseball programs because the funding to pay the coaches for these programs has been eliminated. And varsity teams usually are forced to make due with one coach, because the Board of Education's officials have stated that the Board will not pay for assistant coaches (which are included in the Chicago Teachers Union contract).

Because the Board of Education appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel refuses to staff the schools to maintain baseball diamonds, the fields are locked rather than in use during most of the baseball season. Above, the infield at Roberto Clemente High School, once one of the city's baseball powerhouses (and named after the immortal pioneer Latino Hall of Fame hero) is kept locked from the public during the summer. And the Chicago Board of Education has eliminated the all-important freshman and frosh-soph programs, while refusing to pay varsity coaches except for one head coach. Substance photo by Jean Schwab.The Park District is another story. Most of the available baseball fields in Chicago are in public parks. The majority of those are so poorly maintained as to be dangerous for players. They are unsuitable for playing after any rainfall even for those determined to play. One splash of a decent baseball into on of the thousands of puddles caused in part my Mayor Mudpuddle and the game is over.

Rahm Emanuel noted correctly on August 27 at the Jackie Robinson West party that baseball is one way to keep kids from joining gangs and getting involved in "youth violence." But the most vulnerable kids are simply excluded from current Little League programs by the time fact that they (or their families) can't afford it. Where Chicago parks do have Little League leagues and teams, those teams are forced to make families pay a large amount for each child wishing to play. [Disclosure: This summer, in addition to paying for equipment for our two sons to play Portage Park baseball, we paid nearly $100 per child for the right to be on teams. Poor families are excluded even from public Little League because of these costs. The amount has doubled since the era ten years ago, when my eldest son learned the skills he had to make the Whitney Young baseball team (which went on to win the 2005 city frosh soph championship, then the 2006 and 2007 city championships].

Few young people are athletic enough to "make the team" at their high school if they are only trying to begin playing baseball when they get to 9th grade.

Thus, the claim that suddenly, in the summer of 2014 when the world wide attention to a Chicago Little League team means media value, Rahm Emanuel and the public officials -- especially the members of the Chicago Board of Education -- who have suddenly discovered the value of young people playing baseball and their eternal love for the game are hypocrites. Substance will be documenting these hypocrisies over the coming months. Chicago's mayor may have staged a few publicity stunts thanks to the national champion Jackie Robinson West Little League team being from Chicago.

Celebrating the publicity stunts organized by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Sun-Times gossip columnist Michael Sneed devoted most of her column on August 28, 2014 to touting Rahm's version or reality, ignoring how much Rahm's policies have trashed youth sports -- and especially baseball -- in Chicago's schools and parks, and trashed Rahm's opponents, Karen Lewis and Jackson Potter of the Chicago Teachers Union. The Sneed column should serve as a lesson in corporate propaganda for journalism classes now that the touts for the one percent are being exposed regularly in some of the press. But as they say in baseball, you have to play the game not just debate it. Rahm's game plan has been anti-baseball. The day he was getting publicity proclaiming how much baseball will do (in the future?) for Chicago's young people, Rahm Emanuel's actual administrative policies are forcing further cuts on the baseball available to children and teenagers in the city. Board of Education officials continue to cut coaching, which is one of the two things (the other, maintenance of the fields) that creates and expands programs.

By contrast, youth baseball in the northern and western suburbs -- including New Trier district, where the Emanuel family enjoyed high school -- are fully funded, with well maintained playing fields. That's a story we will be telling here, too. Stay tuned.


Dugout scoop!

Play ball! Watch for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to make a major announcement soon on government funding to finance city youth baseball including the citys Jackie Robinson West Little League Team.

Sneed hears it could be part of a broader strategy for keeping inner-city kids out of street gangs and giving them the chance to experience all the life lessons taught when participating in our countrys national pastime.

-- A history note: Baseball diamonds sprung up at the Cabrini-Green housing project in 1981 when then-Mayor Jane Byrnes husband, Jay McMullen, turned garbage-strewn fields into sports courts.

-- The couple decided to move into the housing project over concerns about how crime victims were being handled by the police. True to form: Wherever the mayor goes, goods and services follow. And it followed . . . only to turn back into garbage-strewn fields after Byrne left office.

The forgotten mayor . . .Sneed hears there is a 70 percent chance that former Mayor Jane Byrne , who has been ailing, will appear Friday at the dedication of the new Mayor Jane Byrne Interchange by Gov. Pat Quinn at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus.

But its a sure bet she will be on the mend when the Old Water Tower Park becomes the new Mayor Jane M. Byrne Plaza in the fall.

Dugout data . . .

Former State Sen. Bill Marovitz has arranged for the Jackie Robinson West Little League Team to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

-- Translation: Jeff Idelson, president of the Hall of Fame, has agreed to roll out the red carpet for these wonderful kids. Marovitz, a close pal of White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, is picking up the tab for the entire cost of the trip!

Heavenly sent . . .

Sneed hears that Ann Butler, who co-founded the Jackie Robinson West Little League Team with her late husband, Joseph, in 1971, told Emanuel at the Millennium Park celebration: I know [Joseph is] looking down smiling right now.

Foul ball!

Ah, politics.

Its the place where no good deed goes unpunished.

-- Translation: Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has thrown everything but the citys kitchen sink into celebrating the citys newest heroes the Jackie Robinson West Little League Team is getting trolled.

-- Troll tweak: Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, a potential mayoral contender, held a press conference Wednesday blasting Emanuels school funding policies while wearing a JRW T-shirt.

-- The press conference was held while Rahm was being thanked for his support by Darold Butler, the teams manager, for his support at the boffo Millennium Park celebration Wednesday. The mayor had promised Butler a parade two weeks ago.

-- Troll tweet: On Aug. 13, Lewis used Twitter to throw a stinkbomb into the celebration, asking, Why is the mayor using the Little League to gain support in the Black community. So sad.

-- Troll tweet two: On Aug. 25, Jackson Potter, a CTU staff coordinator, tweeted: Congrats to Jackie Robinson West. Success in spite of @RahmEmanuel policies not because of them.

Look, its no secret Emanuel is worried about losing African-American votes to a possible progressive movement backing Lewis, but maybe in this case discretion would be the better part of valor.

I spy . . .

British pop star Rita Ora was spotted at RPM Steak on opening night Tuesday, sitting with pals and rocking her current signature cornrows and a NFL jersey.

-- Click. Click. The restaurant is already booked for weeks out, and Bill Rancics Instagram photo of his son, Duke, answering the phone lines mightve had something to do with that . . .

Mug shot or mascot . . .

If watchdogs Tim Novak, Chris Fusco and Dan Mihalopoulos dont watch out, bulldog puppy Penelope owned by Sun-Times photographer Jessica Koscielniak might become the mugshot for their column. She was spotted visiting Sun-Times Managing Editor Craig Newman in the newsroom Wednesday.

Sneedlings . . .

Congrats to Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Kari Steele on her engagement to her sweetie, Maze Jackson . . . Thursdays birthdays: Jack Black, 45; Shania Twain, 49; Quvenzhane Wallis, 11, and Beth McCormack, ageless.


August 28, 2014 at 2:26 PM

By: Rod Estvan

The decline of CPS baseball a long one

I would say that the collapse of Chicago Public School baseball began well before Mayor Emanuels election. If you go to you will see that CPS has not had a champion boys baseball team since Hubbard HS won the state title in 1973. Fenger HS was a runner up in 1986 but lost badly to Barrington with an invocation of the slaughter rule in the 5th inning.\r\rClemente HS has never won the state title or been runner up in boys baseball. Since 1979 Clemente has won the public league title 8 times and qualified for the state baseball finals (see )\r\rClemente is presented as the CPS baseball powerhouse but the last time it reached the semifinals was in 2002. Without question Clemente was provided by CPS with one of its best fields and school made a great emphasis on its baseball program. \r\rI would suspect that most of the Jackie Robinson championship little league players will go on to play for Catholic High Schools and some may even live in suburban south Chicago now. Its not uncommon for families to travel a good distance for their child to be part of a good team.\r\rIts true as Substance points out CPS has a very limited baseball coaching budget, but the decline of the CPS sports program has been a long term decline and cant be hung just on Mayor Emanuels door, but its clear that Mayor Emanuel hasn\'t shown any interest in the least in improving CPS sports programs.\r\r \rRod Estvan \r

August 28, 2014 at 5:17 PM

By: Bob Busch

Jackie Robinson West and Chicago high school teams...

I know a little about high school sports -- and Chicago is a basketball town.The recent JRW success was a surprise to many, but not to me. For almost a decade, Chicago's Simeon and Harlen high schools fought it out for the championship, because they just about split the JRW roster. That team has been around for decades. Every suburban park district fields youth baseball leagues,which start at age 4 and provide a feeder system to the High Schools. So does JRW

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