Youth leagues must rethink pitching approach and conditioning
Opinions vary on the causes of the rash of elbow surgeries among pitchers, but one contributing factor on which medical and baseball professionals agree is how players are treated in their developmental years.
Dr James Andrews, a sports orthopaedist, said one of the biggest risk factors is year-round baseball. Not only are young pitchers throwing year-round, but they often play in more than one league, where pitch count and innings rules are not coordinated. That high workload, combined with flawed pitching mechanics, can lead to ligament damage.
Tommy John, the former pitcher for whom ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction was named, told the Watertown (New York) Daily Times that problems start early. “What I would like to see these guys do, these surgeons and all, is ask all the guys who have had the surgery: ‘How much did you pitch as a kid and how often, and did you pitch year round?’,” he said. “And, nowadays, probably 70 to 80 per cent of the pitchers today have been pitching 12 months a year since they were seven, eight or nine years old. And your arm is not made for that.”
Major League Baseball can head off these problems by teaming with youth organisations in addition to steps already taken at the professional level. Better coordination of pitching rules and greater oversight of year-round youth baseball circuits, often run by for-profit companies, will help nip the issue in the bud and ease the worries major-league clubs have over their investments.
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Published: May 4, 2014 04:00 AM