Little League Baseball
as Sport, Play, and Work
Gary Alan Fine
University of Minnesota
Children's sport in the 20th century is a story of attempts by adults to control the behavior of their children. Children have been thought unable to organize their own activity, capable of numerous moral lapses, and in need of adult control to prevent anarchy. Whether this form of social control is absolutely necessary might be debated (see Devereux, 1976); still, it has been thoroughly accepted by most adults.
In 1903 the first adult-sponsored youth sports program was inaugurated in New York City when the Public School Athletic League was formed. By 1910 some 150,000 children participated ( Martens, 1978, p. 6). Other programs followed, sponsored by both schools and communities. Such programs have always been controversial, and the development of private, community youth leagues resulted in part from negative attitudes among professional recreation directors and educators during the 1930s ( Berryman, 1975). These professionals, though committed to the control of children's play, felt that highly competitive team sports harmed preadolescent development, and so they did not create professionally directed programs. This gave rise to programs run by private individuals, such as Little League baseball and Pop Warner football.
Of these private organizations none is more extensive than the organization that I have observed, Little League baseball. Little League Baseball, Inc., is both a cultural institution and a big business. In 1983 Little League Baseball, Inc., reported total assets of over $10.2 million and total expenses of $3.9 million ( Little League Baseball, Inc., 1984). As of 1983 there were about 7 thousand Little Leagues with over 48,000 teams and well over 500,000 Little Leaguers.