Friday, April 10, 2009

Another warning about kids and curveballs

Little League Baseball continues to allow kids to throw curveballs. Before deciding the issue, it's waiting for results of a five-year study due to be completed in 2011.

Meanwhile, the medical evidence against kids throwing curves continues to pile up.

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago recently released a study on children and pitching injuries. Their conclusions include this one: Youth pitchers should not learn curves until age 14, two years after Little League. “For pitchers under 14 years old, we encourage fast ball and change-up pitches and discourage the use of a curveball to prevent injury,” said Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph, sports medicine specialist at Rush and co-author of the report.

This is hardly a surprising conclusion. Or a new one. Many surgeons have been saying the same thing for years. Robert Kerlan, the surgeon who cared for Sandy Koufax, had this to say about kids and curves in 1976.

"The unnatural contortions of the arm and elbow are harmful enough to the pros, to say nothing of young athletes whose bones and joints are still growing. We shouldn't put pressure on them that will ruin the development of their skeletal structures and lead to deformities."

Local Little Leagues don't need to wait for Williamsport. They can ban curves on their own, and a few progressive ones have done so. Why haven't more? Enforcement of a no-curve policy is a legitimate issue. Umpires would have to be trained to recognize a curve right away and be prepared to warn - after multiple infractions, even eject - pitchers. That seems surmountable and, if it saves a kid's arm, worth the trouble. The bigger issue, it seems, is the attitude of the adults. Would we support, promote, defend this? Sign me up. I'm locking arms with the late Dr. Kerlan.

Thank you, Doug Abrams.

3 comments:

W. Henry said...

This is interesting. Is it possible that these local league umpires can't recognize the curve balls especially if not executed right?? And if they're banned and thrown anyway, what is the punishment?

Cal said...

It's more simple (or complicated--depending on your point of view) than that. The "traditional" curve ball is taught by having a pitcher turn his thumb upward (called "supination") to impart the spin on the ball. This causes the bones of the elbow to bang and eventually the UCL to snap. No pitcher of any age should throw this pitch, even though it has been taught this way for 130 years. Remember Steve Stone? He won a Cy Young for the Orioles in 1980 throwing 70% curveballs. But he didn't last two years after that. Even the great Nolan Ryan eventually ruptured his UCL (among his other injuries such as his back and knee- in fact he was on the DL almost every year he pitched).

The pitch should be thrown as taught by Mike Marshall by pronating (or turning the thumb down) to avoid the elbows banging together.

That is why pitchers who already have Tommy John surgery often rupture the ligament replacement. The new ligament is microscopically torn with every traditional curve ball thrown (or any pitch where the hand is supinated) until it ruptures again. Look at the disabled list for MLB this year, or any year, and it is like a MASH unit for pitchers. It's ridiculous for this to happen in this day and age.

But when dealing with kids, I don't understand how the powers that be at LLB live with themselves.

anne said...

shame on Little League Baseball for not addresing the issue. Not to surprised though...Little League Baseball is not the leader it thinks it is. if they were, they would kick the Metal Bat cartel out of their bed. LLB showed up at Chicago City COuncil hearing holdin hands with makers of the "trampoline effect" metal bats: http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=275009