Archive for Dangers of kids throwing curve balls

DANGERS OF THROWING CURVE BALLS: An Interview with Jeff Passan, Best-selling Author of THE ARM

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.


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.


Little League Baseball Still Not Stepping Up on Kids Throwing Curve Balls

The New York Times ran a big feature piece this AM about the “so-called” ongoing controversy involving kids under 13 throwing curveballs.

I write “so-called” controversy because for more than 50 years, top surgeons everywhere have insisted that throwing curves at an early age can only damage a kid’s elbow and growth plates in their arm. Yet Little League Baseball (led by its key researcher, Dr. Glenn Fleisig, Phd) claims that, in effect,  it can’t prove that throwing curves will hurt young arms. Therefore, letting kids throw deuces is okay.


What’s particularly interesting in this article is that Dr. James Andrews, the legendary orthopedic specialist, doesn’t agree with Dr. Fleisig’s studies. Even Dr. Andrews points out that he’s never been so busy in doing Tommy John arm operations on middle schoolers.

Then there’s Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the orthopedic surgeon for the Cincinnati Reds, who said on my radio show last year that letting young pitchers throw curves is tantamount to “child abuse.” Pretty strong language, but Kremchek feels that this is out of control. Like Dr. Andrews, Kremchek has never been busier operating on young arms ruined by throwing curve balls.

Some years ago, when I interviewed Steve Keener, the CEO of LL Baseball, on my show, he told me that he didn’t know how to stop kids from throwing deuces. I explained to him that all he had to do was empower the home plate umpire to give a warning to any pitcher who tossed a breaking ball, and then on the second offense, to remove the kid from the mound.

Keener didn’t think umpires could enforce this rule.  I thought that was a huge cop-out. Turns out that Dr. Kremchek also advocates this approach. So, if LL Baseball is all about safety first, why not at least give this a try?

Bottom line? C’mon LL Baseball. Fess up. Why not just admit that you enjoy seeing kids in Williamsport throw curves and sliders on TV (referred to by ESPN commentators as “breaking balls,” as though that term makes these pitches less dangerous). All you have to do, Mr. Keener, is just banish all curves from all LL games. And tell the umps and coaches to enforce the rule. It’s just as simple as that.

Meanwhile, I’m glad to see the august New York Times is beginning to catch up with The Sports Edge. My colleague Steve Kallas and I have been hammering this point home about the dangers of LL Baseball for years.



Little League “No Proof Curve Balls are More Dangerous than Other Pitches” — OUTRAGEOUS!!

If you’re a parent or coach of a Little League baseball pitcher, I can’t urge you strongly enough to go to, find The Sports Edge, and listen to the podcast from today’s show.

I was most fortunate to have Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the medical director and orthopedic surgeon for the Cincinnati Reds as my special guest on the show,  and Dr. Kremchek was stunned by the position that LL Baseball has taken on kids throwing curves.

In short, Dr. Kremchek couldn’t have been more baffled — and upset —  by this proclamation. He operates directly on the kids who throw curves, and Dr. Kremchek sees the numbers for Tommy John surgery rising over the last decade, not decreasing. Furthermore, he points out that often times the kids don’t experience the real hazards of arm, shoulder, and elbow issues for at least-4-5 years after they start throwing “breaking balls” as they’re called on ESPN — which means that it’s usually when the kids are in HS when their arm problems necessitate surgery.

Dr. Kremchek points to the pressures of coaches and parents wanting to win at all costs with their kids, and the ongoing politics that swirl around LL Baseball as the main driving forces behind this “finding” that kids don’t run a risk throwing curves.

A surprise caller on the show was from former major league pitcher Pete Harnisch, who’s now a LL coach himself in New Jersey. Harnisch expressed his own horror at this finding by LL, and said he would never let his sons throw curves before they were beyond LL age.

The bottom line? I’m convinced that since LL coaches feel, deep down, that their teams won’t be competitive unless their kids throw curves that they wanted LL Baseball’s blessing to let the kids do that. Well, LL CEO Steve Keener has given them that blessing — we just worry about how many innocent young arms are going to be ruined by this bizarre proclamation.

There are real parallels to cigarette smoking and lung cancer. For years, the tobacco industry claimed that smoking doesn’t have any real link to the disease, and then, finally the cigarette manufacturers came clean. When is LL going to do the same thing about having kids throw curves?