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Elbow issues threaten professional baseball

By ALLYUS FRITZ/Ledger sports editor | May 22, 2014
Photo by: Andy HALLMAN/Ledger photo Allyus Fritz

There is nothing more American than watching baseball and eating a hot dog.

With Memorial Day right around the corner, I am reminded of the things that make this country great. Watching baseball on a Sunday afternoon is one of those things. This baseball season has been like any other. There are surprises and disappointments, contenders and pretenders, and an overwhelming sense that the best is yet to come.

However, there has been one giant issue looming over the game this entire season: elbow problems. Pitchers are getting injured at an alarming rate, and their injuries have lowered the quality of play on the field and interest from the fans. What can be done to stop the injuries?

Let’s take a roll call of just some of the pitchers out for the season will elbow injuries: Jose Fernandez (Marlins), Matt Moore (Rays), Kris Medlin (Braves), Brandon Beachy (Braves), Ivan Nova (Yankees), Luke Hochevar (Royals), Jarrod Parker (Athletics), Bruce Rondon (Tigers), etc. Last season, this would have been a list of some of the best young pitchers in baseball. This season, it’s a partial list of those out for the season and who will likely need Tommy John surgery.

The Arizona Diamondbacks currently have six players on its injury report. Two are recovering from offseason elbow surgery. Two more, including the organization’s best pitcher, left hander Patrick Corbin, are out for the season with elbow injuries.

Why have the frequency of elbow injuries increased so drastically? Baseball minds will tell you many possible reasons. Maybe pitchers throw harder these days (tell that to Nolan Ryan). Maybe players throw too many pitches (tell that to Bob Gibson, who threw complete games on a regular basis).

Another possible reason is that pitchers are overworked from the time they can pick up a baseball. For those of you who think this, here’s some food for thought. In Japan, pitchers are routinely used on zero days rest. How the country treats pitchers has come under fire recently, especially after 16-year-old Tomohiro Anraku threw 772 pitches over the course of three days at Koshien, a high school baseball tournament that is quite possibly the largest baseball event of the year in Japan.

Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka was treated the same way when he was Anraku’s age, and Matsuzaka did not require Tommy John surgery until he was 30-years-old. Many pitchers here, who have had their innings limited as a precaution, need the surgery much earlier. Many pitchers in Japan simply pitch until they can not pitch anymore, which more than likely won’t be until they are much older. So which is better? Pitching great until you’re 30, or having surgery at 24 that may or may not heal you and make your arm like it was before?

The injuries are not only hurting the livelihoods of the pitchers, but it is also hurting organizations. The Diamondbacks are now in the cellar of the National League West, and a huge reason why is that Corbin is no longer in the starting rotation. In addition, fans will care about a team less when they aren’t familiar with the back-up players on the field.

I’m of the belief that it depends on each individual. There are many athletes out there that simply don’t get hurt, whether it’s because of superior genes, or arms and legs that seem to be made of rubber. No one knows when an injury will occur, each athlete just hopes it doesn’t happen. If teams knew how to prevent injuries, there would already be a protocol for such miracle work.

Youth coaches should be mindful not to overwork their youngsters, which is why many youth leagues have innings limits in place. There is not a single definite way to go because each arm is different.

I don’t have all the answers, but the minds in charge will hopefully come up with something that helps soon. The MLB landscape is simply more interesting when the best players are on the field, but in the end, that doesn’t mean I’ll stop watching. I love the game too much.

I’ll need another hot dog and beverage, please.

Comments (3)
Posted by: earl meyers | May 22, 2014 17:11

This was a good story, and has been talked about by some of the major league announcers in the past two weeks.

Posted by: Jeff Wilson | May 22, 2014 22:52

Bob Gibson never threw (started) both games of a doubleheader. White Sox knuckleballer Wilbur Wood was last major leaguer to start both games of a doubleheader in July, 1973. He lost both games. Earlier that same year, Wood pitched five innings of a suspended game and won, then threw a complete game shutout with a half-hour rest between games.  Gibson did throw and unbelievable 28 complete games in each of the 1968 and 1969 seasons. In those two seasons he finished more than 80 percent of the games he started.

Posted by: Allyus Michael Fritz | May 23, 2014 09:00

I thought I read that Gibson had, but I've retracted the statement now.

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