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  • Jackie Robinson West inspired Chicago, but the reason the team was playing was to win.

For when the One Great Scorer comes
To mark against your name,
He writes—not that you won or lost—
But how you played the Game.

—Grantland Rice

Let’s consider this famous text. None of us is that One Great Scorer and none of us has any right to speak for Him. But I will say this: He takes winning seriously. What meaning can He, or anyone else, find in how we played the game if we didn’t play it to win? It’s easy to be a good sport and a loser.

That’s why I winced when I read the first lines of Rex Huppke’s salute to Jackie Robinson West on the Tribune home page.

“Forget about the final score in the Little League World Series title game,” he wrote. “It doesn’t matter, and it never mattered, because the kids from Jackie Robinson West had already delivered the people of Chicago a gift beyond any title or championship.”

But the kids didn’t make the trip to Williamsport to wrap a gift to give to Chicago. They went there to win baseball games. They won a lot of them, but one fewer than they hoped to.

John Kass understood this. He began, “Boys, I’m hoping you can forgive us grown-ups for some of the nonsense coming out of our mouths. Some of us are gushing sympathy and tenderness at you, and that’s probably the last thing a good ballplayer wants to hear.”

Defeat is tough to take. I predict that the Jackie Robinson West players will remember their trip to Williamsport as one of the best weeks of their lives, but they will never forget that they lost the last game 8-4 to South Korea. When the final score doesn’t matter, the game doesn’t matter.

The Little League World Series doesn’t matter to lots of baseball fans, but by the end of last week that was true of almost no one in Chicago. I was in the car so I didn’t jump up and down when a double play wrapped up the victory over Las Vegas, but I was beside myself.

That’s what happens when a hometown team shows such an admirable level of ability, character, and discipline over the course of a week. But the only reason that happened is that Jackie Robinson West kept winning.