New York City baseball team cleared to play in Little League World Series

Friday, August 16th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) _ The Harlem Little League team came ready to tackle the World Series. Now the league has delivered the message they've been hoping for: Play ball.

The New York City team was cleared Thursday to play in the series after it provided documentation refuting allegations that three of its players were ineligible because they lived outside the district.

``These kids weren't recruited from anywhere. They weren't brought in from another district or league. They're homegrown,'' said Stephen Keener, Little League's president and chief executive officer.

The Little League World Series begins Friday. Harlem, which beat Lehigh Little League of Bethlehem, Pa., to advance to the series, plays its first game Saturday. A protest filed Thursday afternoon by the Lehigh Little League was denied.

Last week, Little League investigated and rejected claims that the Harlem team was using ineligible players. A second investigation began Wednesday after Newsday reported that three players _ different from those named earlier _ lived outside the Harlem league's boundaries.

After investigating, Little League officials said one of the three players lives inside the district. The other two had begun their Little League careers when they lived in Harlem and continued playing with the Harlem league after they moved away, which is allowed under Little League rules.

Keener rejected suggestions that this year's controversy resembled one last year when the Rolando Paulino Little League, from the Bronx, was forced to forfeit its third-place finish after it was discovered that star pitcher Danny Almonte was too old to play.

``Last year was clearly a case of where we were being deceived with intent,'' Keener said. ``This year, that is absolutely not the case.''

Morris McWilliams, manager of Harlem Little League, said he had ``no feeling of bitterness at all'' about the investigation.

``Little League did what they had to do,'' he said. ``We provided them with the documentation, and they made their decision. We're ready to play ball.''

Jack Lule, whose son, John, plays second base for Lehigh, said players would accept the decision. He criticized the league for failing to resolve the issue earlier in the season.

``I think Little League needs to get its rules much more organized so these things don't happen,'' Lule said.

Only two teams have ever been disqualified after they reached the World Series _ the Bronx team last year and Zamboanga City Little League from the Philippines in 1992.

Zamboanga City won the series but had to forfeit the title after admitting that eight players on the team had been brought in from outside the district.