SINCE the last week of May, a 14-year-old Savannah, Ga...

Salmagundi

June 17, 1993

SINCE the last week of May, a 14-year-old Savannah, Ga., boy, Tommy McCoy, has received some unwanted notoriety.

On May 26, he threw out the first pitch at the Class A Savannah Cardinal's game; the team's game on May 28 was named "save Tommy's job night."

This may seem odd, but not as bizarre as what the U.S. Department of Labor did -- it got Tommy fired. He lost his job as the Cardinal's batboy for violating child-labor laws, which prohibit 14- and 15-year-olds from working past 7 o'clock in the evening during the school year, and 9 o'clock in the summer.

The situation has become much bigger than the issue of a 14-year-old boy not being able to earn some extra cash because he lost his summer job. Tommy could always roam his neighborhood looking for work or start a lawn-mowing business like other boys his age. Tell him to set up a lemonade stand if he wants to buy that new baseball glove, or begin saving for the hot-rod Mustang he'll want when he gets his license in three years. And tell him to forget about his lifelong dream of being a batboy for his favorite team.

Sure, the Savannah Cardinals broke a well-established law. And Tommy got fired. But the issue is far from clear-cut.

Why should the government rob this boy of his dream? For many youngsters, becoming a batboy for a professional baseball team is as close as one gets to the American Dream when you are 14. To kids, being named batboy is on the same level as striking it rich on Wall Street or buying a Harley-Davidson.

This is a case of Big Government intruding too far into our lives. Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich had the good sense to recognize this when the episode finally reached his desk. He said that applying labor laws to a batboy was "silly." How true. Now he's got to get that message to his underlings -- before the next underage batboy gets the heave-ho from the umpires at Labor.

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