Over the years, I have received lots of requests from my WFAN listeners regarding booking guests for this show, but I have to admit, I received more requests for a book called THE ARM than for any other author.
THE ARM, which is subtitled Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports, is a fascinating, definitive, and stunning look at major league baseball and its obsession with not only scouring the world for young pitchers who throw 90-100 mph, but it’s also a detailed look at how fragile these young arms are, and are so susceptible to injury — especially Tommy John surgery.
The book is written by Jeff Passan, who by day is a popular baseball columnist for Yahoo Sports. THE ARM It’s a frightening, fully investigative work, and should be mandatory reading for any parent, coach, or kid who aspires to pitch in baseball.
I had so much ground to cover with Jeff on the show that I pre-taped the show this week. For starters, I asked Jeff why is there so an obsession these days for scouts to find pitchers who throw 90-100 mph. That is, it wasn’t that long ago that top pitchers in the majors, like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, won by changing speeds, hitting corners of the plate, and fooling batters. Even knuckleballers don’t throw hard.
Jeff answered this rather bluntly. “In truth, it’s a lot of hard work to develop a pitching style like that — to change speeds and fool hitters. It’s just much easier these days to find a kid who throws hard.”
I have to admit that I think there’s a lot of truth in Jeff’s assessment.
WHEN WILL LL BASEBALL WAKE UP?
But more than that, I drilled him about the dangers of kids throwing curves. Even in his book, on page 262, he quotes Dr. James Andrews, the noted surgeon when it comes to arm injuries, saying once again that “kids shouldn’t throw curve balls until they’re old enough to shave.” In my world, that means around 14 or 15 years old.
But as I have observed for years, kids in LL Baseball throw curves by the time they’re 10, and especially are on display in the LL championships. This is in direct conflict with Dr. Andrews’ advice – even though he’s on the LL Advisory Board – and his wise advice is even posted on the LL website.
LL Baseball in the last few years has tried to pivot away from this issue, and now says that kids hurt their arms by throwing too much at full max. Everybody knows that and agrees with that – that’s not news – but to ignore the curve ball concern seems ludicrous and dangerous.
Passan said he was planning to meet with the LL Baseball folks in Williamsport soon to try and get them to finally provide some clear and straightforward advice for parents and coaches and kids. Here’s what I would personally recommend:
Tell kids NOT to throw every pitch at full max power. That’s a sure fire way to hurt your arm at a very early age, and will lead to surgery.
Tell kids NOT to throw curves or sliders until they are 14 or 15 and their arms have had a chance to grow and be stronger and become more developed. If Dr. Andrews is telling the world about the dangers of curves, and he does more Tommy John surgeries on teenagers than anyone, I would believe him — not LL Baseball.
Tell parents whose kids have a strong arm to be judicious about how many days they pitch in a row for various teams. Pitch counts are smart, especially if kids are attempting to throw hard each and every day.
Finally, I happened to stop by the local HS baseball field yesterday afternoon, and a kid from Rye HS named Kirby was pitching. 6-4, 190 lb, smooth-throwing righty. And not surprisingly, there were half a dozen major league scouts in attendance to see this young man. All the scouts had radar guns, and on each pitch they would note the speed (fastballs were reaching 90 mph), and then they would write the speed down in their notebooks.
By all consensus, this pitcher will be a top draft choice – mainly because he has a gifted arm. I just hope somebody in pro ball teaches him how to really pitch, e.g hit spots, change speeds, and develop a change-up.