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 #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, with over 150 camps in 30+ U.S. states and Canada. We discuss problems in youth sports today, including single sport specialization, the growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the high drop-out rate in competitive sports, and the growing mental health challenges young athletes are dealing with today.
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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.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
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.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
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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