Share “Column: Time to start protecting our young...”

Column: Time to start protecting our young hurlers

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 16, 2014 at 5:48 pm •  Published: May 16, 2014
Advertisement

Stop the pitching carnage.

Now.

We know just where to start.

Youth baseball.

No more children playing all through the year, with hardly a break between seasons. No more youngsters throwing sliders and splitters and all sorts of pitches that put too much stress on their still-developing arms. And certainly no more high schoolers dishing up 194 pitches in a single game.

With baseball in the midst of what looks increasingly like an epidemic of elbow injuries and Tommy John surgeries, it's time for someone to acknowledge that a big part of the problem can surely be traced to our overworked kids. They are enduring far too much wear and tear on their immature bodies — their arms especially — in a misguided quest to make it to the big leagues.

Those few who do make it often pay a heavy price.

"Most of the major leaguers and minor leaguers that come into our practice with ligament problems," says Dr. James Andrews, who has performed countless Tommy John operations over his long career, "if you take a good, close look at their histories, a large part of them link back to some minor injury as a kid.

"It started in youth baseball. That's the real culprit."

The major league brass is so concerned that it plans to hold a summit in New York next week, bringing in experts such as Andrews to figure out why so many of the game's top hurlers have been stricken with this devastating injury, some for the second time.

The Atlanta Braves probably qualify for a Tommy John BOGO, considering they've already sent three pitchers (Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Cory Gearrin) to the operating table this year, and are still hoping for the return of reliever Jonny Venters, who underwent the procedure last year. Medlen, Beachy and Venters all have two Tommy Johns on their medical charts — and none has celebrated his 30th birthday.

The biggest blow yet occurred down in Miami, where Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, just 21 and perhaps the most gifted young pitcher in the game, was headed to surgery Friday to have his elbow ligament replaced. It will be at least a year before we see him on the mound again.

Well, enough's enough.

While it won't be of help to this generation of big leaguers, whose damage is already done, maybe those who are just getting started on their baseball careers won't have to endure so much pain.

Already, Little League and other youth baseball organizations have instituted well-intentioned rules to limit pitch counts and reduce the stress on a young player's arm. But more drastic steps are needed, especially for those moving into their teenage years. That's when the best players often compete for both their high schools and elite travel teams, the games stretching from spring to summer and on through the fall, all while mom and dad are doling out big bucks to pay for private lessons on the side.

Continue reading this story on the...