"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A "pitch count" for Minnesota prep baseball?

Radio discussion
I got to listen to WCCO Radio recently due to an out-of-town trip we made. It was a challenging trip because we had to avoid Highway 59 North. Word of road construction. I learned that to get to the Interstate, you don't have to go all the way to Alexandria. Just keep going north from Lowry and you'll reach it. How could you not reach it, if you're going north?
Anyway, we'll look forward to when we can again use Highway 59 North, a very pleasant route that goes through small towns.
I would use the word "topical" to describe WCCO Radio today. The on-air people don't project an air of celebrity anymore. Not like in the old days of Boone and Erickson, Franklin Hobbs and of course Steve Cannon (with his "characters"). Today's media strive to give the audience valuable content, not shallow patter.
We listened to 'CCO on a day when the proposed high school "pitch count" for baseball was a topic. I had heard a little about this. It seemed like an extension of our whole society's drift toward perfectionism. Seat belt use was voluntary for most of my adult life. We knew there were drunk drivers out there and we hardly cared. We laughed about excess alcohol consumption.
Today we are incessantly bearing down to eliminate all of life's risks. In a sense this is fine - we want people to be safe and healthy - but as libertarians would constantly remind us, every time we allow more government regulation of our behavior, we give up a little freedom. We can also create a mess with the sheer pressures that regulation can impose.
The proposed pitch count for Minnesota high school baseball reflects what has been happening at higher levels of the sport. It's an absolute sea change from what we once observed at the highest levels of baseball. In the '60s I watched as many well-known pitchers flamed out, their arms finished from overuse. Mind you, the overuse may not have just happened at the pro level. Many of these guys, once they realized they could be athletic stars with their pitching arm, did great damage from overuse when young.
The pitchers really stand out in Little League. You can be a local hero pitching no-hitters in Little League. I'll bet all men can remember a superstar pitcher or two from the Little League in which they played. I remember Brian Henjum here in Morris. And Dan Long.
The major leagues have become so enlightened about the pitch count, a guy might get removed from a game even though he has a no-hitter going. That's a blessing. 
How exactly would system work?
But is the pitch count really practical for high school ball? It would seem to be a cumbersome requirement. The High School League hasn't seemed to answer the question of how it would be administered. Who keeps the count for a given team? And, what if the system breaks down? One snafu that occurred to me is: What if someone accidentally re-sets the counter back to zero during a game? It could just be a matter of pressing the wrong button. What if a team decides to count pitches for the opposing team, and then a discrepancy occurs which could well happen? How would the dispute be resolved?
Why do we need such rigid rules? Can't we trust coaches, give them the proper education and then let them take care of their athletes? At present there are rules that only deal with number of innings pitched in a timespan. Of course, the number of pitches thrown in an inning can vary greatly.
The proposed pitch count rule prompts so many questions and issues, it seems problematic just from that standpoint. Small schools that lack pitching depth will be greatly challenged.
The discussion I heard on 'CCO brought to light a reason why such new rigorous rules are needed. As is typically the case, money figures in. What? How could money be a factor? The gentleman interviewed on the radio explained that the so-called "Tommy John surgery" is becoming common across the U.S. for youth pitchers. I learned something there. I associated such surgery with the pros. Insurance companies are picking up the tab for such surgeries with costs eventually passed on to parents, I assume.
Truth be told, many new regulations are due to insurance company lobbying, right? Republican politicians are always decrying new regulations. They appeal to their base that way. But realistically, so many regulations are deemed advisable by the insurance industry, and I really don't think that Republicans want to diss the insurance industry. Seat belts save lives, I guess. However, ambitious medical procedures - surgery - to simply address young pitchers' arms would seem an unnecessary thing. Why are we asking our kids to play a sport that ravages young arms in the first place? And let's not even get into football.
The radio guest mentioned the trend of so many more athletes specializing in a particular sport, as opposed to the old model of football/basketball/baseball for so many boys. If a guy specializes in baseball and is a pitcher, he is easily susceptible to over-throwing. Whitey Herzog once wrote that a pitcher injures his arm every time he makes a pitch.
Our sports were developed long ago when sports medicine sensitivity was nil. Is that the underlying problem? We are flooded with news about the dangers of football. I will be flabbergasted this coming fall if there is no discernible dropoff in participation in football.
In spring, many early-season games can be postponed. That is a depressing aspect of high school baseball and softball. Track and field often has indoor meets in fieldhouses early in the season. I might suggest that track and field take over as the only spring sport. There is something for everyone in track and field. A big burly guy can throw the shot put. The small and wispy kids can run the 1600 and 3200.
Baseball is challenged at the youth level. We read about parks in the Twin Cities that are being re-configured with baseball diamonds being erased. The big league All-Star Game gets a lower TV rating every year. Kids in Little League can look so ungainly trying to play baseball. Soccer seems so vastly preferable.
In the winter we have wrestling which seems such an odd sport: it has hardly any intrinsic entertainment value for viewing. The worst part is that the wrestlers face this terrible temptation to lose weight. The late Wally Behm, our old high school principal, had skepticism for this reason. Yours truly finds it depressing how losers of bouts in wrestling seem so humiliated, on their back and struggling in vain. Who would want to see their son experience that? I have heard losing wrestlers described as "fish." Disgusting. Many wrestling duals have too many forfeits. 
Girls have it made, really
So, is it time to re-think all the sports offerings for our kids? There was a time when girls were excluded from high school varsity sports. I joked with Jim Thoreen about how girls sports were limited to the "G.A.A." page in the high school yearbook. Jim talked about how at his alma mater, the G.A.A. girls would put on a halftime exhibition of tumbling!
How ironic that today, after all the strides made in girls sports, one additional dividend for girls is that their athletic activity is much safer than for boys. No football. No wrestling with its weight loss and humiliation for losers. Fast-pitch softball does not have the arm overuse issues that baseball has. My goodness, girls have it made!
In my case, I had no talent for team sports, thus my body and brain got preserved.
The proposed pitch count rule for baseball will get a vote in October. I predict it will not pass. Implementation of the rule would be too problematic. I would suggest this: let's have boys play slow-pitch softball in the spring. I think our Athletic Director Mark Ekren would be approving. Let's have boys play soccer in the fall instead of football.
But it won't happen. We'll probably see the usual number of boys out for football, maybe with only a negligible drop-off, bashing their heads and abusing their bodies out on the football field. We are so human an animal.
Don't we all miss Steve Cannon sometimes?
"Where's Morgan Mundane?"
"He's playing pool."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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