“Texas high school baseball will have pitch count in 2016-17 season,” reads a headline from July 12 in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Well, isn’t that novel?
The rules have been discussed, dissected and swept back under the rug for someone else to find for years. If a pitcher, of any age, grabs his elbow the immediate reaction is to signal for the nearest orthopedic surgeon.
Tommy John surgery, a graft of the ulnar collateral ligament that was first performed in 1974 on Tommy John by Dr. Frank Jobe, is as common now to the game of baseball as a sprained ankle. It has almost come to the point where the baseball community expects a pitcher between the ages of 18 and 22 to “go ahead and get TJ out of the way.”
But this is not a new issue. In fact, it quite literally dates back to at least 1974. So why now after 42 years is the blame being placed on high schools and high school coaches?
Beats the heck out of me.
Part of the expedited process lies within the sheer frequency of the arm issues. Another portion can probably be traced back to younger athletes who refuse to prepare their bodies properly – i.e. game-day-only-type players.
But a real key to the hurried legislation is the National Federation of State High School Association directing its members to do so and do so by the spring of 2017, according to multiple media outlets.
According to the FWST article, the NFSHSA, which the UIL is a member of, has directed its members to “regulate the number of pitches a high school player can throw in a game amid growing concerns about overworking young arms.”
And there, we have suddenly found the root of the problem without even having to research. The NFSHSA is concerned with “overworking young arms.”
This is not a high school baseball issue
High schools in Texas are limited to 23 games in a regular season, or 20 games and one tournament, 17 games and two tournaments, or even 14 games and three tournaments. With a possibility of six games in a tournament, a high school team in Texas will max out at 32 regular season games over a three and a half month period.
That is approximately 10 games a month or 18 innings a week.
Again, this is not a high school baseball problem.
This is a “select” baseball epidemic. Although a graph is not readily available or comprised, I will bet your last dime that there is a direct correlation between the increase in popularity of select, and I use that word loosely, baseball and arm injuries.
The days of having to actually be selected out of your rec-league, which is where the name originated from, are long gone.
Instead, players – or in some cases their parents – are selecting to jump from a full, regulated 32-game high school season with a coach hired to keep his players’ future and health in mind into a two-month onslaught of travel, very little conditioning and five-plus games each and every weekend.
Just do the math. Schools let out for summer vacation in late May and return again in mid-August. That’s roughly two and a half months. During that span, select teams will average roughly 2.5 tournaments a month at 6.5 games each.
That is approximately 16.25 games a month or 28.1 innings a week.
The statistical difference is not staggering from the 18 innings a week average in high school with certified coaches, trainers and administration. However, those 18 high school innings are played on Tuesday, Friday and sometimes Saturday – not in 48 “select” hours.
Over a three-month period in high school baseball, teams will play roughly 224 innings. Those kids will then turn right back around to cram approximately 227 innings into a two-month tournament season over the summer.
Go run some poles and mull it over, your arm needs it.
*This column originally ran in the Glen Rose Reporter, a GateHouse Media owned weekly newspaper.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith