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
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
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.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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