by Ken Reed
The past several years have seen a significant rise in baseball pitchers undergoing Tommy John surgery for torn elbow ligaments in their throwing arms. This holds true from youth leagues, through high school, college, the minor leagues and eventually the major leagues. Since 2012, the number of MLB pitchers having elbow reconstruction surgeries has doubled from the decade prior. (See “MLB pitching a plan …”)
When the issue is examined, as Nick Groke recently did in a piece for the Denver Post, it becomes clear that ego-and-greed-based thinking — win-at-all-costs (WAAC) and profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) — is driving the rise in Tommy John injuries.
The problem starts when pitchers are young.
“Baseball is a spring and summer sport,” says Scott Bullock, a veteran high school baseball coach in Colorado. “But nowadays kids are running out for another 100-pitch start once a week in the fall. It’s just mind-boggling to me we’re throwing kids this much.” Bullock adds that with winter pitching lessons, some young pitchers never have any down time.
Colorado Rockies manager Walt Weiss believes the problem starts early too.
“Now they (young pitchers) are traveling nationally, against national-level teams, and having to max out all the time,” says Weiss.
Some out-of-contral parents have even asked doctors to perform the Tommy John surgery on their young pitchers as an elective procedure, believing it will eventually make their child’s pitching arm stronger.
“You’re not going to come back throwing harder,” according to Rockies’ trainer Keith Dugger. “That’s a misnomer.”
To their credit, Major League Baseball, in cooperation with USA Baseball, recognizes the problem and is trying to address it through a Pitch Smart initiative that provides guidelines for how many pitches young pitchers should throw on a given day and over the course of a year. The suggested pitch limits gradually go up from age 8 to age 18. A key emphasis in the guidelines is rest. A strong recommendation for all ages is that youth pitchers take four months off from pitching each year.
The question now is will youth sports entrepreneurs (club administrators and some coaches looking to make money from youth sports clubs, travel teams, etc.) and ego-driven parents (dreaming of college scholarship offers and major league contracts for their kids) heed the warnings of medical and baseball professionals and follow the new Pitch Smart guidelines?
–Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #14 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Making Sense of the Injury Pandemic in Major League Baseball – The guest is Gary McCoy, a strength, conditioning and high performance coach who has worked with several Major League Baseball organizations. Our focus is the injury pandemic in baseball, what’s causing it and how it can be fixed.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #13 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Conversation With Long-Time MLB Exec Dan Evans About What’s Right With Baseball and What Could Be Better – Evans is a former general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is currently a consultant for Go the Distance Baseball, which owns the Field of Dreams movie site.
Episode #12 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Fun Chat With Dan Gutman, Author of the Baseball Card Adventure Series for Kids
Episode #11 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Latest on Brain Trauma, Concussions and CTE with Dr. Chris Nowinski – Nowinski is CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Episode #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO.
Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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