From 1995 to 1998, Dr. James Andrews performed nine Tommy John surgeries on teenage patients. From 2003 to 2008? 224. Young, amateur pitchers are breaking down faster than a Dusty Baker rotation and no one knows what to do.
Actually, what to do is obvious, but youth baseball coaches and parents are too concerned about Lil' Johnny's big pay day or about winning the BIG GAME no one will remember in 10 years, to give a crap about his weak little arm. When your 13-year-old has five workable pitches and throws more innings a week than C.C. Sabathia, that's a problem.
Andrews explains to The New York Times Magazine that he's been fighting this issue for years, but no one seems to care. There are dozens of little leagues and interscholastic leagues and other amateur programs and none of them can agree on pitch or innings limits that make any kind of sense. And without those limits, coaches will keep sending their pitchers out there until their arms fall off. That's why Andrews says there's an "epidemic" of torn ligaments and busted shoulders.
Reading about what some of these kids go through boggles the mind. One kid pitches 10 months a year for four different teams. Caleb Duhay (pictured), a 12-year-old in last year's Little League World Series, pitched four games in 10 days and threw 288 pitches—all of them high-pressure, tournament throws. In a 10 day-span last month, Josh Beckett threw 201 and C.C. Sabathia threw 214, and they only had two starts each. Those guys are also highly paid major leaguers.
Another kid, Alden Manning, pitched a complete game with a sore forearm and then missed an entire year with Tommy John surgery. His dad and his coach thought they were looking out for him, but since they aren't orthopedic surgeons they apparently had no clue what they were doing to him. Kids throw more pitches, harder and in more pressure-packed situations then ever before, and the only people benefiting are doctors with knives.
But I've got a radical solution. Are you ready for it? Listen up: When a kid's arm is sore ... don't let him pitch. If he's already in the game and he gets tired ... take him out. I know this is a complicated procedure—even a lot of major and minor league managers don't seem to grasp it, but letting an injured pitcher pitch won't suddenly make him not injured. Call me crazy, but it just might work.
Arms-Control Breakdown [NY Times]
P.S. Interesting bit of trivia from the article—James Andrews was the 1963 SEC Champion in the pole vault. That must explain his fascination with things that bend.