Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"Hell Yeah"

JRW squad being feted by city of Chicago along South Michigan Avenue

The Jackie Robinson West 
whistleblower says he'd do it again

By David Mendell
June 24, 2015

Stepping from a baseball dugout after his pre-adolescent players had cleared it of their bats, mitts and empty Gatorade bottles, coach Chris Janes reached for a Marlboro. He lit it and cupped it in his left hand, concealing the adult addiction from the few straggling youth ballplayers heading for their parents’ cars.

It was mid-May, and the past six months had been chaotic, unsettling and somewhat mystifying for
the suburban Chicago father of four sons. But to anyone who knows Chris Janes — although, in all honesty, very few people know him well — his next words would be unsurprising, for Janes is not a man who backs off his core beliefs, or backs down from a fight.

“Yes, I’d do it all over again,” he said, taking a drag on the cigarette. “I thought it was the right
Chris Janes
thing to do then. I still think it was the right thing. Even after everything that’s happened, the death threats and all that, I believe it was the right thing.”

Janes has played many different roles in life: eldest sibling of six, high school and college quarterback, first in his family to attend college (at a small school in suburban Chicago then called the College of St. Francis), husband, father, youth sports coach. But to the general public of Chicago, he’ll forever be regarded as the rival youth baseball coach who blew the whistle on Jackie Robinson West. His formal complaint to Little League International in Williamsport, Pa., eventually caused the vaunted South Side team to be stripped of its much-heralded 2014 Little League national title. Little League officials in Williamsport ruled that JRW directors fielded ineligible players and later falsified league boundary maps to conceal their actions. Mountain Ridge from Las Vegas, which lost to JRW in the national finals, became the U.S. champions.

As one might imagine, leveling allegations of cheating against the beloved hometown champs — no less, a squad of African-American youngsters presumably from some of the poorest neighborhoods of this Midwestern metropolis — did not endear him to fellow Chicagoans. After all, the boys were feted with a major downtown celebration that drew tens of thousands of adoring fans. Chicago magazine named them “Chicagoans of the Year” and Mayor Rahm Emanuel dubbed them “the pride of Chicago.” For weeks last summer, JRW was a national feel-good story, and President Obama invited the team to the White House. So among the cascade of epithets hurled Janes’ direction on social media: “lowest of the low,” “super hater” and “racist devil.” “Shame on you #ChrisJanes you really are a loser!” And that was only the beginning of the largely anonymous hate spewed his way.

Indeed, when Janes decided to file the complaint last fall, he had little idea that he was walking himself into something far larger than a dispute over baseball played among 12-year-old boys. In a country still riven by racial turmoil, he was stepping into a virtual minefield of social and cultural discontent. His life hasn’t been the same since.

Full story here

Stealing Home

How travel teams are eroding community baseball 

By David Mendell
May 23, 2014

The shortstop ranged nimbly to his right, scooped up a sharp grounder and unleashed a strong throw to first base. Seeing the athletic play by my son, a burly fellow leaned against the chain-link fence.

 “You’ve got a nice little ballplayer there,” the man, Mike Adams, told me. “You should think about getting him into a full-time travel program. The sooner, the better.”

 I was a neophyte in the byzantine world of youth baseball, and Adams’s husky voice carried the resonance of a father who had logged many hours behind caged dugouts. Yet I had to chuckle.

“Mike,” I said, “Nate’s just 9. Full-time travel baseball, really?”

 In the past three years, as an assistant coach with the youth baseball organization in Oak Park, Ill., and as manager of one of its part-time travel teams, I’ve watched more than a dozen kids my son’s age follow the route suggested by Adams. Lured by a chance to compete at a more elite level, they’ve left local baseball for various full-time travel teams in Chicago’s suburbs. Full-time travel baseball means many more practices and many more games — many of them far away. To rise in rankings and win tournaments, some teams, especially in warm climates, play nearly year-round, competing in as many as 120 games per year, more than most minor league players.

Here's the full piece.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What About Me?

I've had some fortuitous assignments while covering Illinois politics for the Chicago Tribune. The first race I was assigned to: Rahm Emanuel's initial Congressional campaign. The second: Rod Blagojevich's campaign for Illinois governor. Finally: Barack Obama's quest for the U.S. Senate. Getting to know each candidate intimately, with the access only a long campaign trail provides, is still paying journalistic dividends.

Here's a link to my New Yorker profile of Rod Blagojevich from last summer. Ben Smith of Politico blogged about the piece here

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

"OBAMA: From Promise to Power" wins an NAACP Image Award

List of winners for the 39th Annual NAACP Image Awards here

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Read a take on "OBAMA: From Promise to Power" in U.S. News and World Report

Here's a Washington Whispers column about my book. The column focuses on my reporting that, as soon as he was elected to the U.S. Senate, Obama and his advisers assembled an ambitious two-year "plan" for his political future. This plan worked to perfection, setting up Obama to run for the White House in 2008.