-Reprint: Author Allan Simpson, Baseball America, Feb.'05 Issue #0504 -(got it today)
USA Baseball has enacted a change in the age cutoff date for youth organizations that could have far-reaching ramifications for the game, possibly even affecting the major leagues down the road.
For more than 60 years, the universal cutoff date for youth baseball competition has been July 31. But USA Baseball, at the behest of its member organizations, passed a resolution at the recent American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville to roll back that date to April 30. The change will go into effect in 2006 at the earliest and 2007 at the latest.
"The entire membership of USA Baseball voted on the change," said Paul Seiler, the organization's executive director. "It is domestic in its impact only."
The impetus for change was brought by Little League Baseball in 2001. The goal of the change is to increase participation by retaining more players in the 12-and-under division, and to bring U.S.-based youth baseball more in line with the standards used in international baseball. Little League proposed Dec. 31 as the age determination date, but it was later amended to April 30.
"Our research has shown that more than 95 percent of all Little League programs start their seasons before May 1," said a spokesman for Little League Baseball. "The change gives the opportunity to those children born in May, June and July to play all or part of their 12-year-old seasons as actual 12-year-olds."
When July 31 was established as the age cutoff date by Little League Baseball in the 1940s, they selected that time because it coincided with the date used by schools in Williamsport, Pa., to divide grade levels. At that time, Little League was the only youth league of its kind and its membership was mostly local.
But as Little League has expanded, and the cutoff dates for schools in the U.S. and elsewhere have changed, the primary reason for July 31 deadline has dissipated. Generally, players born immediately after that date have been shown to have a decided advantage over players born in the months just before it because they are more physically mature and able to dominate their competition at the youth level.
Baseball America research has shown that a majority of players on youth league all-star teams of all age groups are born in the four months immediately after July 31. That advantage carried forward to the major league level, as more 2004 big leaguers were born in August (123) than any other month, and the fewest were born in July (89). -Allan Simpson, Baseball America