Pitching young carries great risks

Published 11:07 pm Thursday, July 10, 2008

In our society of the here and now, college football coaches are said to be on the “hot seat” after one tough-luck season, no matter his prior success. We scream and curse when an umpire makes a bad call in the second inning of a game.

A millionaire’s job security is one thing, but others can be harmed by our “I want it now” attitudes.

The approach to sports has always been the more practice, and the more grueling the practice, the better. Some middle school kids play baseball year-round, for example. Then they throw and hit and take lessons on their own time. But for one type of athlete in particular, the young pitcher, evidence shows more restraint is needed.

Doctors at the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham study just how much stress is put on an arm by throwing a baseball. From the loaded position (arm cocked behind the ear just before the ball comes forward and is delivered), the shoulder and elbow bear the equivalent of about 40 pounds of force pushing down, Glenn Fleisig of ASMI told Sports Illustrated. ASMI doctors, using cadavers, found elbow ligaments blow apart at just more than 40 pounds.

There is a right way to throw a baseball, the AMSI doctors contend in the SI piece, but not enough people know the right way when they see it (just consider all the major league pitchers on the disabled list. Those players are under the care of the best coaches and physicians in the world, compared to your average youth league dad/coach).

Also, the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine released a report on the number of athletes younger than 18 who had Tommy John surgery before 1997 (12 percent of all cases) compared to 2005 (33 percent).

“This should be a wake-up call to parents and coaches that specialization in baseball, where kids don’t get adequate time off, is very dangerous,” said E. Lyle Cain, co-author of the society’s report.

Most parents probably aren’t as concerned with ASMI’s 42-point measurement report as they are with the number of strikeouts little Timmy had in that last game. But Timmy could be harming himself permanently by continuing to pitch with poor mechanics.

So, we should ask ourselves: Is it more important that a child throw a baseball hard now or that he still be able to throw a baseball 15 years from now?