In 2012 I accepted a minor league pitching coach position with the LA Angels. I spent the next 3 years around some great Baseball minds, learned a ton about development but was slapped in the face when over 50% of our new draftees each year came in with a zipper on their arm (that’s a name for the Tommy John surgery scar). What the heck is going on??
Before my third season, I informed them, the Angels, that would be my last year. I would be committing my time to my family, and the families I worked with back home, full time. They needed me home and my students and their families needed someone to not just help develop their kids as players but they needed someone to help educate them.
While in the pro game, the more and more I got to know my players, build relationships and helped them achieve their dreams, the more and more I started to learn why these kids were coming in as damaged goods.
The odds of a full recovery from one TJ are pretty good now. The odds from a full recovery after your second drops from around a 90% success rate to 65%. The odds of recovering from a third, well let’s just say it’s not that good.
So that means that these young men are coming into pro ball one major injury away from a dream shattered. Let’s remember that this is a wear and tear injury (sure there are cases where a healthy ligament breaks) that should only happen to grown men who have been playing baseball for a living for many years. Not something that kids who have just started shaving are having to go through.
Overuse as a pre-teen, teenager and college player. Not enough rest for their arm in the off season. Attending showcases in the off season months. Training to throw harder but lacking an arm care program. Poor mechanics but no one suggesting a fix for them because the player is having success and generating wins. Pitching in multiple games in the same day. Pitching multiple innings and catching multiple innings in the same day or pitching a high number of pitches one day and then catching multiple innings the next day. Continually throwing more pitches than what their arm is conditioned for year after year. The overwhelming desire to throw fast, faster and to be the one who throw the fastest. Too much down time, no mound work or pitching competitively, between tournament weekends where the arm loses stamina and strength and then making an extraordinary amount of throws over a 2-3 day period and then repeating this cycle week after week, month after month and year after year. There are so many different factors that are leading to this that weren’t present in the youth baseball world before this injury epidemic.
Bottom line, they came in damaged because of what they went through and how they were handled as a young player. Between their 9 year old season through the college years, something went wrong.
When I was drafted in 1996, it was a truly rare thing to hear about a major injury. Fast forward 5 years, the game changed. It slowly started to become the norm to see more and more of these major injuries each year. The more and more I learned about the timeline, the more obvious it became that it all started around the same time that tournament style and showcase baseball exploded. These two things can absolutely be done right, but they obviously are not. There is no one holding anyone accountable when there obviously needs to be. Adults are playing with kids’ future because their desire to win supersedes their common sense.
We will continue to talk about this. As I have said, there is no argument that anyone can bring up that will make any of this ok. It’s abuse, it’s ignorance, it’s ridiculous, it’s absurd, it’s nonsense and it’s flat irresponsible. Adults, it’s time to wake up.
It’s time to make some changes…